Hey­field mill has a solid fu­ture, says Min­is­ter

Need re­mains for long-term wood sup­ply

Australian Forests and Timber - - Front Page -

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

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