Small Business Transport

Second Reading - Owner Drivers and Forestry Contractors Amendment Bil 2016

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) — I rise to make a contribution on the Owner Drivers and Forestry Contractors Amendment Bill 2016. I am afraid I just cannot let the opportunity go past without responding to the member for Essendon and the fact that supposedly we have a government that do what they say. If my memory serves me correctly, the Premier made a hand‑on‑heart promise before the last election to govern for all of Victoria, not just for Melbourne. I am afraid, member for Essendon, your Premier has failed dismally when it comes to that particular promise.

The Owner Drivers and Forestry Contractors Amendment Bill, as has been talked about, is amending the Owner Drivers and Forestry Contractors Act 2005. That act set up two ministerial councils: the Transport Industry Council and the Forestry Industry Council, which represent a balance of hirers and contractors and bring a high level of expertise to those particular committees. It is about sharing information and helping small businesses be part of the debate and have equal information when it comes to negotiation around pay rates for logging and those sorts of things.

In talking about this particular bill, I support the amendments circulated by the member for Box Hill because I think they actually improve the legislation. One of the things we have probably noticed in recent times is that most of the legislation introduced in this house by the Andrews government actually does need amending because it is very poorly drafted and does not actually set out to achieve the best result for Victoria on whatever the relevant piece of legislation is.

The key thing that owner‑drivers and forestry contractors need in their businesses, as do the timber processors, is actually certainty of work, and that means certainty of timber supply. If you do not have certainty of timber supply, those particular contractors are then unsure if they will be able to meet their payments on the leases of the machinery they have. They are unsure about meeting the costs of hiring people, and those people they hire then have uncertainty around meeting their personal bills and meeting their home loan payments and those sorts of things. They also have uncertainty about meeting the general costs they have in running their businesses. So the key thing that owner‑drivers and forestry contractors need most of all, like any other small business in Victoria, is certainty around their business so that they know they have long‑term work into the future.

If you think about that in the context of what the Andrews government has done to the forestry sector over the last two years, all it has done is create uncertainty and reinforce that uncertainty for those businesses, both on the contractor side and on the timber processor side. I suppose the classic example of that would be the statement that is actually in the Auswest Timbers annual report. Brickworks, the parent company of Auswest Timbers, in their annual report said:

After many years of negotiation, the Victorian state government continues to frustrate efforts to make the required investments in our East Gippsland timber mills, by denying certainty of log supply.

These operations now have only nine months supply contracted, with no clarity being provided beyond that term. As one of the largest employers in this region, these investments would provide an important boost for the local community, as well as enabling Auswest to cost‑effectively meet the strong demand for product from these mills. However, if an acceptable log contract is unable to be secured, the East Gippsland facilities will be closed.

You have a business, a significant employer — 65 jobs are in East Gippsland — that is saying in its annual report to the stock exchange that if there is no certainty of supply of timber in the next couple of months, it is going to make a decision to exit the industry down there in East Gippsland. That story is replicated across a lot of other businesses that rely on timber in this state.

What has created all this uncertainty? The government set up the Forest Industry Taskforce over 12 months ago. That was supposed to produce a report that was to give certainty to the industry and a map on the way forward. That task force still has not come to any conclusions after more than 12 months of discussion. They put out a press release back in September which said they were actually making progress and having constructive discussion. Auswest and other businesses do not want productive discussions; they actually want certainty for their businesses. They need a long‑term contract for the supply of their timber, and that is just not happening.

I can remember going to the Victorian forest industries association dinner a bit over 12 months ago. The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union delegate Jane Calvert was there, as was the Wilderness Society’s Amelia Young. At the time we were talking at that particular function I know Jane said, ‘Give it 12 months, and if we’re not getting somewhere, I’ve got to do something on behalf of my members to make sure they have jobs in the future’. Fast‑forward 12 months, same function, same dinner, and neither of those two people actually turned up. Their name tags were on the table, but they were not there. The assumption I make is that they are both pretty disenfranchised — ‘disenfranchised’ is the best word — from this government because they cannot get a result on that task force. From Jane’s point of view, she represents the very workers we are talking about with this particular piece of legislation. Auswest, if they do not get a contract shortly, will be exiting the industry.

The other one — the member for Morwell is in the chamber, and he knows them very well — is Australian Paper (AP). Over 1000 direct jobs are at that business. They rely on the forest industry — the contractors we are talking about in this particular piece of legislation — to supply them timber, to harvest and cut that timber for Australian Paper to protect those jobs at AP and all the other associated, indirect jobs that go with that.

Again, AP is very concerned about their supply of timber into the future. You might ask, ‘What is their particular concern about supply?’. Their concern is about the talk, particularly in some parts of the Labor Party, about wanting a great forest national park. A great forest national park would actually lock up all the timber that guarantees AP those 1000 jobs, guarantees our place as a major producer of paper in this state and guarantees the jobs in Australian sustainable hardwood at Heyfield, with another 200 jobs, and all the other associated jobs that hang off that particular sector of forest here in Victoria. So again there is a real lack of certainty because of all the discussions about a need for a great forest national park. I know very clearly and those on this side of the house know very clearly that to achieve the environmental outcomes that are needed in this state, there is no need to go ahead with the great forest national park. They are being achieved by the industry as it is now.

The last thing I would like to touch on is the Socialist Republic of the Banyule City Council and their motion to sign the ethical paper pledge, an absolutely ridiculous decision by a council whereby they are now going to buy imported paper from Austria rather than buying Australian paper that actually comes from sustainable management of our native forests and our managed plantations. The City of Banyule, I think, is being absolutely un‑Australian in the decision that they have made about this particular issue — —

An honourable member interjected.

Mr WALSH — As the interjector says, they are disgraceful in what they have done. They are saying that the people of Latrobe Valley that harvest this timber, haul this timber and make this paper are not deserving of someone to buy that particular paper. They are not supporting Australian jobs in the decisions they have made, and I think they should hang their heads in shame for what they have done to this state. To think that they would be importing paper from Austria rather than using Australian paper to me just defies logic.

Acting Speaker, it is a fairly small bill as you said when you made your contribution, but I think it just underlines the importance of this industry to the economy of Victoria and particularly to communities like the Latrobe Valley that actually rely on this very precious resource we have, this resource that I believe will be very well managed into the future. What the players want out of it is certainty, and particularly certainty from the Andrews government, who are just creating uncertainty rather than certainty for all of those people that work in this sector.


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