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Friday analysis: high timber demand means everyone’s too busy to meet

Covid-19 continues to claim its victims – both medically and economically – across the world. Australia, and New Zealand, have in relative terms been lucky. Being isolated islands has helped. While the vaccines seem to be working and fatalities seem few if any at all, vigilance remains essential. It’s not over by a long shot; reverberations will continue for some time to come.

When the virus initially hit comment was made here that one of the wider obvious casualties would be industry conferences. With nations in lockdown and even interstate travel in Australia still problematic conference organisers everywhere began pulling the pin.

In Australia AusTimber 2020 was one of the truly big ones. As was Frame Australia’s Timber Offsite Construction. The conferences organized by New Zealand’s Forest Industry Engineering Association came next. WoodTECH, HarvestTECH and ForestTECH were delayed, then cancelled or at best postponed.

While it is obvious international travel is still a restriction for many of these events, WoodTECH organisers have run into an additional problem. In New Zealand at least, mill operators simply don’t have the time to attend. Conference organisers noted that the unprecedented level of building activity means mills are working extra shifts and extra hours to meet the demand.

“They’re all just too busy,” organisers said.

The same of course applies in Australia; just try to call a frame and truss maker for a chat. Later please.

It’s hard to tell when it will all end. Experts have run out of ideas.

At least the awarding of contracts including increased volumes to South Australian mills by ForestrySA will help. It could, in the bigger scheme of things, be a drop in the bucket, but it’s a start.

However, the announcement of the contracts by Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development David Basham sadly did not make mention of the fire-salvaged timber available on Kangaroo Island.

The salvaged timber has been tested and declared suitable for housing and prices with mills have been agreed. But it’s the cost of carting the logs that is preventing builders accessing reportedly enough wood for 10,000 homes.

In May last year Assistant Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senator Jonathon Duniam announced the Federal Government was supporting the forestry industry with $15 million for salvage log transport that, as he said at the time, was “critical to assisting the sector to get back on its feet following the devastating bushfires”.

But, for some reason, the package only applied to New South Wales and Victoria. Mr Basham has approached Senator Duniam for SA to be included in that package.

It can only be assumed the political wheels are turning ever so slowly.