Vicforests could be disbanded and absorbed into the Victorian bureaucracy after the Andrews Government reclassified it and announced a review of operations.
As reported in the Age, the future of the Victorian harvesting company remains after the Andrews Government announced in May that native harvesting would cease from January 1, 2024.
In June, Wood Central reported that a Supreme Court ruling hammered the final nail in the coffin for the naive forest industry after the Court of Appeal threw out an appeal by VicForests alleging that the company failed to survey for protected glider species adequately.
Earlier this week, the State Government altered the company’s status from being a “State Business Corporation”.
Instead, it will now be a “Reorganising Body,” which allows it to move the function and staff around.
The move paves the way for the business to be split up and absorbed into government departments.
But the Age alleges that it also included information about job support for VicForests’ staff, including access to an online portal to apply for other public service roles and receive new training.
“VicForests will keep operating as is until a formal decision about the entity’s future has been made,” the letter said.
“DEECA is currently working with VicForests to review its functions and activities, including consideration of how the critical skills of VicForests staff can be maximised.
“This work will help develop a better understanding of VicForests’ operations and obligations and inform the decision about the organisation’s future expected later this year.”
Wood Central understands that the union has been pushing for certainty for staff as they have waited months to know their future employment options.
A State Government spokesperson told the Age that no decision about the organisation’s future had been made, citing the Supreme Court ruling involving the glider populations.
“This transition removes VicForests’ commercial focus and reflects its changed operating environment following the Court of Appeal decision in June 2023,” they said.
However, according to Liberal Opposition Agriculture spokesperson Emma Kealy, “it’s clear that the state is winding up the business.”
“Labor is pushing ahead with their plan to close the sustainable timber industry early,” she said.
“Labor has put politics ahead of good environmental outcomes and strong futures for local workers and their communities.”
When announcing the earlier-than-expected closure, Premier Daniel Andrews said, “it’s not good enough for us to just cross our fingers and hope for the best.”
“We need a plan to support workers’ families and local jobs.”
Coinciding with the budget, he committed that the state would “step up to give these workers – and their communities, businesses, and partners along the supply chain – the certainty they deserve.”
It’s understood that workers would be supported to find new jobs and that their skills would be needed in areas such as forest management and bushfire risk reduction.
The uncertainty over the future of supply led to Australian Paper closing its Maryvale Mill in the Latrobe Valley – the last in the nation – to shut down its white paper operations.
At the time, Wood Central reported that the decision would lead to changes in the company’s manufacturing program.
“For example, we continue to work towards the future transfer of some brown M2 products to the M3 machine,” Opal Australian Paper said in a statement.