Mill ‘changes’ needed

CHANGES to the former Australian Sustainable Hardwoods mill in Heyfield will be needed to meet lower timber supplies, according to state Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford.

The minister's comments came as the sale of the mill was discussed in state parliament last week.

National Party MPs claim the state government has broken its promise to the Heyfield community that jobs would not be lost at the mill.

They claimed Ms Pulford failed to stand by a promise from Labor's Eastern Victoria MLC Harriet Shing in March that the mill would "not lose jobs overall" if it was sold to the government.

Answering a question from Nationals Eastern Victoria MLC Melina Bath, Ms Pulford told parliament Ms Shing indicated in a radio interview the government's preparedness to be a buyer of last resort.

"That is certainly what we have done," Ms Pulford said.

"We have announced that we have reached an agreement with the owners of the mill at Heyfield to purchase the mill, and we are certainly very much looking forward to the conclusion of those matters at the earliest opportunity," she said.

"The mill at Heyfield was closing; it now is not closing."

Ms Pulford said the government was "doing the responsible thing in purchasing this mill, in ensuring that it stays open and in putting it on the most sustainable footing that it possibly can be".

Having access to less timber, the minister said, would require changes at the mill.

"We have been up-front about that the entire time," she said.

"The undertaking that we sought from the owners of the mill, the Hermal Group, was that there be no redundancies during the period of the settlement and resolution of the purchase.

"That is the undertaking that they have given us, and there is no reason to believe that that undertaking has been breached."

Shadow Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said the process to sell the Heyfield mill had gone on for too long.

"Heyfield mill workers have been forced to put their lives on hold while the Andrews Labor government drags its heels on the sale negotiations," he said.

"If Jaala Pulford worked as hard to finalise the mill sale as she did in parliament to shift the blame for jeopardising country jobs, the sale would already be finalised.

"The only jobs Labor cares about are those of their inner-city MPs who will rely on Greens preferences to hold their seats at next year's election."

Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull said the government's promises of no job losses were hollow words, after mill management confirmed last month the afternoon shift had been cut from the green mill, costing 20 jobs.

"The Andrews Labor government is desperately spinning a 'future for the mill' as the best outcome, when it is clear our community wants to see a future for the mill and all 250 jobs saved," Mr Bull said.

"The kick in the guts is that the sale of the Heyfield mill never had to happen in the first place the timber supply is there.

"Yet again it's clear that Labor is sacrificing jobs in the country for its own political survival.

"The Andrews Labor government must urgently confirm none of the 250 jobs will be lost under its ownership."

Gippsland Senior
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