Heyfield mill has a solid future, says Minister
Need remains for long-term wood supply
THE VICTORIAN Government decision to buy Australia’s largest hardwood sawmill at Heyfield in Victoria’s east will reverse plans to shut it down and stop the loss of up to 250 jobs.
Australian Sustainable Hardwoods (ASH) had been locked in a dispute with the Government and Stateowned logging company VicForests over the amount of timber supplied to the mill.
Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford said in a statement that the Government had reached an in-principle agreement with ASH shareholders to buy the mill, subject to due diligence checks. The Government’s offer was based on multiple independent assessments of the business and standard commercial valuation benchmarks. [It is believed the sale would go ahead as this edition was going to press.]
“The Labor Government has reached agreement with the ASH shareholders to buy the Heyfield Timber Mill,” the statement read.
The dispute centred on a move by the state logging agency, VicForests, to slash the mill’s timber supply from 130,000 cubic metres to 80,000 cubic metres.
Last month, the company announced plans to make 50 positions redundant by August.
Ms Pulford said the mill’s existing managers would remain in charge under the Government’s plan.
She would not reveal how much the mill would cost the Government. “This is a very viable business. The transfer of ownership will set this mill up for a very solid future,” Ms Pulford told ABC Gippsland.
CFMEU forestry division spokeswoman Jane Calvert said news of the sale would have come as a relief to workers, their families and the community.
“But no matter who owns the mill it still needs a long-term wood supply” she said.
Victorian Association of Forest Industries CEO Tim Johnston said the announcement did not change the overarching issue of long-term timber supply, and ongoing certainty for the industry in Victoria.
“Of the eight million hectares of public native forest in Victoria, more than 90% is unavailable through reserve protection, or unsuitable for timber harvesting,” he said.
“VAFI supports a strong, secure, and sustainable forest, fibre and wood products industry in Victoria and all businesses in this industry need longterm security of resource to be able to make investment and product development decisions,” he said.
The Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) said the region’s forest industry needed long-term resource certainty from the Victorian Government to prevent further job losses.
“While the (buy) announcement is welcome, there remains a great deal of uncertainty about long-term security of resource. Without a firm commitment from the Victorian Government to our sustainable forest industry, there will be the ongoing threat of job losses in regional Victoria,” said CEO Ross Hampton.
ASH Chief Executive Vince Hurley said the employees were relieved when the announcement came through that there would still be an ongoing business in Heyfield.
“I’m relieved too; we have a world-class facility here, Australia’s largest timber manufacturing operation, it has unique operations, things that are done nowhere else in Australia, and it’s a relief we can continue doing those operations,” Mr Hurley said.
Mr Hurley said the mill will operate business as usual for a year, before management is forced to consider putting the Green Mill from two shifts back to one shift in August 2018.
“There will be no, certainly no, compulsory redundancies in that time,” he said.
“In my time, we’ve come through the recession of the early nineties, we’ve come through the GFT, we’ve come through the GST, and we’ve also come through the ownership of the previous owners to Hermal that were heading into receivership,” he said.
“We’ve come through all that, and not only have we survived, but we’ve thrived.
“We have more products, more customers, more processors, and I’m sure we’ll continue to do that on an ongoing basis into the future.”
■ Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford