Twelve months ago Whittakers Timber Products in southwest WA was considered one of the biggest sawmill and processing operations in Western Australia’s hardwood industry. Today, it’s preparing to shut up shop. Source: ABC Rural
After letting go of almost half its 100-strong workforce five months ago, the writing is on the wall for the remaining employees at its milling operation, north-east of Greenbushes.
Site manager Graham Duncan has been in the timber industry for 45 years. He says the local community is yet to feel the real impact of the dozens of job losses.
“It’s been pretty difficult and at the moment. We’re just processing the remaining material with this minimum crew and it’ll take about 12 months to do that.
“We’re still running with 34 people, so we haven’t felt the full brunt.
“It’ll have a major impact on the community.”
Whittaker’s jarrah, karri and marri is sourced solely from WA’s managed forests and is supplied under contract by the State Government, through the Forest Products Commission.
Forest resource is allocated to mills on a 10-year forest management plan. The latest plan was released last Friday, just three weeks before the current contracts expire.
Melissa Haslam, from Forest Industries Federation WA, said the added environmental restrictions in the new plan will increase the cost of harvest.
“Layers on environmental precaution are building on top of previous layers of environmental precaution and essentially the pendulum has just swung too far one way and it put enormous pressure on the industry.”
Whittakers Timber Products benefitted when neighbouring timber business Deanmill’s operator Gunns was recently looking to leave the region, providing more timber for Whittakers to help its bottom line.
But when Gunns sold roughly half of its contracts in the south to Auswest Timber in 2012, Whittakers could only access northern resource, which would be unviable, given the carting distance.
“We’ve got to go further and cartage is a pretty big expense and that cartage added to the existing costs would make the site unviable,” Duncan said.
“We would’ve had to be going 100 kilometres north, sometimes up to 150 kilometres.”
Duncan said Whittakers also recently invested $11 million to handle smaller logs as the mill moved into regrowth forest.
“But all that’s gone to nothing.”
Duncan said the Greenbushes site was put on the market about 12 months ago but there were no buyers.
“Unless someone wanted to buy the operation, and I don’t see that actually happening, then it’s all too late and it’ll be shut down.
“There’ll be nothing here.”