The Victorian Government’s “Timber Industry Strategy” was announced in April, but nobody noticed.

Victoria’s native forests are about to be carved up and basic planning rules trashed. Forty eight submissions and a couple of “forums” later, the plan is a done deal. The “Timber Industry Strategy” is a travesty of democratic process masquerading as public consultation. But these are mere peccadillos compared to the report’s Orwellian debasement of the English language.

“Working forests” mimic “working families”. Forest “harvesting” will be “socially and environmentally sustainable”, “world class”, “best practice”, “secure”, “competitive and productive”. “Economic value” will be “maximised”, “management” will be “streamlined”, “robust, enforceable and scientific”, “efficient and transparent”.

“Unnecessary” planning regulation will be removed, “indigenous participation” will be a “key goal”, “understanding and managing climate change” will be a “priority”.

A complete spin cycle in only 500 words.

Many words are strangely missing from the nine-page overview: woodchip, biodiversity, waste, windrow, pristine, extinction, monoculture, tourism, managed investment scheme, erosion, contamination and pollution, to name but a few.

Stripped of camouflage, the plan is simple. The phrase “Forest Biosecurity Framework” means that the state gives native forests to woodchippers in 20-year contracts. The meaning of “biosecurity” is inverted. The woodchippers have secured the forest.

One meeting each was allowed for “industry” and “community stakeholders”. Neither “side” was allowed to attend the other’s meeting.

Bureaucrats from the Department of Primary Industry controlled both, limiting attendance to those who had made submissions.

Twenty people turned up to the “community round table forum”. There was no forum, no community, no table and it wasn’t round. Just three suits fielding questions.

The venue was a tacky tourist hotel within strolling distance of DPI HQ. Lukewarm coffee dribbled from an urn. A great slab of rocky road was on offer.

Stroppy local government officials, who had trekked long distances, stared vacantly. Even slick professional environmentalists were no match for the deft DPI trio, who handballed tough questions to each other. The DPI tag-team never raised a sweat.

How did they do it? I took notes. First, the tall, commanding senior suit stood the entire time. His two sidekicks sprawled on chairs, one on either side. The self-designated boss was polite, but brooked no opposition.

Questions were endlessly repeated because they were not answered. But the way they were not answered was a joy to behold. Here are some samples (Hollowmen producers please see me later)

“The messaging in the policy needs clarifying.”

“That is consistent with our own messaging.”

“That is an issue we have in hand …”

“I know where you’re coming from …”

“I’ll take that on notice.”

“I don’t disagree with that.”

“We have to look at this holistically.”

“I’m not sure the heat is in the sustainability debate as it was 20 years ago.”

“My colleague is more familiar with this matter.”

“I’ll pass this question to my colleague.”

“Your point is understood.”

“I’m not sidelining the issue.”

“The question you raise is in the mix.”

“(Our report) doesn’t capture all of this.”

“It’s our intent to capture that.”

“There’s a range of views of how that’s characterised.”

(Asked why the word “woodchip” was absent from the report) “It is mentioned, but not quite with that word.”

“Be assured that this issue will be considered.”

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the CBD, the CEO of the Victorian Association of Forest Industries proclaimed that “our industry works in the forest, our industry protects the forest, our industry knows the forest.”

Planning control will be removed from local government. Residents, farmers and businesses adversely affected by plantations and logging of public forests lose all rights. Plantations can be put virtually anywhere “as of right”.

The rednecks have won. And no one noticed.

DPI is caught in a perfect storm of policy contradiction. The hardheads of DPI probably don’t believe in global warming, but it doesn’t matter because the government does. Though DPI’s mission is to make the environment safe for ruthless extraction, it is forced to mouth green platitudes.

Peter Fray

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