The future of the woodchipping industry in NSW is in doubt, following a decision by timber company Boral to sell its export arm and wood processing plant.
Decades of native forest woodchip exports from Newcastle to Japan now seem set to come to an end.
“Boral will exit the residue and woodchip export business and sell the associated processing plant and equipment based at Tea Gardens and at the Port of Newcastle, in NSW,” the company said.
Boral said it will shut the business within days, and blamed a fall in demand and reduced competitiveness from the high Australian dollar.
“As part of our efforts to ensure Boral Timber remains a sustainable business, our restructure will result in some job losses, which is regrettable but, sadly, unavoidable,” a Boral Timber executive, Steve Dadd, said in a statement.
It will also exit the softwood distribution business in Queensland, and stop manufacturing floorboards in Murwillumbah, in NSW.
Eight permanent employees will be made redundant, and another 21 jobs would go as staff left or were redeployed elsewhere, the company said.
The company is also reportedly seeking to move its head office out of the Sydney CBD to cheaper offices in North Ryde or Chatswood.
The company has fought a long war of words with environment groups in northern NSW, which turned up evidence of breaches in logging rules that they said revealed the unsustainable nature of the export woodchip industry.
“This gives the NSW Government an opportunity to dramatically reduce the intensity of logging that is trashing north coast forests,” said Susie Russell, the president of the North Coast Environment Council.
Boral Timber recently sought certification from the Forestry Stewardship Council, which it would have allowed it to sell its timber exports as “sustainable”.
An audit was conducted, but the results have not yet been released.
The Wilderness Society said the Boral decision to pull out of woodchipping showed that a recent push by some NSW Nationals MPs to allow selective logging in national parks should not be allowed.
A draft report produced by a NSW Upper House Committee chaired by Shooters and Fishers MP Robert Brown said the government should “immediately” open some national parks to logging to help prop up the state’s timber industry.
“It is sheer lunacy to log our national parks, our most precious environmental properties, when the state’s only export woodchipper north of Sydney struggles to sell its woodchips,” said Warrick Jordan, a Wilderness Society spokesman.
Ben Cubby, Environment Editor
The Age, June 20, 2013