Forest body seeks minister’s help
04 Feb, 2010 01:00 AM

MEMBERS of the peak national forest contractors body brought in to support Tasmanian operators will ask Resources Minister David Llewellyn for help today.

The Australian Forest Contractors Association representatives flew in for meetings with Opposition resources spokesman Jeremy Rockliff earlier this week and Mr Llewellyn in the local body’s bid to negotiate some sort of buy-out support for contractors who they say will be forced out of the industry.

The crisis has come because of the confirmed shutdown of Tasmanian timber giant Gunns’ Tamar Valley mill at Longreach for up to eight weeks.

There are also concerns, industry-wide, that the Longreach mill will stay closed for much longer and be followed by the Triabunna mill.

Industry sources have said this week that there is a woodchip vessel expected to dock at Triabunna next month to take out a load, but then there are no more shipments expected.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union Tasmanian secretary Scott McLean said that workers at both mill sites were worried that they would not reopen after Easter,

He said that the union had sought talks with both Gunns and state and federal politicians to work out a plan to cope with the situation.

Mr Llewellyn said yesterday that his priority was to get forest contractors and the forest industry back to work.

“Our emphasis is on getting more sales of forestry products and more work for those in the industry,” he said.

Mr Llewellyn, Gunns chief executive Greg L’Estrange and a number of contractors blame the shutdown on lack of markets for woodchips.

They say that this has been brought about by a major international campaign by Australian environmental groups to push countries like Japan not to buy Tasmanian product.

Greens forestry spokesman Kim Booth said that the crisis has been coming for a number of years but that the Government had ignored the need to plan for it.

He said that news of the Gunns’ mill shutdowns was serious because it came at a time when there had been a global rejection of what the company was trying to sell.

The scale of the Tasmanian industry was too big compared with what it could grow, Mr Booth said.

He said that governments had known since 2005 when two major reports on the industry recommended that it be scaled back, that something would need to be done.

“We need to be building a value- based industry rather than a volume-based one,” he said.

Major Northern Tasmanian contractor Ken Padgett also urged governments yesterday to make financial plans that allowed people to leave the forest industry “with dignity”.

“It’s so important that this is very seriously considered,” Mr Padgett said.

“This is pretty serious - there are people out there who have their house and their whole life on the line and I have real concerns not only for their financial health but for their mental health.”

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