Council supports logging industry

DESPITE an address condemning it, a motion for Bega Valley Shire Council to acknowledge the forestry industry was passed at council’s meeting on Tuesday.

Harriett Swift, local activist and Greens party candidate for the upcoming state election, spoke against the motion.

The motion from Cr Pat Campbell asked council to acknowledge and recognise the economic contribution to the shire of the industry, to note its history and to record council’s support for the industry.

Before Ms Swift spoke Cr Paul Pincini questioned whether it was appropriate to hear a candidate for political office make political statements to council, while Cr Russell Fitzpatrick said it was strange to have an address to council before the matter had been raised.

General manager Peter Tegart told the meeting that anything that had been placed on the meeting’s agenda could be addressed by a member of the public.

The matter was put to the vote with Crs Campbell, Fitzpatrick and Pincini voting against allowing Ms Swift speak.

There were big costs, Ms Swift said, to taxpayers in supporting the woodchipping industry locally - about $5 million – and about $20 million from not having to pay council rates.

“This industry is living on borrowed time,” she said.

“We are doing it and its workers no favours by propping it up.

“We should be preparing for change, not sticking our heads in the sand.

“By saying this, I am not denigrating workers as the motion implies.

“I want these workers to leave the woodchipping industry and we can and must devise a means for them to do that with dignity.

“Many of the chipmill workers are highly skilled. I know many of them. I did welding at the Bega TAFE with many of them.

“I have no animus against them and want to help them do something else.

“Bega Valley Shire was the birthplace of woodchipping in Australia; do we really want to be the last to give it up?”

Cr Keith Hughes spoke against the motion at length, at one stage being granted an extension to the normal five-minute address.

While speaking about the history of the industry and how it has grown significantly over the years, Cr Hughes said to “pass a motion on the viability of woodchipping is not unlike King Canute ordering the tide to not rise”.

“You can’t get sustainability or viability by legislating to deem an activity sustainable,” he said.

“We need a reality check on the current issues facing the native forest logging industry.”

At the end of Cr Hughes’ address, Cr Graeme Wykes said it was given in the wrong forum.

“I think the decisions on whether woodchipping exists or doesn’t exist is well out of our sphere and our role as a council is to support our local community,” he said.

“And while it’s legal and sustainable - which we have been told by the experts - ...I believe we should be supporting industry loggers.”

In speaking to his motion, Cr Campbell said “in terms of Cr Hughes’ history lesson, they have been cutting timber down in this country for a long, long time”.

“The suggestion from Cr Hughes that we are legislating through this motion to perpetuate woodchipping is far from what this is all about,” he said.

“We don’t have any power to legislate but we can support our communities and that’s what this is about.”

The motion was passed with Crs Hughes and Liz Seckold voting against it.