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Friday Analysis: Buy Australian Timber could be difficult in Victoria, not as difficult as being a minister

Jaclyn Symes – it’s difficult being a minister

Some great news for the timber industry in general this week has been tempered by the bad news still coming out of East Gippsland. The Buy Australian Timber First campaign sees a much-welcomed united push from all the big operators – AKD, Boral, Hyne, OneFortyOne, Timberlink and Wespine – towards increasing the use of timber in the building industry. In a joint letter to industry partners, the group says the collective industry could face some of the toughest business conditions ever seen. Source: Bruce Mitchell

They say that now is the time for the supply chain to stick together and support each other.

“We know that the construction market will improve again and that a reliable supply of quality Aussie timber framing products will be needed, so it is critical that we support each other over the next 12 months,” the group says.

“We ask that you ‘Buy Aussie Timber First’ during this unprecedented and difficult time, so that we can all support Aussie workers and the great supply chain that we are all a part of and proud of.”

It’s a good call given the drive in building construction will, by default, be looking for the quickest and cheapest way forward.

But so much depends on their call for putting Australian timber first, and the economic trickle-down effect is huge.

The push by Woolworths to once again offer brown paper bags to shoppers is part of that.

And it’s great to see that Woolworths did not go cheap; all paper used has been sourced responsibly, as certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, with recycled paper used in conjunction with non-recycled paper to provide a stronger structure.

As AFPA CEO Ross Hampton noted every extra Australian paper product which could be used by businesses meant jobs were saved right along the supply chain, which reached back to the regional communities which processed the forest products that becomes paper bags and other materials.

If this trend spreads, and other supermarkets join in with offering paper bags (and there is a fair chance they will), it can only be good for everyone.

There certainly won’t be a shortage of trees.

OneFortyOne has clearly signalled its faith in the timber industry in the Greet Triangle.

More than 23 million tree seedlings are being planted across the Green Triangle this winter.

Both hardwood and softwood seedlings on second and third rotation holdings across the south east of South Australia and south west of Victoria are being planted.

Tree Breeding Australia has helped the industry generate superior DNA in the seedlings with chosen desired traits aimed at producing higher quality grade outturn and pulp yield.

Again, the long-term economic impact of the project has also had immediate economic impact in the region, with around 150 people employed on the job.

Many of them are backpackers who will be eating in local cafes, visiting hotels and supporting local supermarkets and other businesses.

Which, sadly, is not happening in eastern Victoria.

The Victorian Government simply refuses to see the damage it is causing in East Gippsland with its decision to shut down the native timber industry by 2030.

If it thought the timber industry would sail along nicely and slowly turn to other enterprises in the lead up to 2030 – and it probably did, if it thought about it at all – then it was obviously misguided in the extreme.

That’s because people – especially younger people in the industry – are already looking for a way out rather than a wait for the end.

On top of that comes the Federal Court decision which has shut down logging at 67 coupes.

The result? The mills are running out of timber and contractors locked into loans conditional with their government contracts have been denied the resource and ability to work.

The Nationals’ Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath, told State Parliament this week that 115 Gippsland families are directly affected.

Victoria’s Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes again declined an opportunity to meet with some of the contractors.

Why? Apparently, according to Ms Symes “you wouldn’t know how difficult it is … to be a minister and other things’’.

She probably doesn’t know how difficult it is for contractors, mill owners and communities to face economic wipe-out either.

She might just find out if the current brawl within the Labor Party in Victoria over branch stacking has an impact on the government’s survivability.