THE ASH workers did not deserve the past eight weeks of anxiety.
The stress of not knowing their future has been forced on them by the conflicting demands of an employer facing impossible economic restrictions and a government beholden to factional forces and ideological beliefs opposed to any form of forestry in state forests, regardless of its sustainability.
When ASH announced in January it would be forced to close its Heyfield mill, because of VicForests refusal to deliver the 150,000 cubic meters of saw logs needed to keep the mill’s manufacturing plant economically viable, the government should have been honest and said there was no way it would ease its policy of locking up ever increasing areas of state forests in reserves.
Instead, fearing to be seen to be impotent to prevent further employment losses in Gippsland it asked ASH owners, the Hermal Group, to delay any decision to close.
That request was granted, not once but three times.
The end result, exactly the same timber allocation, with a token offer of some financial assistance.
The Hermal Group had opened its books to the government; clearly establishing the offered 80,000 cubic meters would result in the manufacturing plant running at a $12 million loss.
For the Premier Daniel Andrews to front the media on Friday morning, before the company had been able to break the news to its employees, blaming the loss of jobs at Heyfield on the ASH board for refusing to accept the offer they had demonstrated was not economically viable, was an exercise in blatant political cynicism.
The ASH workers may have been held hostage to the demands of the
Hermal Group, which is known in the industry for playing hard and using every strategy to maximise its profits, but that is hardly reprehensible.
It has to be profitable to survive.
The mill and manufacturing plant can’t operate viably with the volumes offered by VicForests.
The Premier’s offer on commercial radio on Friday morning defies belief.
Was he seriously considering the taxpayers run a mill at an annual loss of millions of dollars?
The Hermal Group said it had not been approached with such an offer and the mill’s $20 million manufacturing plant was not for sale.
Having now satisfied the anti-logging lobby groups demanding the end of Victoria’s and Australia’s largest hardwood industry player by restricting its primary resource, the government must deliver meaningful employment alternatives.
Not just to the 250 Heyfield workers it has effectively sacked but also provide alternatives for the many thousands of downstream jobs it has placed at risk.
If it does not it will stand condemned as the Labor government that sold out its working class base.