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Bunnings ends VicForests timber contract over logging breaches

Bunnings said it sells a small portion of VicForests’ total harvest.

VicForests said in a statement it was “deeply concerned by Bunnings’ decision” and was planning to appeal the Federal Court decision and that it operated under rigorous regulations.

“We regrow all harvested coupes with their original species, all timber harvesting and regeneration operations are conducted to conform with Victoria’s strict environmental regulations,” the statement said.

Gippsland East MP Tim Bull condemned Bunnings management, saying the decision would cost jobs and that it pre-empted VicForests’ court challenge.

“This woeful decision from Bunnings could not have come at a worse time. Our communities have been impacted by drought, fire and now COVID-19 and the local economy is really struggling,” Mr Bull said. “For Bunnings management to come in on the back of that and make this announcement shows no understanding of our plight. I want to stress this is not about the staff on the ground in local stores. I have several friends who work at Bunnings in Bairnsdale; this is purely a criticism of management.”

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Bunnings and Officeworks, which sells paper made from VicForests timber, announced in 2016 they expected VicForests to secure accreditation under an international sustainability initiative, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), by the end of this year. VicForest is currently seeking certification.

Last month, the Supreme Court issued injunctions against VicForests to halt its operations after it heard allegations it had breached logging regulations in 14 coupes in the Central Highlands.

The logging agency is also facing five court challenges from community environmental groups.

Bunnings said it supported VicForests’ pursuit of FSC accreditation but said in “light of the recent legal finding that VicForests has breached the Code of Practice for Timber Production, we will be discontinuing all sourcing of timber from VicForests” as of June 30, Mr Bishop said.

Environment groups welcomed Bunnings’ announcement.

The Wilderness Society said the “Federal Court ruling was a wake-up call” to retailers and Bunnings had taken a leadership role.

“It’s clear that major Australian retailers can’t afford to be associated with illegally logged native forests, any more than they could import tools made of ivory or furniture upholstered with tiger skin,” said Wilderness Society national campaigns director Amelia Young.

Nature Conservation Council chief executive Chris Gambian said that Bunnings moving away from VicForests should be a warning for the NSW timber industry “where more than 5 million hectares burnt in the 2019-2020 bushfires and where NSW Forestry Corporation continues to log koala habitat right now”.

Goongerah Environment Centre spokesperson Chris Schuringa welcomed Bunnings’ announcement and said other companies need to follow suit and boycott all products sourced from Victoria’s native forests”.

Federal member for Gippsland Darren Chester said Bunnings had shown “complete contempt for their suppliers and hard-working timber industry families”. Mr Chester accused the companies of “virtue-signalling” and risking “the financial futures of dozens of timber workers and their families”.

VicForests is a major supplier to Australian Paper, which is owned by Nippon Paper group. Australian Paper has been contacted for comment.

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