The announcement by Australian Sustainable Hardwoods (ASH) today that it will close its Heyfield operations is devastating news and a real "kick in the guts" for the local community, said State Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull.
"It is now clear that for Daniel Andrews to say he cares about jobs, is nothing more than weasel words,” Mr Bull said.
"Almost eight weeks ago the Government released a statement saying it would negotiate in good faith for a positive outcome, however after all that time it has not changed its offer of timber volume at all. Why did it take eight weeks to decide to do nothing?
"It's clear that this government has never intended to negotiate at all and has simply been stringing the workers and their families along with false hope.
"As late as yesterday afternoon, ASH offered to accept the 80,000 cubic metres on offer to be able to continue to operate until early 2018. This would have allowed more time to find a possible resolution – but even this was rejected.
"Daniel Andrews has not bothered to visit Heyfield throughout this process, which shows his care factor on this issue is zero and he never really intended to resolve this.
"He waltzes into the Latrobe Valley last week and announces sporting facilities that will provide next to no long-term employment and wants everyone to say thanks, but when he has a chance to save real jobs, he goes missing.
"The statement today that the Government would be prepared to buy the mill is bizarre to say the least when the company itself does not have it on the market and knew nothing of it.
"The owners have since made statements that they could well relocate the equipment interstate, so there may not be mill infrastructure to sell. This makes a mockery of the Premier's statement before he has even spoken to the mill owners.
"It is clear this comment was only based around trying to shift the argument from resource allocation, which is the real issue here.
"His claim today that the timber is simply 'not there' is in direct conflict with his own government agency, VicForests, which has stated the timber is there, but the reason for the reduced offer is because of what has been placed into leadbeater possum reserve in the past two years and its forecasts on what will be placed into reserve in the future, under the current system.
"This clearly indicates a change of policy would allow more future resource allocation. VicForests has stated this very clearly, so for the Premier to say the timber is not there, it needs to be asked who is right – him or his agency, VicForests?
"A review of possum reserve and timber allocation was meant to be undertaken at the identification of 200 leadbeater colonies. We are now up to 569 and no review has been completed. I think this speaks for itself about the Government's intentions.
"Daniel Andrews should allocate the 80,000 cubic metres to ASH in line with the company's offer yesterday and allow for the review of the regulations around possum colonies in the interim. If he really cared about the jobs, this would be a no brainer.
"However, the reality is, this is a government that is scared of losing inner-city seats to the Greens and who have 24 MPs who rely on Green preferences to hold their seats," Mr Bull said.
Caption: Australian Sustainable Hardwoods employees receive the news they will soon lose their jobs due to the Government’s inability to provide enough timber for the Heyfield Mill to remain viable.
Friday, March 17, 2017