Forestry Organisation - After the FCV

Mike Leonard (bio)

The Great Depression of the 1930s, and World War Two were defining events in recent human history.

By the 1960s however, certainly in Australia, economic activity had rebounded and, in many parts of society optimism was in the air. It was also a time of increasing social change. An influx of people from other nations was helping shape the way Australians lived, and major attitudinal changes were emerging across many areas of society.

Concurrently, a long-running war in Vietnam was escalating following the USA’s involvement; a commitment that was to be followed by Australia.

More generally, large-scale protests and public demonstrations became prominent, particularly in larger cities, opposing recently reintroduced military conscription, the Vietnam War, and established rules and restrictive morals. Campaigns included those for greater independence and equality for women in the workplace, fairer wages, a free accessible system of education, and the recognition of, and a struggle for, the rights of Indigenous Australians.

In 1966, Robert Menzies retired after 18 years as Australia’s Prime Minister. His successor, Harold Holt was to be a very different style of leader. Following Holt’s subsequent disappearance while swimming, John Gorton and then William McMahon were to lead the Federal Government during a period of increasing instability.

As Australia continued to urbanise, a modern environmental movement also began to emerge, as in other parts of the world during the 1960s. Somewhat critical to the evolution of this social movement was the publication in the USA in 1962 of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring. The book helped galvanise community concerns, internationally, over the effects of pesticides on the environment and human health.

Meanwhile, the term ‘gross domestic well-being’ was joining ‘gross domestic production’ in the popular lexicon.

As the environmental movement grew, so did its greater formalisation. The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) was established in 1966. Peak conservation councils were also founded during this period in most States and Territories.

In the 1960s and 1970s, campaigns were to lead to the protection of some of Australia’s unique and special natural places. The ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the late 1960s to prevent the destruction of Tasmania’s Lake Pedder was followed in the 1970s and 1980s. for example, with successful opposition to the proposed damming of Tasmania’s Franklin River. Tens of thousands of Australians mobilised, achieving not only protection of the Franklin, but of most of South-West Tasmania.

Politically, at the federal level, the Labor Party had entered opposition in 1949. A Liberal/Country Party Coalition was to govern continuously for the next 23 years. Gough Whitlam was elected Labor Party leader in April 1967, and led his Party to victory at the 1972 election.

On assuming the Party leadership, Whitlam revamped the Party’s platform and, on coming to office, change was quickly implemented across many areas of Government. While social justice and cultural matters featured prominently in the new Government’s agenda, so too did the environment.

Initiatives included the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974, which required the Commonwealth Government to undertake Environmental Impact Assessments on projects under its control, or undertaken using its funds; ratification of the World Heritage Convention; creation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park; passing of the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, establishing a professional service to manage federally-controlled National Parks; recognition of the land and water rights held by Indigenous Australians; establishing the Australian Heritage Commission; ratification of the RAMSAR convention, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

In late 1975, during on-going controversy, the second Whitlam government was defeated by a Coalition government led by Malcolm Fraser.

The incoming Government maintained many of the social reforms of the Whitlam era, but sought to introduce increased fiscal restraint, while being less active on environmental matters.

In 1977 a Liberal minister, Don Chipp, resigned to form a new social/liberal party, the Australian Democrats. This development, and a concurrent proposal to dam Tasmania’s Franklin Dam mentioned previously, are considered by many to have contributed significantly to the emergence of an influential and more organised environmental movement in Australia.

Fraser was to govern until early 1983 when Bob Hawke led the Labor Party back into office.

In Victoria, Liberal Party Premier Henry Bolte had been in power since 1955.1 He liked to be seen as a simple farmer, but he had a shrewd political mind. Helped by a split in the Labor Party in the mid-1950s, he was to be re-elected six times, his popularity peaking at the 1967 election. By the early 1970s however the State Government realised it had to broaden its appeal.2 In August 1972 Bolte resigned, arranging for his deputy, Dick Hamer, a somewhat more progressive Melbourne-based politician, to succeed him. Hamer was to win three further elections.

Hamer moved to modernise government in Victoria: environmental protection laws were greatly strengthened, the death penalty was abolished, Aboriginal communities were given ownership of their lands, abortion and homosexuality were decriminalised, and anti-discrimination laws were introduced. And by the mid-1970s Victoria had been christened ‘The Garden State’.

