COMPLIANCE ISSUES RISE TO THE TOP OF DEBATE OVER
VICTORIA’S NATIVE FORESTS

TIMBER TASK FORCE REJECTS ILLEGAL TAG BY STATE GOVERNMENT AND BUNNINGS

Under threat… well-managed state forests in Victoria.

THE newly-formed Native Timber Taskforce is mounting a challenge to the Victoria government’s decision to phase out native forest harvesting by 2030 and immediately ban access to old-growth timber.

In tandem with this action, the taskforce, formed by the Wellington Shire in eastern Victoria, has attacked Bunnings Hardware’s decision to ban what it describes as “illegal” timber products.

The taskforce is chaired by Wellington Shire Council Mayor Alan Hall. Members include the East Gippsland Shire Council, Timber Towns Victoria, Australian Sustainable Hardwoods, Radial Timbers and the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU).

“The government action and that taken by Bunnings to stop sourcing native timbers from local timber mills is likely to see an increase in imports that are clearly not subject to the same protocols and processes that exist in Victoria, putting at risk some of the world’s most vulnerable species,” Cr Hall said.

Bunnings is demanding all Victorian native forest timber is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council of Australia.

In May, the Federal Court ruled state agency VicForests breached Codes of Practice in relation to the protection of the greater glider and Leadbeater’s possum habitat.

Getting the most from regrowth harvesting of native timbers… Australian Sustainable Hardwoods.

After court orders were received in mid-July, VicForests is appealing the decision, maintaining its management of native timber harvesting “meets the highest standards of forest management”.

VicForests has now lodged a formal complaint against three directors of FSC for breaching standards and articles of constitution.

Quoted on the citizens’ online National Forum, timber merchant David Hutchens has got to the nub of the forest compliance issue. The timber retailer from Geelong who also buys and sells recycled timber, says internationally FSC retains a credible identity as a forest certification body for native forests. (But) in Australia it is not credible in its primary role.

“By any measure, in the 14 years since launching, many small private native forests should have achieved certification – but a mere handful with a small sawlog output have,” he says. “”To keep busy, FSC has been tasked to certify pulp log plantations, paper manufacturers and printers. In the timber arena they have been role-playing to an apparently insistent public demand for FSC-certified native hardwood – which in the retail world, barely exists.”

Mr Hutchens says Bunnings suppliers managed FSC forest certification for fragile West Papuan rainforests in a developing nation with greater speed and less palaver than VicForests has with compliance for robust eucalypt forests in a first world nation.

“West Papua has stakeholders who are poor, hungry, denied suffrage and desperate for enterprise at village level. Australia has wealth and power concentrated in urban centres and an educated, privileged, organised, and independent-minded knowledge class. These are differentials that play out in forest certification.”

Dr Wayne Tibbits, forest program manager for Global-Mark, which works with more than 5000 clients and about 10,000 current issued certificates, says certification audits to the alternative Australian forest management standard AS4708 assess conformance to a suite of requirements that support the achievement of sustainable forest management that go well beyond and “set the bar” beyond laws and regulations.

More than 11 million ha of forest is now certified in Australia.

Dr Tibbits says a forest manager must comply with all legal requirements plus demonstrate conformance to additional requirements within the standard.

“It is here that the independent audit team is to possess a unique set of competencies for sustainable forest management that go well beyond the regulatory framework,” he said.

Certification to the Australian forest management standard is voluntary, being only achieved and retained on the basis of audits undertaken by an independent third-party audit team from an accredited certification body.
“The Australian forest management standard supports the regulatory framework within which a forest manager operates,” Dr Tibbits said.

“This is through multiple performance requirements embedded in the standard where the adherence to these legal compliance matters must be demonstrated by evidence to an independent audit team.”

Joining the debate, Tim Johnston, CEO, Victorian Association of Forest Industries, said the recent announcement of state-federal matched funding of $4 million to establish forestry research hubs in Victoria ran counter to the state government’s short-sighted native forestry policy, which clearly expected the entire timber and forest industry to transition to plantation resources, no matter how unrealistic that might be.

 

“In response, I have always said “it’s not a case of one or the other – we need hardwood and softwood, we need native resource and plantations,” Mr Johnston said.

“A prosperous future for Gippsland must include a mix of high-quality hardwoods from state forests and plantation timber at a variety of scales, from stand-alone commercial operations to smaller plantings integrated on farms.”

Mr Johnston added: “Project committees led by the best in our regional industry could drive new product innovation for local and export markets. Forestry research can seek to integrate traditional owner knowledge of land and fire into sustainable, landscape-scale forest management systems.”