ASH's Hey­field Mill clo­sure brought for­ward

Burnie likely choice for new op­er­a­tional site

Australian Forests and Timber - - Front Page -

AUS­TRALIAN SUS­TAIN­ABLE Hard­wood's Hey­field mill will close ear­lier than ex­pected. In fact, the close-down could start as soon as Au­gust.

Then, it's only a mat­ter of time be­fore the next phase in the ma­jor tim­ber pro­ces­sor's jour­ney takes shape in the north­ern Tas­ma­nian port city of Burnie.

The Her­mal Group, own­ers of ASH, said the "forced clo­sure of the mill will be­gin sooner than ini­tially an­nounced due to VicForests ex­pected short sup­ply of logs to the mill again this year".

"While there are busi­ness and com­mer­cial is­sues around this fail­ure by VicForests, the own­ers do note that VicForests has suf­fered losses of sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of har­vest­ing ar­eas this year due to con­tin­ued ap­pli­ca­tion of Lead­beater’s Pos­sum ex­clu­sion zones. VicForests will have now failed to meet its con­trac­tual tim­ber sup­ply ar­range­ments for 4 out of the last 5 years," the of­fi­cial state­ment said.

The Hey­field mill is one of the world in­no­va­tors in prod­uct de­vel­op­ment and waste re­cov­ery.

The mill own­ers had been work­ing with the CSIRO on wood waste fuel paste de­vel­op­ment with the in­ten­tion of ini­tially build­ing a highly ef­fi­cient 5 megawatt scal­able car­bon neu­tral elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tor at the site, as a Na­tional Demon­stra­tor Op­er­a­tional Fa­cil­ity.

The own­ers said they had looked at all op­tions to keep the mill open in­clud­ing less com­mer­cial op­tions such as giv­ing the Gov­ern­ment more time to work through its in­ter­nal is­sues by ac­cept­ing the 80,000 cubes of­fer in the first seven months of the 2017-18 year, how­ever, this was re­jected by the Vic­to­rian Gov­ern­ment.

Dis­tressed about the An­drews Gov­ern­ment forced clo­sured of the mill and es­pe­cially about the 250 staff who will no longer have jobs.

– com­pany state­ment

The own­ers have also looked at im­port­ing sus­tain­able plan­ta­tion logs from Tas­ma­nia and Ash species from Chile but, sadly, none were able to be pro­gressed.

The com­pany said it was dis­tressed about the An­drews Gov­ern­ment forced clo­sured of the mill and es­pe­cially about their 250 staff who will no longer have jobs, and the thou­sands of Vic­to­rian fam­i­lies, who will be ad­versely af­fected by the clo­sure of this prof­itable and well man­aged busi­ness.

They commend the CFMEU for their sig­nif­i­cant ef­forts to have Mr An­drews and his Gov­ern­ment see ba­sic com­mon sense and keep peo­ple in work.

The com­pany said that since Jan­uary this year they had seen many pub­lic com­ments by mem­bers of the An­drews Gov­ern­ment in­clud­ing the Pre­mier him­self. "With the breach of the Agree­ment by the Gov­ern­ment to al­low the own­ers of the mill to ad­vise their staff in March this year of the mill’s forced clo­sure ahead of pub­lic com­ment, to­gether with a me­dia an­nounced of­fer to buy the busi­ness, the own­ers have lost trust in the An­drews Gov­ern­ment.

"No fair com­mer­cial of­fer has been forth­com­ing from the An­drews Gov­ern­ment and any sug­ges­tions that there has been any form of in­tense dis­cus­sions or ne­go­ti­a­tions of any form with the Gov­ern­ment are sim­ply wrong," the com­pany claimed.

"De­spite Daniel An­drews’ state­ments to the me­dia ear­lier this year, it is now clear that his Gov­ern­ment were nei­ther se­ri­ous about mak­ing a gen­uine of­fer for the mill nor were they ever se­ri­ous about ad­dress­ing ei­ther the sup­ply level and con­tract ten­ure needed to op­er­ate this prof­itable high class fa­cil­ity. These po­lit­i­cal games by the An­drews Gov­ern­ment has done noth­ing but make staff at the mill even more anx­ious. "

Clo­sure of the mill will now be­gin in Au­gust.

The Vic­to­rian Gov­ern­ment main­tains it has done all it can to keep the mill op­er­at­ing and claimed that the job losses were both un­nec­es­sary and avoid­able.

"The An­drews La­bor Gov­ern­ment has pro­vided a fair and rea­son­able of­fer to the Her­mal Group, which would keep the Mill open and se­cure lo­cal jobs. This of­fer re­mains on the table," ac­cord­ing Gov­ern­ment spokesper­son.

"We call upon the Her­mal Group to con­tinue en­gag­ing with the Gov­ern­ment so we can se­cure the fu­ture of the mill and pro­tect its jobs," said the spokesper­son.

Ac­cord­ing to sources, the Gov­ern­ment's of­fer of more than $20 mil­lion was based on mul­ti­ple in­de­pen­dent as­sess­ments of the busi­ness and stan­dard com­mer­cial val­u­a­tion bench­marks.

How­ever, the com­pany said the of­fer fell well short of its true value.

James Lantry, spokesper­son for the Her­mal Group, ac­knowl­edged that there had been ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Tas­ma­nian Gov­ern­ment and that Burnie was the most log­i­cal site to re-es­tab­lish. "Lo­gis­ti­cally, sup­ply, work­force and port avail­abil­ity, it's the most log­i­cal site," he said.

Mr Lantry said ini­tial dis­cus­sions had ticked the boxes when it came to the avail­abil­ity and us­abil­ity of plan­ta­tion nitens in Tas­ma­nia.

He said there was still "an enor­mous amount to be worked through" be­fore the fi­nal in­vest­ment de­ci­sion is made.

"We cer­tainly wouldn't have a plant op­er­at­ing within 12 months from the time of an in­vest­ment de­ci­sion. How­ever, you would want to be in pro­duc­tion -- for com­mer­cial rea­sons with the wind-down of our Ash fa­cil­ity -- you would want to be in pro­duc­tion af­ter a fi­nal in­vest­ment de­ci­sion within an 18 month pe­riod.

"Two years in­vest­ment and in­ves­ti­ga­tion into mak­ing nitens work should give some in­di­ca­tion of our level of mo­ti­va­tion," he said.

De­spite talk of a Tas­ma­nian move, the CFMEU main­tains there is still hope for the Hey­field Mill.

Ac­cord­ing to Jane Calvert (Na­tional Pres­i­dent of the CFMEU Forestry, Fur­nish­ing, Build­ing Prod­ucts and Man­u­fac­tur­ing Di­vi­sion) the union will leave no stone un­turned to make sure this mill stays open for the work­ers and the com­mu­nity.

"The union un­der­stands that dis­cus­sions be­tween the Gov­ern­ment and the com­pany have not reached a con­clu­sion, and we be­lieve the com­pany’s state­ment to be pre­ma­ture.

"We will con­tinue to meet with the Gov­ern­ment and the com­pany to try and se­cure a fu­ture for Hey­field," she said.

The union un­der­stands that dis­cus­sions be­tween the Gov­ern­ment and the com­pany have not reached a con­clu­sion, and we be­lieve the com­pany’s state­ment to be pre­ma­ture. – CFMEU

From the coun­try to the city .... work­ers took their griev­ances di­rectly to the seat of gov­ern­ment in Mel­bourne.

Jane Calvert

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