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Tas MP says Vic timber companies are ‘engaging in predatory pricing’

John Tucker

A Tasmanian MP has claimed Victorian timber companies – denied access to local hardwood – are undercutting Tasmanian competitors and jeopardising the State’s timber industry. Source: Timberbiz

The Independent Member for Lyons, John Tucker claims the Tasmanian timber industry is facing a dire crisis while the ineptitude of the Tasmanian Government “become increasingly apparent”.

“While we acknowledge and support the beneficial collaboration between Victorian and Tasmanian companies, which creates jobs and bolsters the local economy, we vehemently condemn the underhanded tactics being employed by Victorian companies, in collaboration with the Tasmanian government owned entity, Sustainable Timbers Tasmania,” Mr Tucker said.

Mr Tucker did not name the Victorian companies involved.

“These companies, bolstered by close to one billion dollars paid to them by the Victorian government to stop logging their own forests, are wreaking havoc on Tasmanian contractors. Fuelled by the funds they have already secured, thanks to Dan Andrews and Victorian taxpayers, they are engaging in predatory pricing, undercutting Tasmanian businesses, and forcing them out of operation,” Mr Tucker said.

“It is a well-known fact that Dan Andrews’ mismanagement has already inflicted severe harm on the Victorian timber industry. Regrettably, it appears that the disastrous consequences of his decisions are now poised to impact Tasmania’s timber industry as well; and what has the Rockliff minority government and Minister Ellis done to address this critical issue? Absolutely nothing. In fact, they are encouraging the demise of our forestry sector by allowing Victorian loggers to use our timber resources to maintain their businesses and profits.

“The inept response of Minister Ellis is not only disheartening but also a stark display of incompetence. While six precious weeks slipped away, from my first question in parliament on May 31, 2023, until today, government inaction has afforded Victorian companies the time to undercut Tasmanian competitors and jeopardise an entire industry. Such a lackadaisical approach is unacceptable, especially considering the significant impact it has on the livelihoods of hardworking Tasmanians.”

Mr Tucker said the forestry sector contributes a staggering $1.2 billion to the Tasmanian economy.

It was an industry that should be nurtured, protected, and supported with unwavering dedication.

However, Mr Tucker said the current administration had failed to provide the necessary assurances and protections, even after Resources Minister Felix Ellis made his statement in parliament on 31 May 2023, where he claimed to be committed to securing Tasmanian jobs and ensuring timber supply.

“Regrettably, these assurances have proven empty, and the industry has received no semblance of certainty since the disastrous decision made by the Victorian Government. It took an extended period of time for the Minister to acknowledge the gravity of his inaction,” he said.

“Only after it became glaringly obvious that his failures had consequences, has he recognised the situation. In correspondence to me, Minister Ellis reluctantly acknowledged: ‘Labor’s decision to end native forestry in Victoria virtually overnight poses a significant challenge for Tasmania, even with our strong Buy Local Policy’.”

Mr Tucker said that one Tasmanian supplier – named by the Mercury in Hobart as TP Bennett and Sons, had criticised Mr Ellis for awarding a contract to a mainland company, which severely diminished opportunities for Tasmanian companies and jeopardised countless jobs and the industry as a whole.

The supplier had highlighted the lack of transparency and flawed evaluation procedures in the tender process, raising legitimate concerns about the Mr Ellis’ failure to uphold the Buy Local Policy.

“An almost identical situation is developing for Tasmanian sawmills that employ many Tasmanians in regional areas of the State,” Mr Tucker said.

“I have brought this to the attention of Minister Ellis and the Premier and the response has been appallingly inefficient. It appears as if STT is pulling the strings and Minister Ellis is their puppet. I will not stand by and see Minister Ellis and STT destroy Tasmanian businesses and jobs.

“Minister Ellis’ inaction and contradictory statements are at odds with his media release from December 2022, where he lauded the Tasmanian Liberal Government as the biggest supporter of the sustainable timber industry.

“The Tasmanian Government must immediately overturn the recently completed tender, address the flaws in the tender process and void any existing contracts that do not adhere to the Buy Local Policy. Furthermore, mainland companies must be subject to a per tonne royalty on every shipment of Tasmanian timber, similar to the mining industry, to ensure fair competition and protect the interests of local businesses.”

Mr Tucker said rumours were circulating that the Premier Jeremy Rockliff was contemplating a cabinet reshuffle.

“Given the incompetence displayed by Minister Ellis, and the utter disregard shown for the forestry industry, it is not difficult to understand why he is considering a reshuffle,” Mr Tucker said.

“The time for empty promises and ineffective policies is over. The timber industry is not just about economics; it is about the livelihoods and well-being of countless Tasmanian families. It is time for Minister Ellis and the Tasmanian Government to set aside political divisions and truly work together to safeguard the future of this vital industry,” Mr Tucker said.

Mr Ellis told The Mercury he had asked for Sustainable Timber to update him on what tenders had been granted.

“I have asked Sustainable Timber Tasmania to provide urgent advice on how the Tasmanian government can best support our forestry industry,” he said.