Tumultuous transition trickle continues
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With the mood in Victorian timber towns at what seems to be an all time low due to the ongoing uncertainty surrounding native timber families and businesses caused by the Andrews state Labor government – Agriculture Minister Gayle Tierney has recently succumbed to commonsense community pressure to announce changes to the Victorian Forestry Worker Support Program -including increased worker top up payments and the including access to Guitar Makers, Firewood sellers and seed collectors as well as other forest produce users to participate in the program.
While this trail of transition crumbs is being layed at snail pace by the Andrews government – allowing some of the sustainable native timber sectors most vulnerable workers and businesses to breathe a sigh of relief (for now) it is clear to those with even limited knowledge of the sustainable native timber sector that these businesses – and many more – should have always been included in transition initiatives.
Gippsland East State MP Tim Bull has welcomed the changes but has highlighted that many other questions affecting rural and regional communities still remain unanswered by the government – including the firewood shortage created by the ban and the need for an in person presence to help those suffering through this period of profound distress.
“This is a step in the right direction, but what I have been calling for is the government to give clear timelines for when the supports will be received and to set up an in-person presence in these timber towns where impacted persons can go and have a face-to-face chat and get some answers. There remains no mention of either of these matters addressed. The announcement today indicates there will be support payments for the likes of firewood sellers, seed collectors and other forest reliant workers, however it still does not address what the government is going to do to address the firewood shortage that it created with the ban.
Unquestionably however – timber communities crave certainty, with financial commitments within both their business and personal lives creating anxiety and strain within regional and rural families state-wide. Tim Bull highlighted these issues when contacted for comment. “Harvest and haulage sub-contractors, chip truck drivers and other businesses heavily dependent on the native timber industry will also be eligible for supports, but they need timeframes and amounts as many are really up against it with mortgages to pay”.
As much as the recent announcement by the State Labor government is a sliver of hope for our towns, families and businesses – the trust between our communities and Government has been shattered by a multitude of broken promises and a blatant disregard for many people within our communities that are likely miss out on any form of government assistance.
When Victorian minister for Agriculture Gayle Tierney releases a statement that says “other businesses heavily dependent on the native timber industry, will also be eligible for the next round of the Timber Innovation Grants” does she mean the tyre service who gets 60% of turnover from the timber sector will be eligible for this or any other type of assistance?. Will the local Milk Bar whose lunch trade is mostly made up of log trucks driving through town be eligible as well, or the local workwear store that supplies Mill workers?. These are just a few examples of hundreds of businesses within rural towns such as Orbost, Heyfield, Corryong and Swifts Creek amongst others that stand to deal with losses that could potentially see them forced to shut the doors – further damaging regional and rural towns already reeling from the closure of the sustainable native timber industry.
This much is clear – current government transition policy is being made ad-hoc and on a purely ideological basis. Lets hope that changes soon.