ASH and CFMEU to meet Pulford over mill closure

Representatives from Australian Sustainable Hardwoods and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union will meet with Regional Development and Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford on Monday.

ASH, which owns the timber mill under threat in Heyfield, will demand the government come to the table for a meeting “of substance”.

“There’s reports that we’re in discussions with VicForests, but they haven’t made any revisions; they haven’t come back with any alternatives,” an ASH spokesperson said.

“We need that minimum amount of timber.

“We can progressively move to plantations, but if (the government) wants us to do it in a hurry, they will have to help us re-tool.”

The spokesperson said it would cost more than $30 million to re-tool for lower conservation areas, in terms of log quality and size.

The effects would also be felt by other businesses, in Heyfield and elsewhere, they said.

“If you take us out of the equation, there’s only imports you lose that big chunk of manufacturing,” they said, noting it was unlikely raw logs would be imported.

“There’s very nervous people in downstream industries.”

The impact of log exports overseas was also an issue, with ASH’s spokesperson alleging 30,000 cubic metres was being sold to China, rather than local mills where it could be processed and value added.

The Committee for Wellington’s chairman, Trevor Gordijn, said the situation was not a simple business closure with little impact, and implored the minister to ensure supply commitments continued.

“(It’s) a business which around 7000 people, both upstream and downstream of the business, are reliant on,” he said.

“ASH is an extremely viable business and one which continues to show commitment to the industry and the region by investing millions in its Gippsland operations.”

The committee pointed out that currently, the timber for ASH came from 1/80th of the six per cent of the forestry area of Victoria, with 94 per cent not available for logging.

Eastern Victoria MLC Harriet Shing posted an open letter to an ASH employee on her Facebook page, noting the uncertainty in the community and emphasising how important it was to secure long-term supply.

“Next week I’m meeting with ASH, the union and the Minister, where I’ll again be putting the best case for our communities that I can for ASH and timber workers in Gippsland,” she wrote.

“Our industry and towns like Heyfield deserve to survive and thrive with a reliable and sustainable supply of quality product and employment for generations and finding opportunities to increase the use of high-grade plantation timber to offset the decreasing availability of native forest timber is part of this work.”