16 June 2020
I rise tonight to speak on a topic that is of great importance to many in my constituency, back home in Victoria, particularly those who live in eastern Victoria.
The direct output value of the native forestry industry in my home state is estimated to be in the order of $462 million. This figure represents the value of growing, harvesting, hauling and processing native timber.
Whilst this is a significant enough figure in its own right, when you take a moment to think about the industry and incorporate the processing and downstream economic activity this output grows, it is quite substantial. We’re looking at somewhere in the order of $1.4 billion.
I don’t think I need to tell anyone in this place just how substantial a $1.4 billion industry would be to any part of regional Australia.
In the context of this industry in Victoria and across Australia, we’re looking at around 5,000 jobs. The workers who hold these jobs exist in all parts of the supply chain. They’re loggers, truck drivers, forklift operators, process workers, machinists and sales people. They are full-timers, part-timers, casual workers and apprentices.
In Gippsland, they are the fabric of many communities and the backbone of their local areas.
Every single one of these jobs is of value. Every single one is important and worth fighting for. Every kind of worker is important in some way and deserves respect. Anyone who works for a living deserves respect from our community.
However, there are some members of our community who don’t always recognise the value and dignity of work in certain industries. They look down on certain workers and believe that those people are worth less than others.
Workers in industries such as forestry, resources and agriculture are not always offered the respect and acknowledgement that I believe they are owed. These workers deserve respect not only for the basic fact that there is dignity in all work but because of the contribution that they make to our nation’s prosperity, our way of life and our very existence. We must never forget that.
As a senator who represents the state of Victoria, I am concerned about the future sustainability of the forestry industry. I am concerned that this industry is largely under siege by activists and that governments at all levels are not doing enough to make sure that we better support these workers.
The recent decision by the Federal Court putting in doubt elements of the Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreement only serves to provide further uncertainty to an industry that all of us should be very proud of.
Whilst the full impact of this decision is yet to be realised, I know that it is one of great concern to many people living in these areas, especially those out in Gippsland. Many people are counting on these jobs not just to support themselves or their families but to support local communities. I know, because I have spoken to them. I have visited these mills. I have met these workers. These are real people. I have seen firsthand that this industry is sustainable, despite what we might hear from the Australian Greens.
It is an industry that offers rural and regional towns in Victoria a life.
All timber workers deserve our utmost respect. The Federal Court’s decision isn’t what the forestry industry was hoping for. But it is by no means the only thing that is serving to put the livelihoods of these workers at risk. Nor, might I add, is it the first time that activists have sought to damage this industry by exploiting our judicial system.
A report by Deloitte Access Economics in 2017 found that the demise of the Victorian native forestry industry would have significant impacts beyond its mere economic footprint.
It argued that the native hardwood industry is an important employer in regions where limited alternative employment exists and that without it these regions would suffer and there would be significant negative social impacts. We cannot allow this future to be realised.
Workers in this industry should know that they can count on us in this place and in the other place to work co-operatively—and with those in many state governments around Australia—to protect their livelihoods. After all, that is why people elect us to parliament. We should also honour the dignity of their work.
All workers have an important role in Australia’s success and national prosperity, and we should be supporting them to succeed. There is nothing to be gained in undermining the industries that they belong to or in attacking these workers for simply making a living, for creating wealth and for bringing stability to the future of our nation.