Wellington Shire Council continues its persistent advocacy on behalf of timber communities, with Councillors travelling to Parliament House in Canberra recently, seeking answers about timber transition from the Prime Minister himself.
With no promise of financial support for local communities to come from this visit, Council will continue the tough conversations with the Victorian government, accepting nothing less than direct investment into small communities like Heyfield and Yarram. Townships full of timber workers who rely on native timber harvesting to feed, educate and support their families.
In November 2019, the Victorian Government first announced changes to Victoria’s forestry industry, declaring that impacted communities would have until 2030 for their share of $120 million to transition to other industries. Ensuring that timber families were well supported to consider workforce in sectors like food, fibre and agriculture, manufacturing, new energy, land management, health, and tourism.
Fast forward to May 2023 and the end of the native timber industry has been locked in for 1 January 2024 with no consultation, conversation or evidence provided to support the decision.
Wellington Shire Council Mayor, Cr Ian Bye continues to hold nothing back. Expressing his frustration that even after countless Freedom of Information requests seeking the evidence supporting the decision to fast-track the closure, Council is still being ignored.
“I still question how any level of government is expected to advocate for their voters if they are not provided with the data and information to inform decision making. If the state government would provide the evidence, or better yet make it publicly available, we could better support local communities”, Cr Bye said.
“What is done is done. Our time is now better spent stepping up our advocacy for genuine support for timber families.
“I encourage you to think of transition investment like a cash-o-meter. It goes up with every dollar that the state government spends in Wellington Shire. Since 2019 it has been sitting at zero with no guarantee that any money will even be allocated to our region before the end to native timber harvesting comes into effect at the end of this year.
“We want to see a transition package from the state government that puts a realistic price tag on the skills and economic importance that local timber communities will lose come 1 January next year”.
While Council remains disappointed that the end of native timber harvesting has come with such little regard for regional communities, some support is being provided through Local Development Strategy projects, funded through the state government’s Victorian Forestry Plan.
Locally these projects are happening concurrently in Heyfield and Yarram, with attention on transition opportunities for communities affected by the end to Victorian native timber harvesting. It is important to note that to date no funding has been released by the state government to support identified projects.
Despite this, Mayor Ian Bye praises the Council staff working on the Local Development Strategy who have done great work connecting communities, identifying new opportunities for investment, and providing space for those impacted to check in on each other and provide support.
“While I thank the Victorian Government for acknowledging that both Heyfield and Yarram will suffer greatly at the hands of this closure, asking the community to work out how they will live with a decision that was forced on them, destroying an industry that has been the lifeblood of generations just doesn’t cut it”, Cr Bye said.
“Timber workers need genuine jobs that they can transition into now. Short and long-term job opportunities paired with financial investment is the only way to ensure these communities will thrive once again.
“The Local Development Strategy has identified these new opportunities in principle, but communities need to know how they will transition, and who will support them in the meantime.
“We continue to question the government about when the people most affected will experience the benefits of over $200 million in promised transition support. This money is needed on the ground in these communities tomorrow – not in six months’ time.
Hundreds of locals gather at a rally in Heyfield last month.