ASH - Vic. Government stalemate continues
THE AUSTRALIAN Sustainable Hardwoods/Victorian Government stoush over a long term log supply is currently in a state of limbo; the CFMEU continues to put pressure on politicians and the possibility of more talks remains just that ... a possibility!
The official line from union is that discussions are continuing with the government and the company, however, there may be more developments soon as the union is scheduled to meet with all the workers on site.
ASH’s Heyfield Mill workers still face job cuts from September with a planned closure next year.
ASH had been offered a 155,000 cubic metres per annum contract by VicForests from 2014 through to 2034. However, early this year VicForests said it was not authorised to offer any more than 80,000 cubic metres of log in 2017-18 and less than that in the following two years.
“We have been forced into this position by the government. The only thing that will change this trajectory is if there is a new supply agreement offered by the government that is respectful of our business needs,” ASH CEO, Vince Hurley had told staff
“VicForests says there aren’t enough logs. If you keep locking up commercial coupes because of possum sightings and don’t unlock others in their stead, is it any surprise that you will eventually run out of timber?” said James Lantry (spokesman for ASH owners). Mr Lantry said the CFMEU had sought modelling advice from VicForests, but there has been no advice as yet as to the outcome.
“The government made an announcement they were contemplating buying the mill and they are taking steps now to talk to us about that. We’ve made it clear we are not particularly interested in that option especially at the numbers the premier was suggesting they purchase the mill for,” he added.
“If Vicforests meet its supply plan this year --the agreed target of supply -- we will probably have enough to run the mill until the latter part - probably to the end - of August. if they fall short (probably in the realms of 9-10000 cubes short), we will run out of timber early in August.”
Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Senator Anne Ruston met with the Victorian Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford on 31 March to further discuss wood supply issues. Senator Ruston said the Australian Government was working constructively with the Victorian Government to ensure production forests continue to be a source of wood supply for industry, while also being managed to protect threatened species. These two objectives are not mutually exclusive.
“While wood supply is a matter for the Victorian Government, the Australian Government continues to encourage
Victoria to explore all avenues to secure a reliable wood supply for industry,” the Senator said.
“The Australian Sustainable Hardwood timber mill is located in Heyfield, in the Wellington Shire. Latrobe City Council is aware that the mill’s current owners are looking to relocate operations away from Heyfield and we understand the pain this will cause in that small community,” said Latrobe City council Mayor Kellie O’Callaghan.
”Earlier in the year, Latrobe City Council also raised concerns over delays in negotiations between VicForests and the timber industry as it impacted Australian Paper Maryvale – one of the Latrobe Valley’s biggest employers.
“Securing a long-term future for the timber industry in Latrobe Valley and the wider Gippsland region means job security and economic sustainability,” she added.. “With the loss of jobs in our region, following the closure of the Hazelwood Power Station, this week’s State Government’s announcement ($110m for plantation establishment) is a welcome source of hope for the industry and its long-term prospects,” the Mayor said.
Victorian Association of Forest Industries Chief Executive Officer Tim Johnston said while he noted the government’s comments about their commitment to the mill remaining operational, this proposal does not change the overarching issue of ever constricting timber supply, due to ongoing transfer of production forest to parks and reserves, and the future of the whole industry in Victoria.
“Of the 8 million hectares of public native forest in Victoria, more than 90% is unavailable through reserve protection, or unsuitable for timber harvesting,” he said, and called on the government to urgently finalise its review of Leadbeater’s Possum prescriptions, which should take a whole-of-landscape approach including assessing numbers in National Parks, Reserves and Special Protection Zones [SPZs], as well as timber production areas.
Nathan Trushell, VicForests Acting CEO, said the timber supply offered to the Heyfield mill was at a level that could be sustainably produced from the available forest also taking into consideration the existing contracts VicForests has with other customers.
“Since VicForests initial discussions with ASH, detailed reviews of our resource modelling by external experts have shown that these volumes are in line with the timber resources available to us,” he said.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews earlier said the offer made to ASH was for a three year contract consisting of one year’s timber supply at 80,000m3 and two years at 60,000m3. The offer also included a $5 million industry support package including support for a business case for retooling.
“The Government believes that the Heyfield mill can continue to operate at the proposed volumes.
Premier Andrews said the Government did not rule out assuming operation of the mill at a fair and reasonable value in the event that it becomes necessary.
“Of the 8 million hectares of public native forest in Victoria, more than 90% is unavailable through reserve protection ..."