Tasmania’s Resources Minister has demanded Sustainable Timber Tasmania review its procurement policies after a Victorian company secured a major haulage contract over a local contractor.
In a Monday media statement, Mr Ellis asked Tasmania’s state-owned forestry company to pause all tenders and review the southern haulage contract.
“I have asked Sustainable Timber Tasmania (STT) to provide urgent advice on how the Tasmanian Government can best support our forestry industry in the wake of (Victorian Premier) Dan Andrews’ decision to slam the door shut on their native forest sector,” he said.
“Whilst I await this advice, STT will not release any further harvest and transport tenders.”
According to Ellis, Victorian Labor government exit packages for timber businesses, as reported by Wood Central, have led companies looking to move into the Tasmania market.
“It’s also an opportunity to bring more people in, but there’s a threat in terms of businesses because there is a clear market distortion; Daniel Andrews has given $825m at least of taxpayers’ money to subsidise people to go away and do something else,” Ells said.
“That is a clear threat to our industry here.”
The Mercury reports that Labor MP Dean Winter, who wrote to the minister seeking a formal review of the southern haulage contract, said Ellis had previously welcomed Victorian workers to Tasmania.
“When responding to a question about the shutdown of native forestry in Victoria in late May, Minister Ellis said, ‘We are looking forward to bringing those people down here to bolster our capability and supply’,” Mr Winter said.
“Despite pretending to be blindsided, he’s been planning an assault on local forestry jobs for months.
“Minister Ellis needs to explain why the local benefits test was absent in the tender process that Bennett’s and its local subcontractors missed out on. Did he remove it as part of his plan he foreshadowed in late May?”
Former Liberal MP John Tucker joined Labor, blaming Mr Ellis, describing his handling of the situation as totally “inept”.
Mr Ellis appealed to Mr Tucker, saying they were “of one mind” when supporting local timber jobs.
“We need to be united around this. Both John and I are big supporters of the industry, and we are of one mind in that we want to make sure Tasmanian timber supports Tasmanian jobs,” he said.
“There is a significant threat from the left side of politics that has been caught up in this madness around shutting down one of the most sustainable industries.”
Another Forest War on Cards in Tasmania?
Forestry has been a political hot-button topic in Tasmania following the decision by the Victorian and West Australian governments to lock up native forests.
Earlier this month, Wood Central reported on the potential for a new forest war after Sustainable Timber Tasmania expanded the forest coupes available for harvesting.
In May 2023, Mr Ellis said Victoria’s decision had opened opportunities for the Tasmanian industry, including increased demand.
“Our forestry sector wasn’t set up for different states to make such terrible decisions as this.”
“And we’ll need to work to ensure that we maximise local processing, local capability, and local jobs.”
Local saw millers, concerned with a drop in the long-term supply of sawlog, have pushed to open access to new coupes under the Tasmanian Regional Forestry Agreement.
Citing a drop in the annual supply of native forest sawlogs from production forests from 137,000 cubic metres to 58,000 cubic metres, Tasmanian Sawmillers Association spokesperson Matthew Torenus said.
“Our members have to be open to all options in that regard, faced with a large drop-off in supply.”
And they have the backing of Mr Ellis, who, according to the Australian, is open to the push.
“Where industry can demonstrate the need, then we’ll be considering that,” he said.
Recently, Environmentalist Bob Brown lashed Mr Ellis for describing Tasmanian native forestry as sustainable.
“Any school child looking at a picture of a napalm-fuelled post-logging burn will tell you that it is destruction and an environmental disaster.
Claiming otherwise will also not pass the ACCC’s test for greenwash,” Dr Brown said.
Environmentalists have issued stern warnings, claiming that logging any 356,000 hectares protected under the 2012 deal would be a “red line.”
The Wilderness Society Tasmania campaigns manager Tom Allen stated, “If Tasmania’s government starts logging forests outside the existing 800,000-hectare production zone, it will darken this cloud, as well as chill the markets and destabilise the industry.”