In 1971 the Land Conservation Council (LCC) was established, replacing the Land Utilisation Advisory Council (LUAC), which had been formed in 1950 (at the same time as the Soil Conservation Authority - SCA). The LUAC's functions had been to define catchment areas and advise the Minister and the SCA on land use in any catchment area. In 1966 the LUAC had been charged with recommending the best uses of Crown lands in Victoria. However, there was no provision for public participation in the process, and as a result of public interest in land-use management, and in particular a controversy over the future of the Little Desert, in western Victoria, the LCC was established to carry out investigations and make recommendations " ..on the balanced use of public land.. " throughout Victoria.3

Politically, by the late 1970s, Victoria was experiencing increasing economic difficulties, rising unemployment, and industrial unrest. In mid-1981 Hamer resigned, and was succeeded by Deputy-Premier Lindsay Thompson. At the election the following year the Liberals were defeated after 27 years in power.

And in the Forests

On September 3rd, 1939 Australia entered World War Two. In January of that year the most devastating bushfires Victoria had seen since European settlement swept much of the forested parts of the State. Some 1.5 million hectares were burnt, 650 homes and businesses, and 69 timber mills were destroyed and, tragically, 71 persons lost their lives.

The Royal Commission that followed the fires, which at the time of writing remains one of the stand-out Inquiries of its type that Australia has seen, was to result in a much greater focus on forest management in Victoria in general, and on fire management in particular.

For the then FCV there were to be increased powers and responsibilities, improved budgets and resources, and at least for a time, increased political influence.4

New Goverment

New Government

In April 1982 John Cain took office at the helm of the first Labor Government in Victoria since the one led by his father 27 years earlier. He was subsequently to win two further elections, eventually resigning in late-1990 to make way for Joan Kirner. Like Gough Whitlam ten years previously, Cain and his Party had been preparing for Government for several years. During its first term it was to carry out many reforms, particularly in the areas of education, environment, law, and in public administration more generally.

From the perspective of the State’s forests and woodlands the two initial most relevant Ministers were to be:

  • Hon Roderick A Mackenzie MLC: Minister of Forests, Minister of Lands (to 1 September 1983), Minister of Soldier Settlement (to 21 December 1982), Minister for Conservation, Forests and Lands (from 1 September 1983) and,
  • Hon Evan Walker MLC: Minister for Conservation, Minister for Planning (to 1 September 1983), Minister for Planning and Environment (from 1 September 1983), Minister of Public Works (from 8 September 1983).

In his detailed analysis of these developments Brian Doolan5 describes the Cain government’s reforms as being:

" ..firmly wrapped in an economic management program based .. on greater control over government resources and activities to fund the implementation of an ambitious social, economic and environmental agenda. Initially described as ‘corporate management’ and .. later ‘managerialism’, the approach was based on a number of elements: clarity of accountability, central co-ordination rather than autonomy (followed later by the opposite principle of ‘subsidiarity’), transparent objectives and plans, program budgeting aligned to objectives, quantitative targets for the economic return on public investment, commercial accounting and active financial management, increased public consultation, and a service orientation in public sector operation .. "

The first Cain government saw the number of Ministries ultimately reduced from thirty one, to around twenty.

Ministerial Review Team

The new Minister for Forests, Rod Mackenzie, moved quickly to establish a Ministerial Review Team, under the auspices of the Public Service Board, to analyse the workings and structure of the FCV. The Review Team’s* members were David Yencken, John Mant, Peter Ellyard and Faith FitzGerald.

*D Yencken: Concurrently appointed as Secretary (Chief Executive) of the Victorian Ministry for Planning. Previous roles had included Member, Committee of Inquiry into the National Estate established in 1973 by the Whitlam Government; and Chair, Australian Heritage Commission 1975-81.
J Mant: a lawyer and planner. He had been a Ministerial Adviser and had worked in several federal, state and local government departments. During the five months leading up to the dismissal, in 1975, of Gough Whitlam's government Mant had been the PM’s principal private secretary.
P Ellyard: Following the election of the Whitlam government in 1972 was appointed Chief of staff of Environment Ministers, being a major architect of the first national environment laws and policies until 1975. In 1976 he became the foundation CEO of Papua New Guinea’s Environment Department. Between 1979 and 1983 he was CEO of South Australia’s Environment Department.
F FitzGerald: Strategy, policy and analysis consultant. She had also been active in local government and Mayor of Doncaster, in Melbourne’s east.

