By PHILIP HOPKINS
Timber mills around Victoria are bleeding, with even Australian Paper in the Latrobe Valley potentially threatened, as they are running out of wood supply due to the injunctions on harvesting in logging coupes ordered by the Victorian Supreme Court.
The mills are likely to run out of timber before winter, when harvesting is not permitted, raising the possibility that industry will be without wood for much of the year.
Opal Australian Paper said in a statement that, like many organisations, it was currently managing a challenging supply situation across a wide range of key inputs.
“However, we are committed to ensuring that we continue to meet our ongoing customer requirements,” the company said.
One mill owner, who asked not to be identified, said the decision of one judge had brought the industry and its employees to its knees.
The Supreme Court’s Justice Richards on December 23 injuncted all of East Gippsland and Central Highlands coupes, shutting down about 80 per cent of Victoria’s native timber supply.
One court case is to be heard in May, but green groups have launched 10 court actions designed to prevent timber harvesting.
Australian Sustainable Hardwoods at Heyfield is down 50 per cent on log deliveries to date.
The managing director, Vince Hurley, said ASH just got through to Christmas with supply of shining gum from HVP Plantations and certified timber from private property in Tasmania.
However, it all depended on supply from VicForests.
“If they stopped tomorrow, the mill would stop in four weeks. However, the real issue is winter. We might scrape through until May, but then all deliveries cease for three months and slow deliveries for another two,” he said.
“Normally we would accumulate sawlogs so that by May 31 we had four months’ of logs in stock.”
Eight contractors have been stood down due to the dispute and will be supported by VicForests through stand-down payments.
“We are continuing to work and communicate with affected crews and customers,” VicForests said in a statement, but declined to comment on how much money was involved.
“VicForests is working hard to accelerate planning for alternative coupes.”
Over the past four years, VicForests has spent about $10 million on legal costs fighting the court actions brought on by green activists, according to documents filed with the Upper House inquiry into ecosystem decline.
CFMEU Manufacturing national secretary Michael O’Connor said these court actions ruined people’s lives by exploiting loopholes in environment laws.
“It is a key ambiguity on which much green litigation is based,” he said.