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Friday Analysis – Eden-Monaro seat swinging from the trees

It’s not hard to see the importance of the Federal seat of Eden-Monaro. It has long been held up as a bellwether seat; from the 1972 election until the 2013 election, Eden-Monaro was won by the party that also won the election. During that time, all of its sitting members were defeated at the polls – none retired or resigned. Source: Bruce Mitchell

If fact only two members have retired – Allan Fraser in 1972 and the current sitting member Mike Kelly who resignation yesterday has caused the upcoming important by-election.

Nine members have lost their seat, and one died in office.

Dr Kelly’s 2016 victory made him the seat’s first opposition MP since 1969.

On the flip side, no government has won a seat from an opposition at a by-election in more than 100 years.

It is probably the epitome of the swinging seat.

Eden-Monaro is one of the “original” Australian Federal electorates.

The division was proclaimed in 1900 and was one of the original 65 divisions to be contested at the first federal election.

Its boundaries have changed very little throughout its history, and it includes the towns of Yass, Bega and Cooma and the city of Queanbeyan. It completely surrounds the Australian Capital Territory.

The by-election should attract a bevy of candidates.

The Labor Party will have a shot, as will the Liberal Party and the National Party. All have put their hands up. Expect the Greens and a pile of independents and minor parties/ single issue parties to also join the fray.

Eden-Monaro of course is at the heart of New South Wales timber country, and the timber industry – its past, present and future – will be a key issue in the election. It has been described as being Australia’s most important forest industries federal electorate.

The summer’s bushfires, and the future handling and management of the industry into the future, will be a key – possibly the key – issue. And there is also Covid-19 which is starting to bite in regional areas, none more possibly than Tumut.

According to the Australian Forest Products Association CEO Ross Hampton the Eden-Monaro by-election will be go to the candidate who delivers the strongest and most positive growth plan for forest industries.

As Mr Hampton has pointed out, thousands of Eden-Monaro voters either work directly in the forestry/timber industries with tens of thousands more in associated jobs supporting nearly $2 billion of economic activity.

It would be a very brave candidate that does not apply maximum thought and attention to that.

While a date for the by-election has not been announced to Covid-19 complications, expect a vigorous battle.

Sadly, predictions of a major downturn in the building industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic appear to be slowly coming true and AKD’s mills in four states have become the first casualty.

The company yesterday announced its mills at Colac, Yarram, Tumut and Caboolture have temporarily stopped production due to the predicted decrease in demand for building products.

AKD’s CEO Shane Vicary says demand for new housing has fallen off the edge of a cliff.

The company said it was looking at scenarios where it would operate at half of its production rate for the coming six months.

AKD’s decision underlines industry-wide calls for the Federal Government to deliver some form of recovery package for the sector to counter the massive reduction in new house starts and therefore the timber products used in their construction.

It now appears that the AKD situation, which has seen 800 workers forced to take leave in a bid to prevent an oversupply of timber products, may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Mr Vicary says it would be the regional communities where the mills are based that would feel the consequences.

The Greater Green Triangle secretary for the CFMEU, Brad Coates, says employers are talking about going back to a four-day week.

He is right to point out that this is not going to be ‘we’ve got 6 months to solve this problem.

He says that unless governments can put in place a plan that gives some sort of confidence into the future then it will be tsunami for a lot of those regional communities that rely on the wages underpin their economies.

Sadly, AKD has already proven he may be right.