Australasia's home for timber news and information

Nippon closes down white line at Opal, more job losses for Gippsland

Nationals Member for Morwell Martin Cameron with Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region Melina Bath at the Opal site.

Opal Australia will shut down its graphic paper manufacturing operations at its mill in Maryvale in eastern Victoria. The company says it will now focus on its packaging business. Unions believe about 200 people may lose their jobs. Source: Timberbiz

The ABC says that brown paper production will not be affected. The mill previously produced up to 200,000 tonnes of white paper per year, with 300 reams of paper created a minute.

The ABC has reported that representatives from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, the Electrical Trades Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union will meet with Opal Australia this morning.

Union sources said it was hoped the redundancy process could be expedited to two to three months.

Opal manufactures and sells paperboard, kraft paper, graphic paper, corrugated board, and folding cartons in Australia and New Zealand.

The Nationals Member for Morwell, Martin Cameron said he was devastated for the 200 workers and their families and the many people who will be effected by the flow on effects of this closure.

“The reason I ran for parliament was to support our workers and I am just so devastated that we have lost these jobs here in the Valley,” he said.

“While it’s disappointing that Opal Australian Paper has made this decision, it has clearly come about because of Labor’s policy failures on the forestry industry.

“I will continue to fight for these workers to ensure they receive the necessary support to re-train and find new jobs because the last thing we want is to lose these workers and their families from the Valley all together.”

The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath said the writing had been on the wall for some time and Labor had failed to act.

“We have warned Labor time and again that it needed to close legal loopholes that have allowed ongoing green law-fare against the timber industry and ultimately locked out timber workers from the forest.

“This has had a devastating effect on our local harvest and haulage sector as well as local timber mills and now the Latrobe Valley’s largest private employer,” she said.

“These job losses are directly at the hands of Daniel Andrews and his Ministers and they need to move heaven and earth to find alternative industries and employment for the Latrobe Valley.”

The Nationals Member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien said Labor’s forestry policy was a disaster that would only result in more job losses in Gippsland and worse global environmental outcomes as Australia turns to imports to fill the void.

“Remember in November 2019, Daniel Andrews guaranteed the jobs at the Maryvale Mill until at least 2050 and scoffed at suggestions that Labors policies would cost jobs.

“The proof is now in the pudding that the Premier had lied and unfortunately it’s Gippsland workers who bear the brunt,” Mr O’Brien said.

“The most frustrating thing is that this didn’t need to happen.

“We have a world class sustainable timber industry that could persist for centuries into the future but for the desire to win green votes in the city.”

Mr O’Brien said Greens political party calls for the immediate cessation of native timber harvesting showed just how ill-informed and out of touch they are.

“Native forest harvesting sequesters carbon and uses a sustainable renewable resource – what could be better for the environment?”

In a statement Opal’s owner Nippon Paper said Maryvale had sourced eucalyptus wood produced in Victoria’s state-owned forests as the raw material for bleached pulp, the main ingredient of graphic paper, from VicForests.

It says VicForests had been contesting a combined court case involving the Environment East Gippsland and Kinglake Friends of the Forest environmental groups since 2021 regarding its timber harvesting activities.

“On 11 November 2022, the Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia, issued orders against VF which impacted VF’s ability to continue its timber harvesting operations, making it impossible for Opal to procure eucalyptus wood from VF,” the statement says.

“In response to this sudden and unexpected suspension of supply, the company and Opal has been considering alternative wood supplies in order to continue graphic paper operations but has concluded that alternative procurement is not feasible and has decided to discontinue the graphic paper business at the MV Mill.”

In a statement this morning Opal said that having been seriously considering this option and consulting with its team members and unions on this matter, it would now “consult further on the impact of this final decision”.

“Following that consultation, the process will then move through redeployment considerations and into a redundancy process in accordance with Opal’s legal obligations.”

Opal says it will now strengthen its core strategy as an integrated manufacturer of cardboard fibre packaging in Australia and New Zealand.

“Opal is committed to working closely with our key stakeholders to achieve a successful turnaround at the Maryvale Mill by transforming the site to meet the growing need for fibre packaging in Australia and New Zealand,” the company said.

“It is now important to re-set the Maryvale Mill over the long-term as a sustainable, profitable, and focused packaging manufacturing site within the integrated Opal business.

“We are continuing to work with the Victorian Government regarding any future support for the Maryvale Mill.”

Opal reportedly employed 850 workers at its Maryvale mill, according to The Weekly Times, prior to the temporary stand downs, and is the Latrobe Valley’s biggest employer.