TIMBER UPDATE January 2024

by | Jan 18, 2024

New industry survey highlights increase in female executives

Forest & Wood Products Australia (FWPA) is pleased to share the Gender and Diversity Survey results for FY2023. For the fourth consecutive year, companies in the forest growing and timber processing sector have voluntarily completed a Gender and Diversity Survey. This is part of an ongoing industry-wide commitment to increase the participation of women across the workforce.

The 2023 survey was completed by 23 companies. The key finding shows a positive trend in the increasing number of female employees in the industry and highlights an increase in female executive roles in both forest grower and timber processing sectors. Over the past two years, the proportion of female executives has increased from 20 per cent (27 roles) in 2021 to 29 per cent (42 roles) in 2023.

“As a female executive in this historically male-dominated industry, it is great to see gender diversity improving, clearly recognising and realising the benefits of diverse thinking at a strategic level,” said Katie Fowden, General Manager at Hyne Timber and Board Member at FWPA.

“The gender diversity at industry events has completely transformed in recent years and it is vital that the leaders in our industry, whether male or female, continue to support such opportunities. Appreciating that gender is only one aspect of diversity, as an industry, we need to be cognisant of the broader opportunities diversity can deliver,” Ms Fowden said.

Erick Hansnata, Statistics and Economics Manager at FWPA added that the survey, which is vital to delivering accurate and up-to-date information is collected and reflects positive developments within the industry.

“The ongoing FWPA member commitment to the diversity and inclusion survey plays a key role in providing key information for the industry, reflecting their positive efforts in the diversity and inclusion policy area,” Mr Hansnata said.

For more information or to find out how your company can participate in the survey, contact Erick Hansnata, Statistics and Economics Manager Forest & Wood Products Australia Ltd, email: erick.hansnata@fwpa.com.au or phone M: 0411 060 186.

Only 4000 of 30 million promised trees planted

The Victorian Government has planted just 0.01 per cent of the 30 million trees promised to assist timber workers – six years on from the announcement. Just 4,000 of the promised 30 million trees have been planted under the Victorian Government’s Gippsland Plantation Investment Program, which was first announced in 2017 to support timber workers’ transition out of native forest harvesting, reported Timberbiz.

Following repeated delays exacerbated by the constant turnover of agriculture ministers – five in seven years – the contract to plant the trees was only awarded to Hancock Victoria Plantations (HVP) last September.

During the Parliamentary Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearings in November last year, Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA) bureaucrats responded to questions from Nationals MP Danny O’Brien on HVP’s efforts, by stating just 4,000 trees had been planted to date.

DEECA Acting Deputy Secretary, Forestry Transition Phoung Tram said, “HVP is continuing to work closely with traditional owners to address cultural heritage matters, so planting can be accelerated in 2024.”

“HVP has responsibility for sourcing land to deliver on the GPIP agreement with the Victorian Government. Typically, timber grows well on land which has less productive farm value, and this is where the focus will be. Freehold land purchase, leasehold arrangements and farm forestry arrangements are all eligible approaches to plantation development under the agreement.”

“The usual due diligence of any site entering the program takes into consideration environmental, cultural heritage, safety, and legal aspects. HVP values opportunities to engage with First Nations Peoples through this process and adheres to all cultural heritage requirements,” Ms Tram said.

In the meantime, most of Victoria’s native forest harvest and haulage crews have been made redundant and headed off to find work in other industries, with timber towns such as Orbost being the hardest hit. 

Opposition agriculture spokeswoman Emma Kealy said, “[the] lack of planting is alarming and a snub to the hardworking people of Gippsland.”

“The Allan Labor Government cannot manage money, cannot manage major projects and cannot manage to support the native timber industry through its transition,” Ms Kealy said.

An HVP spokeswoman also confirmed planting had only commenced the past winter and that it would take 10 years to complete the contract to establish 14,000 hectares of softwood forestry plantations.

Rob de Fegely resigns over Bendigo Bank’s forestry policy

A leading Australian forestry expert has resigned from Bendigo Bank over its chosen policy to not support the harvesting of native forests. 

Rob de Fegely, who has held many senior roles in his 40-year forestry career, resigned from his local Community Bank’s board due to parent company Bendigo Bank’s policy against supporting native forest harvesting.

A director of Margules Groome Consulting, Chair of Sustainable Timber Tasmania, and a non-executive Director of Forestry Corporation of New South Wales, Mr de Fegely emphasised these were his personal views and not those of any of the organisations he works for, Timberbiz reported.

“Despite numerous exchanges with the Chief Executive, Marnie Baker, and the head of corporate affairs and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance reporting), they have not provided any justification for their policy, which is contrary to the United Nationals International Panel on Climate Change recommendations for managed forests,” he said.

“I respect anyone’s right to have an opinion but if it affects others then it must be well researched and reasoned.”

Mr de Fegely said he joined the local Community Bank in Pambula because he felt they had a great model for local banking and had supported the local community, “which I hope they will continue to do”.

“However, the parent company is trashing their community brand as the forest industry has been operating on the far south coast of New South Wales since the early settlers arrived in the 1830s and thanks to the efforts of our early foresters, the bulk of our forests, especially on public land, still exist today,” he said.

“What is poorly understood is that harvesting contractors provide the skills and equipment to fight bushfires and without them, more of our precious flora and fauna will be destroyed. We all know the Black Summer bushfire killed more wildlife and released more carbon into the atmosphere than any other event in our recent history.”

“It astounds me that a bank whose origins are in rural and regional Victoria could take a policy position without consulting its community bank directors or even formally notifying them. In my opinion, it is unethical,” Mr de Fegely said.

“Refusing loans to harvesting contractors while offering support to processors is simply hypocritical.”

Mr de Fegely said he informed the Chief Executive Officer that finger-pointing or cancel culture was an inappropriate way to resolve the challenges of sustainably managing Australia’s natural forests.

“Timber harvesting not only provides needed wood products but also funds much of the management of our multiple-use forests,” he said.

“I do not know if the Bendigo Bank policy had any impact on the Victorian government’s decision to end harvesting in its natural forests, but I hope their board and senior management reflect this Christmas on the future for the estimated 2500 plus people who have lost their jobs because of the decision.”

Mr de Fegely said the senior management team of Bendigo also seemed oblivious to the fact that Australia is the sixth most forested country in the world.

“We have over 10 times the world average area of forest per person, yet we are not self-sufficient with a current import bill of $6 billion per year which could increase to $10 billion within a decade.” 

“Other countries could easily regard us as arrogantly selfish by being indifferent to the harm we cause forests in other countries and not skilfully utilising and protecting our own forest resources,” Mr de Fegely said.