The current timber supply shortages in Victoria brought about by vexatious legal action against VicForests is causing anguish among the people of Orbost, where 37% of its workforce faces the axe. Source: Timberbiz
Already thrown into an atmosphere of uncertainty with the announcement in 2019 that the Andrews Government would inexplicably shut down native timber harvesting by 2030, Orbost is the canary in the coalmine as many regional Victorian centres face similar crises.
Parkside Timber, which is Orbost’s second largest employer, is running on the last few loads of log supply and will need to take steps similar to Mectec sawmill in nearby Newmerella.
Mectec was forced to lay off its casual workforce and put its permanent staff on whatever annual leave they had left after Covid stripped much of that.
Now the 37 staff at Parkside face a similar fate. Should these mills close, along with the contracting businesses which supply them, the estimated direct timber job losses to the Orbost/Marlo area will be 115.
That represents 24% of the current workforce (there are 470 estimated full-time jobs among a population of 2866).
One contractor said that his business and other contractors in the area employ 46 people, which equates to an estimated $4m in wages lost to the town each year.
The impacts will be far greater on peripheral businesses such as mechanics and tyre fitters servicing trucks and other vehicles, engineering services, fuel depots, etc.
It’s estimated those services represent another 60 jobs in the area making it a total of 37% of the workforce directly impacted by the current timber supply shortages and oncoming closure of native forestry.
The psychological impacts on those people and the families they support cannot be underestimated.
Forest & Wood Communities Australia went to Orbost last week to speak with what was thought would be a few families to get an idea of what they are going through. Overwhelmingly, 50 people came to meet with FWPA and shared stories of an uncertain future.
Jenny Edebohls is a retiree and sits on the Orbost Club committee. When asked what she thought Orbost might become after the demise of the timber industry which sustains it, she said “It will be a ghost town. It will be decimated”.
“We will lose services and young families will leave because those services are no longer available.”
Timber worker Justin Burn is just a father who is relying on those services after returning to the town to be among family as a support network for his 9-year-old daughter who suffers autism.
“We’ve structured my family around staying here,” he said.
“But at the end of the day, if we can’t get work to keep our family financially stable here, we will have to move away.”
Young people, such as 15-year-old Brayden Fenner, who was born in the town, will be forced to leave behind lifelong friends and teammates.
“All my mates are here are just great and I couldn’t imagine leaving them,” he said.
Steve Redman who has lived in Orbost all his life and worked at the local mill for 37 years is wondering where he will go when he’s forced out of work.
“I can’t afford to (stay). Everyone has got mortgages and car payments and you can’t afford that on the dole,” he said.
“(When) there’s no jobs here, you’ve just got to leave. Simple as that.”
FWCA Managing Director, Justin Law, said the heart-breaking situation in Orbost was unnecessary.
“The Andrews Government has not provided one scientific or rational reason for its decision to close native forestry by 2030,” he said.
“The Wellington Shire Council couldn’t even get the reasoning for it under Freedom of Information, so we can only surmise that anti-forestry ideology is far more important to the Labor Government than the people in regional Victoria.
“That it allows self-interested fringe activist groups to reduce timber supply to a trickle in the courts, shows they don’t care if people are thrown on the scrapheap before the 2030 deadline.
“If they did, they would keep their promise of maintaining 2019 levels of supply to at least ensure the people of Orbost and other regional towns can try to make a new life for themselves.”