WELLINGTON Shire mayor Carolyn Crossley has urged the Hermal Group and the state government to return to the negotiating table to save the Australian Sustainable Hardwoods Heyfield mill.
The mill operators announced earlier this year the supply contract was not sustainable, and if it could not negotiate a better deal, the mill would close.
Since that announcement, council has urged the government to review the hardwood timber supply, particularly in relation to the restrictive protection zones and practices in place for the Leadbeater’s possum.
The state government however, has opted to maintain its timber offer and instead negotiate a purchase of the mill.
The Hermal Group has now formally rejected the government’s offer and declared imminent closure of the green mill, leaving around 50 workers unemployed, with more to follow.
Cr Crossley said council was devastated by the announcement.
“ASH is Heyfield’s largest employer, with more than 250 workers and countless others in the community who will also be impacted,” she said.
“It is incredibly disappointing this issue has not been resolved.
“While council has not been party to the details of the negotiations, we simply urge the government and Hermal to get back to the table and continue to negotiate in good faith.
“We will continue to work closely with the government to keep the mill open and maintain jobs.
“Council will provide people with necessary support and assistance during this difficult time”.
News of the mill’s earlier than expected closure has also prompted anger from politicians.
While the owner of ASH, the Hermal Group, has laid the blame for the closure at the feet of the state government, Labor Eastern Victoria MLC Harriet Shing said the government had made a fair offer to purchase the mill.
“An offer that was based on a number of independent valuations and standard commercial valuation benchmarks,” Ms Shing said on social media.
“But despite all of its repeated claims that the workers and community of Heyfield are its priority, the company has rejected this offer.
“We will continue to seek a negotiated agreement with the Hermal Group so that these Gippsland jobs and skills can be saved, and so that we can continue producing world-class products into the future.”
State Opposition Leader Matthew Guy and Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull visited the Heyfield mill on the day of the announcement to speak with ASH management and workers.
“Daniel Andrews’ promise to fight for every Victorian job was clearly a lie,” Mr Guy said.
“The Andrews government has presided over thousands of lost Gippsland jobs with no remorse for their failure to step in and save them.”
Mr Bull said the closure of the mill was devastating news for the workers, their families and the Heyfield community.
“Daniel Andrews promised to visit Heyfield in February, but more than three months later he still refuses to show any support for our community,” he said.
“The Premier for Melbourne fails to understand the mill doesn’t need a new owner to save these jobs — it needs a change in government policy.”
The Wilderness Society has called for decisive action by the state government to restructure the logging industry and move rapidly to create the Great Forest National Park.
“Now that the Heyfield sawmill owners have confirmed their closure of the facility, the Andrews government must take this opportunity to decisively set in train a series of events to create the Great Forest National Park, complete the transition of the logging industry to a plantation base, commit to a retraining and investment strategy to support impacted workers, and create other jobs in regional Victoria,” Wilderness Society Victorian campaigns manager Amelia Young said.
“The Andrews government must now move quickly to ensure workers, families and the Heyfield community are supported through inevitable change.
“This a very difficult time for Heyfield workers who have been let down by bad management.
“Owners of the sawmill, the Hermal Group, are pointing the finger at a shortage of native timber as the reason for the mill’s closure.
“However, they knew of future wood supply shortages when they bought the facility from Gunns in 2012, with clear advice being provided by VicForests that reductions in availability of Mountain Ash native forest wood would occur due to the impacts of bushfires.”