To assist both the incoming Government and the Ministerial Review Team, Minister Mackenzie, in July 1982, established five internal (FCV) task forces to examine:

  • Hardwood and softwood futures (AR Eddy, IR Kennedy, PA Langley, LA Pederick, RB Smith, and KJ Wareing)
  • Relationships with other government agencies (P Sheehan with others)
  • The organisation of the FCV (BD Dexter, M Rumbold, J Lynch, and J Wright)
  • The public image of the FCV (MJ Crotty, PJ Greig, ME McDougall, and M Leonard), and
  • Fire prevention and fuel reduction burning (JB Johnston, DJ McKittrick, DW Flinn, and HG Brown)

The Review Team’s 87 page report was submitted to Minister Mackenzie in April 1983, and he tabled it in Parliament, as the basis of reform, a month later.

The Review concluded, among other things that:

" .. The Forests Commission in 1982 (had) many outstanding qualities. The competence of district forestry operations is highly respected. The Commission is an efficient fire fighting organisation. Forestry education and forestry experience have proved an admirable training in resource management, as (was) evidenced by the many former foresters who (had) moved into senior management positions in other agencies. The esprit de corps – the sense of communality of background, interest, and purpose in the Commission – is very high .. "

While acknowledging that, the Review added:

" .. There have been some significant changes during the past decade .. "

It also stated that:

" .. The Commission has, however, been faced with the need for major adjustments to meet the issues and requirements of the 1970s and 1980s. The very strengths of the Commission, its single mindedness, the homogeneity of background and training of its professional staff, have perhaps proved to be its greatest weaknesses in this time of change, and have inhibited many necessary adaptations .. "6

In overview Doolan suggests the report:

" .. sounded the death knell on the organisational structure of the Forests Commission, finding it to be a confusing duplication of the Minister’s powers and, as a three-man board, out of step with contemporary organisational design that located executive authority in a single chief officer. It also criticised the cultural dominance of professional foresters, and the lack of technical staff with other disciplinary qualifications, the small number of women in the workforce and the absence of any Aboriginal staff .. "7

Among its recommendations the Review proposed that:

  • There be a re-assessment/re-evaluation of the softwood planting program, current timber royalty rates, and the development of better accounting systems to identify the costs associated with timber production.
  • The Forests Act be reviewed and rewritten to ".. take account of the matters raised in the report .." (Here, presciently perhaps, the Review suggested that " .. amendment .. might be deferred .. until decisions are taken by Government on proposed restructure of this and other Government departments .. ")
  • " .. Pending a major restructuring of the department .. " a number of short-term changes to matters including delegations, reporting lines, managerial and administrative responsibilities, the organisation of field units, and the development of a greater policy capability be addressedChanges be made to Management and Forest Planning, Fire Protection Management, Research, and Education and Consultation, and
  • Finally, the Review recommended the immediate establishment of an Implementation Committee comprising representatives of " .. the Forest Department, the Public Service Board, the Review Team, and the Minister .. " to give effect to the recommendations of the Report.

Curiously, given the nature of forest care and management, and the fact that the FCV was spending around 15% of its budget directly on research and associated matters, the Review appeared to largely ignore the role of science and technology.

Further here, and surprisingly also perhaps, the Review did not report on the appropriate direction for timber harvesting, fire or other policy areas. As Doolan points out however:

" .. subsequent statements by at least one of the Review Team authors indicated their perspective: ‘Forestry interests are no longer synonymous with conservation. Despite belated attempts to project a total land management image, the harvesting of wood had become the primary purpose of forest bureaucracies and Ministers.' The historical irony of this situation is not lost on today’s forestry profession .. "8

In tabling the Review Team’s report, and the Government’s response to it, Minister McKenzie told Parliament in May 1983:

" .. The Forests Commission is a very efficient Authority which has done well whatever was required of it by previous governments. This Government of course has different policies and attitudes .. and is asking the Forests Commission to undertake different practices .. "


