Forest Closure: Will Australia Lose its Golden Goose?

Dumb policies will lock up a valuable resource

Mon 18 Mar 24


Veteran Victorian foresters who were schooled in land and bushfire management and contributed to many policy decisions made by all levels of government have come out swinging after the knock-out blow delivered to VicForests last week.

The government agency will cease to exist on June 30. This follows the decision to end native forest harvesting in the state, which will result in the loss of more than 15,000 jobs.

VicForests has been operating on a contractual basis, undertaking Department of Energy, Environment, and Climate Action forest management operations. This includes removing timber under fire management protocols, which have been criticised by environmentalists.

“Blinkered MPs should realise that forestry and public land are about to lose a multi-billion-perennial-dollar golden goose,” said esteemed Melbourne-based forester and land management authority Denis O’Bryan (Dip For, B Sc).

“MPs and their constituents should realise that this stupid government policy will lock up a valuable resource at a time when housing faces its most critical shortage of timber,

“Victoria’s unique timber species have been vastly undervalued in the past. We must not revert to the undervaluing royalty model of earlier years,”

As an example, Mr O’Bryan said, “If we sell the whole tree at the stump by species at market value according to the end product, we maximise the value-adding potential of wood, fuel, and the biochemicals in bark and foliage, encouraging access to and ongoing profitability for multiple participants.”

Mr O’Brien said far from being an uneconomic basket case, forestry on public land must be “re-painted and sold” to governments as a profitable, renewable and significant benefit to achieving other policy goals such as housing, fuel power and carbon.

“Since Labor and the Greens’ deal to close the Otways for forestry and water supply, both parties have been responsible for the reduced yield and income from public lands, taking the uneconomic and isolated regional area approach set by the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Forestry, as a local subsistence industry, was easy to shut down, but not so as a thriving multi-billion-dollar earner. 

“A bipartisan approach might be more appropriate, and what better way to sell it to MPs than with a’ show-me-the-money’ approach?

“I have been quoting $10 billion (receipts to government) of market-ready timber available in the 500,000-ha proposed national park. MPs as national representatives of the public. should now be told that the current standing market value of Victorian ash to the state government, marketed with appropriate policies, is a conservative $210 billion.

“Properly managed, a $210 billion market-ready asset should return at least 10% each year. This represents a ‘treasure chest’ for any sensible government; it could cancel the current state debt, be an election winner for any Opposition – and eliminate land tax.

“All parties can be assured that the value of Victoria’s forests will boom when the world runs short of properly regulated timber, which it soon will, very soon.”

Commenting on the demise of VicForests, noted Victorian operational forester Richard McCarthy said Forestry Australia should immediately establish a working group to ascertain how to economically manage all of Victoria’s forested public lands.

Forestry Australia, based in Melbourne and formerly known as the Institute of Foresters of Australia, is a professional association with more than 1300 members.

“No one out there has any idea of what it costs to maintain forested lands for the various facets such as water, air, timber, mining or recreation,” Mr McCarthy said.

“I suggest Forestry Australia develop proper economic briefing papers on all facets of the decision. Without this, I can foresee large tracts of forested lands being leased to recycler Visy, overseas countries, or other vested interests.

“Without this briefing, Forestry Australia will quickly become a bygone organisation.”

Mr McCarthy said that during the Victorian Association of Forest Industries’ establishment years, luminaries such as John Wright, Norm Endacott, and Norm Huon addressed similar issues.

“What should not be forgotten here is that elected members of parliament have a duty to administer and manage state forests. Their role should not allow them to be influenced by a few isolated pressure groups.”

Mr McCarthy has postgraduate qualifications in forest management and many years of experience in Papua New Guinea, including as operations manager for APM Forests.

Queensland forester Dick Pegg added: “I wonder what we could have done differently to prevent this disaster; there will be no native state forest harvesting in Australia in just a few years. The answer is probably nothing! The left side of politics has set its target: to appease the green lobby. 

“Also, I think the logging contractors, in some ways, have been more badly treated.”

“And a pity about all those forestry and timber workers who were staunch supporters and members of the AWU.”


  • Jim Bowden

    Jim Bowden, senior editor and co-publisher of Wood Central. Jim brings 50-plus years’ experience in agriculture and timber journalism. Since he founded Australian Timberman in 1977, he has been devoted to the forest industry – with a passion.


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