A 250-STRONG delegation of Australian Sustainable Hardwoods workers and their families gathered on the steps of Parliament and in Treasury Gardens on Tuesday, hoping to put faces to the immediate job losses Heyfield will sustain if the ASH mill closes.
Lead by Green Mill supervisor Anthony Wilkes, the delegation congregated in the Treasury Gardens, hoping to hear word about the mill’s future.
The state government was expected to make the decision in a cabinet meeting early on Tuesday morning.
Despite a few government ministers seen entering and exiting the building, as well as a few more peering down from the windows of Treasury Place, no state government representative acknowledged the workers, who, in lieu of a visit to Heyfield from the Premier, had travelled nearly three hours via bus to visit Parliament.
Some of the ASH representatives had been at the gardens since 7am.
ASH chairman Ron Goldschlager said the gathering was about gaining attention from the state government, but he didn’t have any expectations.
“It’s a beautiful day in the Treasury Gardens; what the politicians are doing, I’ve got no idea,” he laughed.
“[We] wanted the politicians to see the faces of real people ... our people, I’m very proud of them.
“There shouldn’t be any issue, there’s nothing here really contentious or political.”
Mr Goldschlager said the National Parks, Leadbeater’s possum and the timber industry could co-exist together and weren’t mutually exclusive concepts.
“The equivalent of what’s being cut is 450 times the MCG, per year, and it’s all replanted and regrown,” he said.
“We’re an ethical, moral organisation, we’re clean, we’re green, we’re sustainable, we’re doing all the right things, and there’s no reason to be closing us down.
“It’s a terrible pity that a small fringe-extreme group of people seem to have hijacked the whole agenda for no reason.
“It’s very sad that it’s come to a point that people have to come here,” he said.
“I hope, we can only hope.”
Drying supervisor Shane Phillips followed in his father’s footsteps and began working at the mill when he was 17-years old, and has continued to work there for the past 38 years.
He married Leanne, whose father, grandfather and great grandfather all worked at the mill, and the pair put two daughters through university.
Mr Phillips questioned, with job losses at Hazelwood Power Station, Patties Foods in Bairnsdale, and speculation of job losses at Murray Goulburn plants in Maffra and Leongatha, where people were supposed to work in Gippsland.
“When I was young, the pension was something you got when you retired, it wasn’t welfare,” he said.
“I’ve paid super all my life and now I’ve been told I’ve got to make the shortfall for a pension.
“[The government] are going to take my job off me in the meantime, so how am I supposed to get by?” he asked.
“It’s up to the government to stop looking at economics and start looking at people.”
Mr Phillips said the company was sustainable and ethical, and exceeded industry standards.
“We don’t want to import stuff from other countries that aren’t managed properly; we’ve got to actually start looking after ourselves first,” Mr Phillips said.
“We’re down to six per cent of the forest, and we’re using just 0.88 per cent of that per year- we’ve done all the right things, yet they want more.”
Mr Phillips said he was frustrated by a lack of facts surrounding the debate, in particular circulation of information from Australian National University professor David Lindenmayer which he claimed was misleading.
“There’s no scientific fact, it’s fake science . . . they’re going on his ideology, because he’s an activist,” Mr Phillips said.
“This is all-over stupidity, because of people like him. The ‘greens’ are putting out a lot of rubbish on the internet, and we can prove a lot of what they’re saying is wrong.”
Mr Phillips was worried how his 10-month-old granddaughter was going to be raised in a family with no income.
“It’s pretty emotional; I’ve spent my whole life in this industry, all my friends work in this industry and nobody seems to care because of a few people down here who want to change the rules.
“All we’re doing is earning an honest living, to bring up our kids.”
One politician who did interact with the group was Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull, who said it was crunch-time for the mill.
“It’s time Daniel Andrews came and met with the mill workers and mill management, and provide a resolution to this,” he said.
“He simply has to put the jobs of the 250 workers at Heyfield before inner-city Greens preferences, it’s as simple as that.,” Mr Bull said.
“He’s been dilly-dallying on this for a number of months when he hasn’t had to, and it’s time that he came out, stumped up, and gave these workers the piece of mind that they need.”
Timbersmart Software managing director Chris Moysey said the closure of the mill at Heyfield would have a significant impact on his business, which manages the mill’s full inventory of logs, its processing, distribution, order entry and financials.
“We do a lot of really innovative applications with ASH, they’re right up there with technology, and it would definitely impact us,” he said.
Mr Moysey said while the 250 immediate jobs were imperative enough, the government needed to consider the thousands of indirect jobs that would suffer as a result of closure.
“I’ve known Vince for a very long time, and most of the crew, so I’ve definitely come to support them.”
As the workers shifted their cause to the steps of Parliament facing Spring St, they sat silently behind a small group of vocal protestors from the Rubicon Valley Protection Group.
Rubicon Valley Protection Group convener Ken Deacon said his future was being governed by the decision concerning Heyfield.
“We knew that there was going to be a rally with the Heyfield mill workers coming to Melbourne, and because we’ve had no success taking attention of the minister and the Premier to our plight in the Rubicon Valley, we thought we’d come here to share our story,” he said.
“Our story’s no different to what the mill workers is; our future’s in dire straits as well.
“The volume of timber that we’re finding is required by the mill, which could keep going on if they get the hearsay of the premier to continue as they are, we’re going to see the total demise of the Rubicon State Forest.”
Mr Deacon currently works as a tourist operator, running Rubicon Valley Horse Riding, which has operated in the Rubicon forest for 45 years.
Mr Deacon claimed his business had been forced out of its usual trail riding routes for the past six years, as he argued the forest had been logged to the point of resembling wasteland.
“We’ve been forced out, up the forest,” he said.
“We’re here to convey as a local community, to the community of Heyfield, that this is a dilemma we’re facing, and our future is on the line as well.”
Following a request from state government to delay implementation of the forced mill closure for another week the ASH board scheduled an extraordinary meeting as a sign of good faith.
ASH received an offer from the government Wednesday afternoon but declined to comment until after it held its extraordinary board meeting last night, after the Gippsland Times’ print deadline.