Twenty-five NSW Labor shadow ministers held a shadow cabinet meeting at Snowy Valleys Council on Tuesday at the invitation of Mayor James Hayes where they received a robust, informative briefing that laid out a “road map to recovery” for the state and federal governments.
NSW Labor also proposed their own list of practical initiatives that they are calling on the government to adopt throughout the coming recovery period to help support fire-affected timber communities and the forestry industry.
“What this does, we believe, is set a recovery agenda – a framework that this government can pick up, put a commissioner in place and move forward so that there is confidence again in this community,” NSW Labor Leader Jodi McKay said.
Shadow Minister for Natural Resources Paul Scully outlined the initiatives, calling on the Berejiklian government to adopt them “for the forestry and timber industry in New South Wales more broadly, but particularly here in Tumut, Tumbarumba and surrounds.”
FORESTRY RECOVERY COMMISSIONER
The central part of NSW Labor’s proposal is the adoption of a Forestry Recovery Commissioner, as well as a timber industry recovery advisory taskforce to help guide the implementation of a recovery plan.
“That is someone who would be appointed to work with both the bushfire recovery commissioners as well as the timber industry itself to make sure that those operations aren’t falling through the gaps,” Mr Scully said.
He believes a recovery commissioner would also be helpful in addressing the “crisis of confidence” that can arise in areas such as the Snowy Valleys region when there is “uncertainty about the future of the industry.”
Jodi McKay said a recovery commissioner would also encourage a whole of government approach to issues in this region.
“If we can get that recovery commissioner, that recovery commissioner can work with the state, with the local, with the federal government, with the Softwood Working Group and of course with the unions and those who depend heavily on this for their jobs and for supporting their families,” Ms McKay said.
STOP FORESTRY PRIVATISATION
NSW Labor has once again called on the Berejiklian government to abandon their plans to privatise Forestry Corporation.
The opposition called on the government to abandon the plan during their last visit to Tumut on January 31, with Ms McKay saying “this is an industry that is on its knees right now and needs all the support it can get, and it must stay in public hands.”
On Tuesday, Ms McKay said that when the issue was raised in parliament last week, Deputy Premier John Barilaro “doubled down” and said they were continuing with their scoping study, which she claims the government has already spent $1.3 million on.
COMMITMENT TO REPLANTING
Mr Scully said that a strong commitment – a guarantee – to the replanting and the re-establishment of plantation areas is vital for this region going forward.
“[One] of the great uncertainties facing the area is whether or not the plantations will be replanted,” Mr Scully said.
“We want the government to commit to working with the sector to make sure those plantations are replanted.”
Member for Wagga Wagga Dr Joe McGirr stressed how important this issue is to the region.
“This is an issue of extreme concern to the community here,” he said.
“There’s a high level of concern about what will happen not this year but at the end of this year, and in the coming years, when the supply of wood falls off.”
FINANCIAL SUPPORT PACKAGE FOR TIMBER MILLS
NSW Labor want the Berejiklian government to develop a financial support package for timber mill operators.
“We know that over the next couple of years they’re going to face difficulties with supply but also additional costs of dealing with burnt timber and that will manifest itself in terms of storage, in terms of capital equipment [and] in terms of personal protective equipment for the workers,” Mr Scully said.
“We need the government to commit to support those industries now, and through the dip in cash flow that they’ll face in the next couple of years.”
ERADICATING PESTS AND WEEDS
NSW Labor placed great importance on the need to eradicate pests and weeds, saying if the issue is addressed it will “remove one of the greatest difficulties that is faced when replanting”, and that it will also “help to reduce fuel loads into the future.”
Ms McKay acknowledged that blackberries are a particularly noticeable issue, and called on the government to invest in finding solutions to this problem.
ESTABLISH A WORKFORCE PLAN
The opposition also made a strong case for the establishment of a workforce plan so that people working in the timber industry can have certainty about their employment in to the future.
“There are a range of things that timber industry workers could be involved in, including weed and pest eradication, that we think will assist once we get through the initial burnt supply part and we’re facing potential supply shortages in the next couple of years,” Mr Scully said.
Along with being involved in weed and pest eradication, Mr Scully suggested that timber workers could also be involved in the massive task of re-fencing that needs to be completed in the region.
NSW Labor also wants the government to guarantee that the infrastructure in this area, that supports the timber industry, will be repaired.
This includes contributing to the cost of fencing for properties along Forestry Corporation land, where at the moment landowners have to bear the cost themselves, and assisting with the repair of damaged roads, fire trails, bridges and power and communication infrastructure.
Ms McKay acknowledged that the Snowy Valleys Council has done a lot of work in conjunction with the local member Dr McGirr in outlining what infrastructure areas need to be addressed.
Following the shadow cabinet meeting, Ms McKay said that one of the issues that needs to be addressed “first and foremost” is the removal of debris.
“I would think that should be a priority for the government; the Premier has indicated it is, but let’s hope that happens within the next week or so,” she said.
After outlining these initiatives, Mr Scully was confident that everything NSW Labor had proposed is possible and achievable.
“These are the things that we believe will remove the uncertainties that are facing the industry here today and will set it on a good road to recovery,” Mr Scully said.
“We believe these are very manageable, very doable things in the short and medium term for such an important industry here that employs up to 5000 people directly and indirectly and has a multi-billion dollar contribution to the local economy.”
Dr McGirr commented on the proposed initiatives, saying that it was “admirable” for NSW Labor to come here with a considered plan about the future and some concrete suggestions.
“What the industry needs now – what the community are looking for – is a plan going forward, and what they need is some certainty and some hope,” he said.
“Not just for the industry itself but for the community and for businesses.
“People are worried about the next five to ten years, and even beyond that. So there’s an urgent need for a plan and the opposition have come up with a series of actions that I think will contribute …very positively to the future of the industry.
“So I acknowledge the work they’ve done on that – the homework if you like, that they’ve done on that – and congratulate them on coming up with those ideas.”