1.  Intriguingly perhaps, it was the first, short-lived Hollway Liberal government, which took power in 1948 that created a Ministry of Conservation in 1949, the first Minister being Henry Bolte. The Ministry remained a feature of the Cabinet until the conservatives lost power in 1982.
2.  Bolte’s Liberal colleague, Bill Borthwick had, by 1970, developed a commitment to the conservation of the natural environment. He was the driving force in the creation of an Environment Protection Authority, in the establishment the Land Conservation Council to bring a stronger conservation perspective to public land use, and was the architect of the then government’s commitment to at least a five-fold increase in the area of national parks.
3.  The Little Desert controversy was, among other things, to see several students at the Victorian School of Forestry join the protests about the proposed alienation of sections of the public lands estate, with a jointly-signed letter to The Age newspaper.
4.  See Doolan BV (2016).
5.  ibid pp. 65 -66.
6.  Yencken et al., Forests Commission Victoria: Report of Ministerial Review Team (Melbourne1983). p 3
7.  See Doolan BV (2016) p 66
8.  Ibid. p. 67
9.  Softwoods in Victorian Forestry. October 1982. Available elsewhere on this website.
10.  VSFA Newsletter. No. 54  pp 10-15
11.  See also: ibid - VSFA Newsletter No. 58 pp 33-37 and VSFA Newsletter No.59 pp 17 - 18.
12.  The then Chairman of the FCV, A J Threader, had retired in late May 1983. Dr Ron Grose then briefly fulfilled the role of Chairman, Athol Hodgson becoming the third Commissioner. Following his appointment in late 1983, Tony Eddison, among other statutory appointments,became Chairman of the FCV; Ron Grose and Gerry Griffin then being the other two Commissioners, while Athol Hodgson became CFL’s Chief Fire Officer.
13.  Von Mueller had, in 1853, become Victoria’s first Government Botanist, adding Director of the Botanic Gardens to his roles in 1857. He was a seminal scientific figure in the Colony and, particularly in later years, a somewhat controversial figure also.
14.  VSFA Newsletter. No. 59  pp. 22-29.
15.  A Fraternity of Foresters
16.  Ron Grose, as Director, SFLS was initially replaced by CFL’s Director of Fisheries, and eventually by Dr Bob Smith, a senior executive from the New South Wales Forestry Commission. See also: VSFA Newsletter. No. 59. pp 3-16.
17.  The Timber Industry Strategy.
18.  The area of national parks in Victoria was to grow from approximately 800,000 hectares at the beginning of 1982, to more than 3.4 million hectares in 2010.


See Also


Ajani, J. (2007). The Forest Wars. Melbourne University Press. 362 pp.
Cain, J. (1995). John Cain's Years: Power, Parties and Politics. Melbourne University Press. 323 pp.
Doolan, B.V. (2018), Natural Order: An Institutional Survey of Victoria's Forests 1900-2010. 205 pp. Background Paper for M.A. Thesis. Clayton: School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies, Monash University. 
Frankenberg, J. (1971). Nature Conservation in Victoria - A survey. Victorian National Parks Association. 145 pp.
A Fraternity of Foresters - A History of the Victorian State Foresters Association.
Johnson, R. (1974). The Alps at the Crossroads. Victorian National Parks Association. 208 pp.
Legg, S.M. (1995). Debating Forestry - An Historical Geography of Forestry Policy in Victoria and South Australia, 1870–1939. Ph. D. Thesis - Monash University. 389 pp.
Moulds, F.R. (1991). The Dynamic Forest – A History of Forestry and Forest Industries in Victoria. Lynedoch Publications. Richmond, Australia. 232 pp.
Pyne, S.J. (1998). Burning Bush: A Fire History of Australia. University of Washington Press. 521 pp
Routley, R. and Routley, V.C. (1974). The Fight for the Forests: The Takeover of Australian Forests for Pines, Wood Chips and Intensive Forestry. Canberra: Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, 407 pp.
Smith, L. (published 2016). Building a National Parks Service for Victoria 1958 – 1975. Published on the VNPA website. 220 pp.
The Age - May 1983
Youl, R., Fry, B. and Hateley, R. (2010) Circumspice: One hundred years of forestry education centred on Creswick, Victoria. On-Demand Printers, Port Melbourne, Victoria. 278 pp.