Australia — TONY EASTLEY: The Victorian Ombudsman has been asked to investigate the export of native hardwood logs, salvaged after the Black Saturday bushfires.
The State Government logging agency, VicForests, says it has stopped supplying logs to one exporter after discovering that it wasn’t processing the logs first.
But a conservation group says VicForests itself also has questions to answer.
Simon Lauder reports.
SIMON LAUDER: For months Richard Hughes and others at The Wilderness Society watched as truckloads of Victorian hard wood were delivered to a work yard in Melbourne’s west.
RICHARD HUGHES: Logs were coming out of fire affected areas in the Central Highlands then transported down to this export facility, loaded into shipping containers and went out of the Melbourne docks overseas.
SIMON LAUDER: And how do you know they are not going through any processing here?
RICHARD HUGHES: Well, we’ve witnessed literally thousands of tonnes of logs being transported into shipping containers without any processing at all and then off to the docks and shipped overseas.
SIMON LAUDER: VicForests is the agency which auctions off the timber from state forests. Under its terms of contract the logs are supposed to be processed here.
The Wilderness Society estimates $3.5 million worth of valuable hard wood has been shipped off, with no processing.
RICHARD HUGHES: The export of literally thousands of tonnes of whole logs overseas without being processed in Australia is a major issue for the conservation of Victoria’s forests and environment, for jobs within the Victorian timber industry and for local communities that depend on that employment.
SIMON LAUDER: A spokesman for VicForests has told AM that when the logs were sold, VicForests was satisfied that they were to be processed before being shipped.
The CEO of VicForests David Pollard spoke to the ABC about the sale earlier this month.
DAVID POLLARD: The company bought logs from us which were offered in the auction but which were not taken up by anybody so they were sold as a kind of leftover package of logs, if you like, and they made use of them in a manner that nobody else was prepared to make use of.
SIMON LAUDER: Richard Hughes from The Wilderness Society says VicForests can’t independently investigate because it sold the logs and that’s why the matter is being referred to the Ombudsman.
RICHARD HUGHES: The outcomes that we are seeking are an immediate halt to the export of whole logs overseas. We want to see an investigation of all of VicForests’ contracts to ensure that there are no other exports of whole logs are carrying with other contracts.
SIMON LAUDER: The CEO of VicForests David Pollard was unavailable to speak to AM this morning. A spokesman says VicForests suspended the contract with the exporter as soon as it was made aware that the logs weren’t being processed.
VicForests says the practice of exporting unprocessed logs is not illegal.
TONY EASTLEY: Simon Lauder reporting from Melbourne.