CFMEU demands for inquiry over looming Victorian Forestry Bill hangs in the balance

By Melissa Coade

Wednesday September 15, 2021

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The Victorian government has amended its controversial pandemic laws. (Image: Adobe/Stephane Debove)

The union for timber workers has raised concerns about a bill before the Victorian legislative council on Tuesday, calling for an inquiry and consultation before the passage of any legislation.

CFMEU Manufacturing has labelled a state government move to introduce a bill it says targets forest contractors and their crews as ‘outrageous’ and an attack on workers and communities. 

Michael O’Connor, the division national secretary for the CFMEU Manufacturing, said the Forests Legislation Amendment (Compliance and Enforcement) Bill introduced new laws that had the potential to embolden anti-loggers and compromise the health and safety of timber contractors and crews.

“There is no reason why this bill needs to be debated before proper consultation and serious concerns are addressed,” O’Connor said of the legislation that was included in yesterday’s legislative council notice paper

“It needs to hold appropriate consultation and give an opportunity to have the impacts on timber workers and forestry contractors, as well as the ability for the government to deliver its wood supply commitments, properly scrutinised.”

Despite the union calling for the bill to be removed from the 14 September notice paper, and the Victorian shadow minister for public land use Melina Bath’s attempts to block the bill until the code of practice was released, its second reading was passed in the Legislative Council on Tuesday. Debate was adjourned before a final debate to occur in committee.

According to the second reading of speech for the bill, the legislation aimed to improve regulation of timber harvesting and firewood collection in Victoria’s state forests. It also aimed to modernise the regulatory framework and hold people to account for illegal activities. 

Because the proposed laws were not set to come into effect until March 2022, O’Connor said there was no reason for the changes to be rushed through parliament. 

Furthermore, the union claims the bill was not meant to proceed until amendments to the code of practice for timber production were gazetted. The CFMEU argues that because the legislation increases penalties for forest workers and contractors who do not comply with the code, the code must be settled first.

Among the parts of the proposed bill that the union views as threatening, includes its potential to make it easier for third party litigants to seek injunctions against contractors in the Supreme Court of Victoria. O’Connor said that this would allow anti-loggers to ‘shut down the industry’ and its workers for ‘simply doing their job in accordance with government policy’. This also applied to state sanctioned quantities of wood that complied with government forestry plan volumes, he said. 

The CFMEU has also pointed to the impact of the 2019-20 bushfires on Victoria’s timber supply, which it claims has not been considered in the bill.

“All of these issues should have been addressed before the legislation was brought back for debate, but there has been no further consultation with the union or industry prior to this happening.

“This chaotic approach to making laws is leaving out the voices of those most impacted,” O’Connor said. 


READ MORE:

VicForests court win fails to sway Bunnings’ position on responsibly sourced timber

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