Fears for Local Businesses After Mill Closure Announcement

Local businesses in the Gippsland town of Heyfield are already struggling after Australia’s largest hardwood timber mill announced its plans to close next year.

The mill, owned by Australian Sustainable Hardwood (ASH), currently provides jobs to 260 workers. In a population of just under 2000 people, it is the town’s biggest employer.

The predicted job losses have already had an impact on the intake of businesses, as locals prepare themselves for the closure. Owner of the Heyfield Bakery, Sue Stephens said she has noticed the difference. “People have already started to cut back in how much they spend” said Ms Stephens.

“Older people, with families to support are not coming in. Their worried about their kids and their mortgages.”

ASH announced the plans on the 17th of March and should they go head, the Mill will close in September 2018. The announcement came after negotiations between ASH and VicForests fell through.

VicForests offered a three-year deal, supplying 80,000 metres of timber in the first year and 60,000 in the next two. However, ASH has reported that for the mill to remain economically viable, it needs to have been allocated at least 130,000 cubic metres each year.

Protesters at the rally held by the Heyfield community on the 21st of March. Locals marched to the steps of Parliament House in Melbourne demanding that the mill stay open.

Supervisor at the timber mill and general store owner Anthony Wilkes has also noticed a change in customers. Mr Wilkes said, “We have two or three trucks now, before anywhere from 20-30 trucks stopping by.”

Mr Wilkes has worked in the timber industry for 22 years and has said the people he manages are already “under a lot stress.” Of the planned closures, Mr Wilkes said “this will affect our whole community.”

While there have been some offers of aid, including by the Andrews Government,  so far all have been rejected by ASH. This has left Heyfield in a state of limbo as they wait for a result.

Owner of Café 3858, Zac Stamos said “when and if it shuts, that’s when it will really hit us.”

“I just want a decision to be made. That way we can move on and see what comes next.”

The mill closure announcement came after the closure of Hazelwood Power Station in the Latrobe Valley, 60 kilometres away from Heyfield. The shutdown caused the loss of 1000 jobs.

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