The City of Latrobe has announced its support for the timber industry, workers, and local communities.
The Council issued a statement in response to the Victorian Government’s decision to accelerate the closure of the native timber industry, recognizing its substantial impact on the region.
“We remain shoulder to shoulder with timber workers, their families, and communities.”
“We will continue to fight for their voices to be heard, and for the creation of a sustainable and prosperous future for our City,” according to the statement.
The City of Latrobe services the Gippsland region in eastern Victoria; it has a population of more than 75,000 and is a major hub for forestry, including Opal’s pulp and paper mill
Opal Australian Paper is the Latrobe Valley’s largest private employer, with about 800 direct employees.
“The timber industry has been a key element of our community for generations, with the Maryvale Mill playing a pivotal role in Latrobe City’s economic landscape for over 85 years,” a statement from the latest Council meeting said.
The Council also highlighted that the Mill’s reduced operating capacity due to the ban on native harvest is expected to ripple through the community.
The wider impact of the native harvest ban
They included cafe owner Julie Leatham from Orbost in the neighboring East Gippsland Shire Council.
“The main street is already empty, and it’s only going to get quieter.”
“My staff counted about 90 families that will have to move to find new jobs; that is 90 fewer families coming in for a coffee.”
“It’s sad to see so many families leaving; Orbost is becoming a retirement town,” Ms. Leatham said.
LaTrobe faces great uncertainty with questions over the transition
As the region faces the pending closure of coal-fired power generators and uncertainty linked to timber supply impacting the Maryvale Mill, the Council urges the Federal and Victorian Governments to support a considered transition.
Last year, the ABC reported on the impact of closures on the local community.
In 2019, the Victorian government announced it would phase out native timber harvesting by 2030 – that plan has now been accelerated to January 1, 2024, under the new deal.
CFMEU manufacturing division organiser for Maryvale paper mill Anthony Pavey said both the Victorian government and Opal should have worked harder to secure a timber supply for the past two years.
“When you go to places at the last minute when you need a timber supply in the vicinity of 400,000 cubic meters a year, it’s pretty hard to get it,” he said.
More support needed
Last month, the Victorian Government released details about the ‘Timber Supply Chain Resilience Package’, but according to council more can be done to create security.
“We call upon the Victorian Government to work collaboratively with the timber industry and affected communities to find viable and sustainable solutions that prioritise both environmental conservation and the welfare of timber industry workers, including those employed at the Maryvale Mill.”
“It is essential to ensure a just transition for those impacted by this decision, offering support, retraining and alternative employment opportunities.”
“Now is the time to work in conjunction with Our Transition plan to ensure strategic investment is made for the liveability and prosperity of our City.”
In addition, LaTrobe has called on the Victorian Government to move to support the attraction of new industry to enable economic activity and growth in regional and rural Victoria, with a particular focus on Latrobe and broader Gippsland.