AFL premiership players Leigh Brown and David Wojcinski have thrown their support behind the fight to save Australian Sustainable Hardwoods in Heyfield.
Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull said the pair grew up in Heyfield and understood the importance of the mill and these jobs to the town and the local economy.
“Browny has recently moved back to Heyfield and although ‘Bomber’ is living in Geelong, he maintains a strong family connection to Heyfield,” he said.
Mr Bull hoped the support of the high-profile stars would raise awareness of the plight facing ASH, which has flagged it may cease operations due to lack of access to timber resource.
“As I said in parliament last week when tabling the petition with 2691 signatures, the timber resource needed was there in 2014 and it is there now — the difference being it has been placed into reserve in the interim without being replaced.
“Quite simply, decisions need to be made to provide resource back to the industry and political will, will achieve this, but this government knows it will not be popular in the seats like Richmond, Brunswick and Northcote, which it narrowly holds from the Greens.
“We need a native timber industry in this state, there is not enough plantation timber in the ground to replace native timber supplies and reports have shown plantation timber cannot provide the appearance grade timber the market demands.
“So if we get rid of our native timber industry, we drive up imports and the country already imports $4 billion in timber products from developing countries with far less oversight.
“ASH uses 100 per cent of its hardwood from regrowth forests and plantations and nothing from old growth and the resource that has been locked up these past two years needs to be replaced.”
Wellington Shire mayor Carolyn Crossley has received a response to her letter to Premier Daniel Andrews over the Heyfield Timber Mill concerns.
The Premier thanked the mayor for her letter and said that he shared the community’s concerns and wanted to reassure her that the government was working hard to ensure the ongoing sustainability of employment in Gippsland.
“The Hon Jaala Pulford, Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development, the Hon Gavin Jennings, Special Minister of State and Ms Harriet Shing, MLC for Eastern Victoria are committed to working together with the Directors of ASH on options for the future of the Heyfield Mill,” the letter read.
“With regard to the motion which was carried at the public meeting in Heyfield, we came to government on a commitment to fight for every Victorian job and we are doing just that.”
Cr Crossley said although she was pleased to receive a response, it was slightly disappointing that he provided no definitive answers on the resolution of securing the future of the Heyfield Mill.
“I was encouraged by his support for government representatives to continue to work with ASH so that a solution can be found,” she said.
While there should be a focus on the 250 direct jobs that could be lost, Cr Crossley said other, unrelated industries would also be affected.
“It’s that inter-relationship of jobs and industries that people don’t think of -— for example, we get the sawdust for the soft flooring for our Gippsland Regional Livestock Exchange from ASH,” she said.
“We’ve been getting increased attention in Wellington for chicken broiler farms, and part of the attraction is access to clean bedding, which is sawdust from ASH.
“(One local contractor) said if the mill goes, they’d have to be letting staff go, because they work on the maintenance and emergency call-outs.”