Hundreds of jobs are on the line at ASH sawmill in Heyfield in Victoria’s east if it does not get access to a long-term supply of timber. The mill is the main source of hardwood for Victoria and the largest processor in Australia.
Australian Sustainable Hardwoods (ASH) is the largest privately owned mill in Australia and exports to thirteen countries. The mill employs around two hundred and fifty employees directly and creates many hundreds of additional jobs outside the mill. They currently process 150,000 cubic metres per year of plantation and regrowth timber. They are the supplier to Bunnings and many other outlets in Australia. The mills operation is overseen by state-owned logging company VicForests and they receive royalties of twenty million dollars annually from the mill. Vic forest has now told the mill it wants to reduce its supply to 80,000 cu metres a year which the mill says will make its operation unviable.
Spokesperson for ASH, James Lantry said “The mill operates under a long-term timber supply (around a 20-year) agreement. The current agreement ends 30th June but the mill has no supply beyond this time. Many approaches have been made to the Minister for Agriculture; Jaala Pulford and other Ministers for over two years,” he said in a statement. ASH bought the mill; a critical part of the local economy from Gunns in 2012 for about $28 million. If the mill closes, future timber supplies may need to come from overseas.
A public meeting late January was attended by 1,200 people who made their views on the need to keep the mill open very clear. In addition to the Mayor, other speakers on the night included Labor Upper House member Harriet Shing; local Nationals State Member Tim Bull; local Federal Member and Minister; The Hon. Darren Chester; CFMEU National President Jane Calvert and the CEO of ASH, Vince Hurley. Mr Hurley said “I was overwhelmed at the level of support for our mill. We do pride ourselves in being a good employer, having sustainable practices and being a good member of the local community.”
Mr. Hurley said “Our Directors will meet in early March to consider any new commercial offers of supply that may become available from the Government. I know the Government is discussing changing the supply from larger regrowth timber to smaller regrowth timber and eventually to plantation. Should this be feasible, it will mean a fundamental and costly change will be required to the business.”