OPINION: Hardwood logging ban hurts regional WA

Slade BrockmanCountryman
South West forestry industry representatives have slammed the State Government’s decision to ban native forest logging by 2024.
Camera IconSouth West forestry industry representatives have slammed the State Government’s decision to ban native forest logging by 2024. Credit: Jane Hammond

The McGowan Government provided further proof that it doesn’t understand regional WA this month when it announced a ban of hardwood logging in WA, threatening hundreds of regional jobs with the stroke of a pen.

The announcement — made with much fanfare — came with a lack of consultation with industry, businesses and affected locals.

Those businesses, and the hundreds of families they support, are now scrambling to figure out what happens next.

The sector contributes more than $220 million to the State economy each year, and 90 per cent of the people employed in the industry live in regional WA.

This includes staff working at various mills, harvest and haul contractors, and dozens of smaller operators.

The admission that it will directly cost at least 400 locals their jobs is a comparatively low estimate, especially considering that in 2019 WA Forestry Minister Dave Kelly said that the native forestry industry supported more than 800 jobs.

There are also thousands of additional jobs likely to be affected indirectly.

The State Government has attempted to paper over the impacts with a grossly insufficient $50m Just Transition Plan.

WA Liberal senator Slade Brockman.
Camera IconWA Liberal senator Slade Brockman. Credit: Slade Brockman

To put that in perspective, one industry-related company alone has invested that same amount into the industry over the past two years — and had planned to invest a further $100 million.

The policy may please some inner-city activists, but those on the ground know better.

It is a poorly conceived ideological exercise that destroys the sustainable timber industry in WA for no good reason.

The environmental rationale of the policy collapses under scrutiny.

All the “plan” will do is encourage consumers to switch to less-regulated overseas imports to meet the demand for hardwood timber.

It also appears that the State Government has little understanding of the flow-on impacts the decision will have on regional communities. Job losses will weaken regional economies, but it doesn’t stop there.

Forestry management is vital to keeping our communities in the South West safe.

Forests need to be actively managed to minimise fire risks. In the past, much of the cost of this management is offset by timber production, and the native forestry industry.

Many towns in the South West will be left more vulnerable to fire threats as experienced foresters will likely be forced to leave those communities.

In our small regional towns, key industries like forestry are more than just employers. They are a vital part of the social fabric in the local area.

Those businesses, and the hundreds of families they support, are now scrambling to figure out what happens next.

Slade Brockman

What work has the McGowan Government done to consider the impact of the forced closures as companies shut down and are unable to support other local businesses, for example? Or sponsor and join local sporting teams?

What will be the impact to school life, when families leave to find other work, along with volunteer organisations, such as fire brigades or Men’s Sheds?

In the city, a few hundred job losses are unlikely to affect critical infrastructure and the continued viability of the local area as a place to live.

Job losses of this magnitude affect regional areas disproportionately.

For small towns, rural depopulation is a constant battle as they fight to maintain a critical population mass to keep their economies running and their social life viable.

These sorts of concerns show why consultation is crucial.

The failure to realise the importance of this demonstrates how little the State Government thinks about life outside the city.

This decision is another in a long line that shows — when it comes to the bush — the West Australian Labor Government just doesn’t get it.

Slade Brockman is a Liberal Senator for Western Australia.

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