"The past is never fully gone. It is absorbed into the present and the future. It stays to shape what we are and what we do."
Sir William Deane, Governor-General of Australia, Inaugural Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture, August 1996.

Victorian Governments’ Plantations Enterprise

 David Williams (bio) - November 2018


The establishment of a government plantation enterprise in Victoria spanned more than a century under at least 40 governments of different persuasions and received varying levels of government support from time to time. The Forests Departments were early and consistent supporters of creating a substantial government softwood plantation estate from late 1800s. Their persistence was unwavering and ultimately proved reasonably successful.

There were a number of constraints in advancing the plantation program, primarily funding and land. Hence, progress was minimal in the early years. Access to suitable land was a challenge as forestry was a low-priority land use. The more productive and better-located land was allocated for settlement, farming and mining. From 1910 plantations were established on southern coastal areas because the land was considered “wasteland” and therefore available. This was a setback as the sites and growing conditions proved unsuitable and these plantations failed.

The years of the Great Depression provided an opportunity through government employment schemes and the estate grew significantly over the period. The war and post-war years saw activity slow to almost a standstill due to other government priorities and a lack of funds and labour. The program accelerated in 1962 when the Government supported the Forests Commission’s (FCV) Plantation Expansion (PX) program and this was further boosted with Commonwealth loan funds from 1967. High planting rates continued until 1990 when the Government announced its intention to exit the business.

The program was well planned and there were continuous effective efforts for improvement in plantation management. The establishment of formal research programs commenced in the late 1950s prior to the PX program. The research expanded to form comprehensive programs aimed at improving plantation productivity and in the 1970s, programs to address environmental matters.

The world was changing in the 1970s and 1980s and plantations were not exempted from changing public expectations. There was growing concern from external interests about the direction of the program and some plantation practices. A view expressed by some was that the program and practices were too focused on maximising timber production with insufficient regard for environmental values. The concern grew into increasing opposition about general environmental impacts and the aerial application of chemicals in the 1970s. The issues expanded somewhat in the 1980s as did the intensity and spread of opposition.

The Government sought to re-set the native forestry debate and the plantations program with significant policy changes in the Timber Industry Strategy in 1986 (TIS 1986). The Government was facing an intractable problem with the plantations program of needing to expand the estate, particularly in North East Victoria, to meet new supply commitments on the one hand, and the growing and more strident opposition from an increasing number of campaigns on the other hand. It announced its decision to exit the business in 1990 without resolving the conundrum.


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Williams, David (2018). A Century in Forest Plantations: Success or Failure?

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