Calls for Audit as Timber Shortages Block White Paper Production in Australia

Calls for Audit as Timber Shortages Block White Paper Production in Australia
Workers oversee the production of paper at a paper mill in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on Oct. 19, 2006. (PETER HARMSEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Australia’s manufacturing union is calling on the government to examine the amount of white paper available in the country after timber shortages put a halt to production at Australia’s last white paper mill in Victoria.

The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) on Thursday called for an audit, raising concerns about a drop in the number of paper products, including doctor scripts, exercise books and government services documentation.

“We don’t have a sense of how much white paper is actually available in the country at this point in time,” secretary of the pulp and paper workers district Denise Campbell-Burns said in a comment obtained by AAP.

“People could be going to the doctor, and the doctor can’t print their script.”

Timber Shortages Led To Staff Stand-Downs

In late December, timber shortages pushed the government to order government-owned timber supplier VicForests to scale back harvesting in parts of East Gippsland and the Central Highlands, where two endangered possum species live.

The Victorian Supreme Court found VicForests had failed to adequately survey logging coupes for two protected possum species.

VicForests is appealing against the decision, with a hearing in the Court of Appeal on March 23.

But the decision to scale back harvesting has forced Opal Australian Paper’s Maryville paper mill in eastern Victoria to stand down 48 production workers. The workers will receive full pay and entitlements without accessing leave.

Opal, owned by Japan’s Nippon Paper Group, said it hadn’t planned to make any further decisions on stand-downs, but flagged a potential “scaling down” of white paper manufacturing due to a dwindling supply of timber.

Attempts to find alternative wood supplies have so far been unsuccessful.

“Opal continues to consider a number of different operational scenarios for the longer term, in case possible alternative wood sources are below the volumes required or are not commercially feasible,” Opal said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the timber supplier noted that the company could stop white-paper operations entirely in the long run, which could result in redundancies.

“This is a complex and ever-changing situation, and no longer-term decisions on operational changes have been made at this stage,” the spokesperson said, AAP reported.

Meanwhile, VicForests had blocked all timber harvesting and consulted experts to create new practices in line with the court order.

The organisation was also struggling to ease the supply shock while providing compensation to sawmills and contractors impacted by the latest move.

Stationery Products Among Those Affected

The supply issues also hit office product companies, which were demanding the removal of white paper import tariffs, as paper shortfall drove them towards the foreign-made paper.

“The tariffs were there to stop injury to the Australian manufacturing market, but there is no Australian manufacturing market at the moment, but we’re all paying the tariffs,” Office Brands chief executive Adam Joy said, AAP reported.

Meanwhile, Campbell-Burns said removing tariffs would do nothing for sovereign capability.

“To not make any white paper products in our country anymore, it’s a real risk,” she said.

The paper shortfall also meant that students and parents shopping for back-to-school stationery could be met with increased prices and empty shelves as suppliers ration goods due to pressures on the supply chains and logistics.

The Australian Lottery and Newsagents Association has said the federal government should ease white paper import duties to support the industry.

“There’s some rationing sort of going on around the amount that we can order, but at the moment, we’ve still got product on shelves,” association chief executive Ben Kearney told AAP.

“I’m concerned that down the line we might start to see that situation where there’s there’s a lack of availability.”

Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at [email protected].
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