Union boss blasts forests committee after logging exit

·3-min read

A union boss has resigned from Victoria's forestry advisory committee, branding the group a sham following a decision to fast-track the end of native logging.

Commercial harvesting of native timber will end in Victoria on January 1, six years earlier than the state government's original timeline.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union national secretary for manufacturing Michael O'Connor resigned from the Victorian Forestry Plan Advisory Committee ahead of the decision going public on Tuesday.

The government neglected to consult the committee about the measures it announced, begging the question of what the point of the committee was, Mr O'Connor told AAP.

"The advisory committee was, quite frankly, a sham," he said.

"The union is not interested in being a prop for the state's media unit."

He said members were devastated to hear about commercial logging's accelerated shut-down and it was completely disrespectful and inappropriate they found out about it through news outlets.

The announcement was done in a way that maximised stress and strain on those in the industry, and increased the risk of mental health issues, Mr O'Connor said.

The union has promised to fight for a better worker and community support package for timber workers.

Mr O'Connor blasted a transition plan as "government rhetoric".

"Last time I looked, training wasn't a job," he said.

"The government has rushed this announcement (and) hasn't consulted anybody."

Premier Daniel Andrews rebutted Mr O'Connor's claim the government had no interest in the union's views or those of employers.

"That's his view and quite frankly he's wrong," Mr Andrews said.

He cited legal action for the decision to bring forward the end of native logging, calling it a lawyers' picnic and echoing Treasurer Tim Pallas, who laid out a $200 million support plan in Tuesday's budget.

"We had a plan for 2030 - the courts have essentially brought that forward," Mr Andrews said.

Logging activity has been hamstrung in recent months following legal action against state-owned forestry company VicForests for failing to protect endangered possums.

Environment groups have welcomed the decision, with the Biodiversity Council hailing it as good for forests, threatened species, the climate and economy.

Activist groups have notched it as a win for people power.

But the Victorian Forest Products Association warned the government's early exit would lead to devastation in the regions.

The government has allocated $50 million in 2023/24 for timber harvesting transition support, with a further $50m set aside each financial year until June 2027.

It also allocated $7.5m in 2023/24 for what it called timber worker and industry support, with another $7.5m the following financial year.

About 900 workers will be directly affected by the changes, including 366 sawmill workers.

Up to 560 will be supported into new employment in other industries such as land management, bushfire response and renewable energy.

Workers and families will also receive financial and mental health support.