The news yesterday that Australian Sustainable Hardwoods will close is devastating for the local community and complete failure by Premier Daniel Andrews to seriously address the issue, says Gippsland East MP, Tim Bull.
“I was at the mill that morning with Opposition Leader, Matthew Guy, meeting with staff and we had no idea this demoralising news was coming later in the day.
“We have known since last year the timber supply contact was ending in June and despite promises from the Premier four months ago to visit and help sort this out, he has not visited Heyfield once. That in itself is a disgrace.
I also note the mill owner’s comments yesterday (after Mr Andrews announced earlier this year he would be prepared to buy the mill) that “any suggestions that there has been any form of intense discussions or negotiations of any form with the government are simply wrong”.
“The ridiculous thing is, this does not need to happen. At a Parliamentary Inquiry just two weeks ago, VicForests put on the Hansard record what we have suspected all along.
“It confirmed the amount of timber available to industry has dropped by 60,000 cubic metres per annum due to confirmed possum sightings and projected future possum colony identification. This is the Heyfield timber. VicForests also said the possum was being discovered at a rate “much higher than ever anticipated”.
“In 2014 it was stated in the Leadbeater's Possum Advisory Group Technical Report that there are 204,400 hectares of potential habitat found across the range of the Leadbeater’s Possum and that only 30% of that area was available for potential timber harvesting.
“Given this, I think it is incorrect to say it has to be ‘the timber industry or the possum’ as some are doing. Surely we can undertake protection and conservation actions in the 70% of range that is not available to the timber industry. To me this is about balance, but the Premier has not even visited the town for any discussions, or entertained, a balanced outcome.
“There are 250 people employed at the Heyfield mill, while the mill’s operations support 7000 jobs down the line. If this closure goes ahead it will have a further devastating effect on the local economy after the closures of Hazelwood and Carter Holt Harvey.
“Daniel Andrews, now more than ever, needs to step in and provide the timber supply his own agency says is there. The mill’s closure will only drive up imports of appearance grade timber from countries with far less oversight that we have – when we have the timber,” Mr Bull said.
Thursday, June 15, 2016