FEDERAL Member for Gippsland Darren Chester caused a stir in Parliament on Thursday, May 25 via a fierce exchange with the Prime Minister.
Mr Chester used Question Time to raise the issue of Victoria’s native timber industry, during which time he accused the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese of “hating” forestry workers.
In his original question, Mr Chester referred to a statement made by Mr Albanese before the 2022 federal election where he said: “Labor supports your industry, your family and your community.”
“Prime Minister, given the Victorian Labor government’s decision to ban all native harvesting of timber in just six months, sacking thousands of workers, what support has the Prime Minister and his government actually provided for timber workers across Australia, or is this just another broken promise?” Mr Chester asked in Parliament.
Mr Albanese responded by saying: “The Victorian government has a $200 million structural adjustment package in its budget … and I certainly do support timber workers.”
Mr Chester interjected during this response, resulting in a formal warning from the Speaker of the House, Dick Milton.
Mr Albanese continued: “And through the regional forestry agreements process, we work with states and territories to support Australia’s forestry industry to operate under high standards for environmental management and sustainable harvesting.”
“We need timber products and we want sustainable forestry jobs,” Mr Albanese said.
“And that’s why we are investing … $300 million to grow plantations, modernise our timber manufacturing infrastructure and build the skills of our forestry workforce.
“I note that through the National Reconstruction Fund we specifically set aside funding to support the forestry industry, but the Member for Gippsland voted against it, and (the opposition) voted against it as well.”
Mr Albanese concluded his question, and Mr Chester rose to make a point of order.
Mr Chester then asked the Prime Minister directly, “Why do you hate timber workers so much?” resulting in jeers from the benches and the scorn of the Speaker.
“The Member for Gippsland knows what he’s just done there, which is completely unparliamentary,” Mr Milton said.
Immediately after asking his question, Mr Chester proceeded to leave the chamber, but was motioned back to the despatch box by Mr Milton to formally withdraw his question, to which Mr Chester obliged.
Mr Chester’s outburst comes after the state government brought forward the end of native timber harvesting in the state by six years to January 1, 2024.
Mr Chester, who represents the National Party, had voiced his criticism of the measure in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, May 23.
Mr Chester is currently on the opposition frontbench, handling the shadow portfolios of Local Government and Territories, Regional Education and Regional Development.