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Benalla mill workers protest logging laws at parliament

By Simon Ruppert

Nine employees of Benalla timber mill Ryan & McNulty travelled to the Victorian Parliament this week to protest changes to native timber logging laws.

On November 7 Victorian Energy, Environment and Climate Change Minister Lily D'Ambrosio visited the Strathbogie Ranges to announce the phasing-out of native old-growth timber logging by 2030.

The announcement has divided Victorian communities with many people pleased with the environmental outcome, and just as many concerned about jobs in the timber industry and how losses would affect regional economies.

Benalla has two large mills, Ryan & McNulty and D & R Henderson, which employ many local people.

On Tuesday, nine of those timber workers decided to let the Andrews government know how they felt and took part in a rally on the steps of parliament.

One of the workers at the rally, Benalla's Chris McGee, described how the closure of the industry would affect communities.

“It’s wrong, it’s going to destroy not only the timber industry itself, but towns as well,” Mr McGee said.

“We’ve all got young families ... It was good to see all the MPs supporting us, but it would’ve been nice to see what Dan Andrews had to say for himself.”

The MPs in question were Liberal Democrats Member for Northern Victoria Tim Quilty, and Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria Tanya Maxwell — both of whom sit in the Legslative Council.

“The crowd made for an impressive sight today,” Mr Quilty said.

“The sheer number of workers who had taken the time to travel from regional Victoria to share their message with the government shows how poorly thought out that decision is.

“We sent a clear message to Premier Daniel Andrews that this decision is the wrong decision — the communities, families and individuals of regional Victoria should be uppermost in his policies.

“I am determined to do everything I can to make sure that this attack on regional Victoria does not work.

“I was certainly encouraged to see this issue draw together a range of different MPs who are united in their wish to stand up for communities in country Victoria.”

Australian Forest Products Association chief executive Ross Hampton told the crowd how their production work was part of a greater industry.

“Everything that these people are producing is going somewhere,” Mr Hampton said.

“It’s probably going into factories and manufacturing plants in an outer Melbourne suburb, so this is an interconnected industry.

“Our job here today is to help the public understand they’re being sold a pup.

“There’s still time to turn this ridiculous decision around.”

Regional Development, Agriculture and Resources Minister Jaclyn Symes said the government was assisting companies with the transition.

“Benalla’s future is strong and as a government, we’re working hard to make sure that remains the case,” Ms Symes said.

“We are making sure great companies like Ryan & McNulty are fully informed on the native timber transition plan.

“They have a guarantee of current levels of supply through to the middle of 2024 – a further four and half years.

“From mid-2024 to 2030, mills will have the ability to tender for native timber supply, and there’s no reason why Ryan & McNulty would not be a serious competitor in that market.

“I know that transition is difficult and when jobs are affected, it’s unsettling for everyone involved.

“But the native timber transition started long ago, and we can’t stand by and simply hope for the best.

“The forestry plan provides $120 million over 10 years to support workers, to support jobs, and to support communities like Benalla.

“Across the board, the level of investment in Benalla and the wider region by this government is unprecedented.

“The precast concrete facility built to support Labor’s infrastructure program has created hundreds of local jobs.

“This government is all about people – and we are backing the people of Benalla.”