A big ‘thank you’… Bridget McKenzie with AFPA’s Greg McCormack join  timber workers at Parliament House in Canberra.

NATIONALS Senate leader and senator for Victoria Bridget McKenzie yesterday introduced legislation into Parliament that will provide certainty for Australia’s native hardwood timber industries.

Australian Forest Products Association CEO Ross Hampton said the senator’s Bill would clarify a legal anomaly created by a Federal Court ruling in May, which has created significant uncertainty for Regional Forest Agreements.

“That certainty is in doubt because of a Federal Court decision in May which took a new interpretation of how RFAs operate, and how they interact with the Commonwealth Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act,” Mr Hampton said.

“Australia’s native hardwood timber industry has been warning for months that its future is in doubt because of the legal uncertainty the judgment has created, and the threat of lawfare from anti-forestry groups that threaten to use the precedent to shut down the industry.”

Mr Hampton said Senator McKenzie’s Bill would affirm and clarify the commonwealth’s intent regarding RFAs to make it explicitly clear that forestry operations covered by an RFA were exempt from Part 3 of the EPBC Act.

“This in no way weakens environmental laws because the RFA framework ensures the environmental protections provided by the EPBC Act are reflected in the accredited state environmental laws,” he said.

“This Bill merely provides clarity about how those bilateral agreements operate, as they have for more than 20 years under a bipartisan model that balances our shared community needs for social, environmental and economic outcomes from the sustainable management of our forests.”

Addressing the legal uncertainty created by the court case was also a recommendation in Professor Graeme Samuel’s Interim Report of the independent review of the EPBC Act.

Mr Hampton has thanked Senator McKenzie for standing up for timber workers and urged the government and Opposition to support the Bill.

“As the daughter of a log truck driver and growing up in timber towns in Victoria, Senator McKenzie knows first-hand how vital the industry is for regional communities,” Ross Hampton said.

“This minor but vital legislative amendment should be supported by everyone in parliament who claims to support RFAs and the Australian timber industry,” he said.

Senator McKenzie was able to take this action as she is currently a backbench member of the government. Assistant Minister Jonno Duniam, who has responsibility for forestry, continues to champion the policy changes necessary to secure a strong future for both the native and plantation sectors.

Timber workers union CFMEU Manufacturing has also called on the government to support Senator McKenzie’s Bill.

“The changes being pursued would amend the EPBC Act to support sustainable forest management continuing to deliver triple bottom line (social, environmental and economic) benefits from the very small amount of public native forest still available for timber production,” the union said.

The union has wrote to the Prime Minister in August calling for bipartisan support to changes to the EPBC Act and the Illegal Logging Regulations to blunt the outrageous and disingenuous smear litigation by green groups such as the Bob Brown Foundation trying to shut down timber communities.

“We welcome Senator McKenzie’s Bill,” CFMEU national secretary, manufacturing division, Michael O’Connor said.

“There has been a lack of urgency to date in defence of timber jobs from the government,” Mr O’Connor said.

“Governments needs to do more to protect regional jobs and this would be a good start.”

The union’s letter to the Prime Minister outlined that the way both the EPBC Act and Illegal Logging Regulations were being interpreted by some was not consistent with the objectives of Australian parliaments when they legislated them.

The letter appeals to Scott Morrison reminding him of his comments about Tasmanian timber workers at the 2019 election: “Wherever these jobs are…our government doesn’t sneer at the jobs of regional Australians. We think they’re very important – it’s an honest, hard, decent living”

In addition to the changes to the EPBC Act, the union is continuing to demand effective amendments to the Code of Practice for Timber Production from the Victorian government.

In July, the Victorian Minister Jaclyn Symes said, “Regional jobs are more important than ever right now, and we can’t let outdated regulation put them at risk”.

Michael O’Connor said regulation at federal and state levels was outdated.

“Governments need to back up their rhetoric and promises with action to protect jobs,” he said.

“Our union will leave no stone unturned in defence of our members’ jobs, their families and their communities.”