SIX potential investors are in the state government’s $110 million program to invest in new plantations in Victoria, according to senior government executive Nathan Trushell.
Mr Trushell, Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions forest and fibre executive director, said the program aimed to leverage private investment so that investors could achieve a typical rate of return. The process would finish by the end of the year, he said.
Mr Trushell, a former VicForests chief executive, was speaking at a webinar, ‘Victorian Production Forests – a way forward’, organised by the Institute of Foresters/Australian Forest Growers. The seminar looked at Victorian forestry’s future, with an emphasis on Gippsland, in the light of the government’s decision to close native forestry by 2030.
Mr Trushell said the government strongly supported Opal Australian Paper in the Latrobe Valley. Its owner, Nippon Paper, had recently bought a packaging business for $1.7 billion.
“I am not speaking on Opal’s behalf,” Mr Trushell said, but Opal had a strong focus on growing its package business.
Globally, white paper was in decline, and had been hit by the COVID virus. In the strategic long-term, Opal would be more focussed on packaging business.
“This is partly why we are working through the program to get the right species – it will be pine focussed,” Mr Trushell said.
Mr Trushell said the government’s long-term forestry plan had committed funding until 2032. Apart from the $110 million, there was a $120 million support package for workers, businesses and local communities.
For business, there were business transition support vouchers, the Victorian Timber Innovation Fund and the Victorian Forest Plan Transition Fund, Mr Trushell said.
Worker support included redundancy top-ups, retraining and career transition support, and mental health and wellbeing help. Support for communities included local development strategies and money from the Victorian Forest Plan Transition Fund.
Mr Trushell said 26 businesses to date had taken up forest business transition vouchers, while seven timber innovation grants had gone to businesses in Gippsland. These were $1.6 million to Australian Sustainable Hardwoods in Heyfield to install a new manufacturing line to produce engineered flooring made from plantation shining gum and radiata pine plywood; $397,000 for Radial Timber in Yarram to introduce a small log line and experiment with processing plantation timber; $246,000 for Longwarry Sawmill to use recycled and reclaimed timber to make new timber products; and $40,000 for Brunt’s Harvesting in Orbost to do a feasibility study for transition to plantation harvesting.