Emma Pritchard, Clarence Valley Independent
Timber producers throughout Northern NSW have been given a massive boost after the State Government announced a $10 million subsidy to assist local mills impacted by recent bushfires, destructive floods and relentless rain to source supplies from outside the region.
Minister for Agriculture and Western NSW Dugald Saunders met Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis and Director of the Hurford Group Andrew Hurford at J Notaras and Sons Sawmill in South Grafton to make the announcement on May 24.
The $10 million Hardwood Timber Haulage Subsidy Program has been designed to ease costs for local mills amidst soaring fuel prices, enabling them to efficiently transport materials from outside their existing supply areas to their processing facilities after months of persistent wet weather restricted access to local state forests where timber is sustainably harvested.
The subsidy, which equates to $30 per tonne of timber, is only available to businesses in 18 Local Government Areas (LGAs) across the state which have been declared natural disaster zones.
General Manager of J Notaras and Sons Sawmill Donna Layton welcomed the announcement last week, describing it as “great help from the government in support of the timber industry.”
A well-respected local businesswoman, Ms Layton has always been passionate about retaining employees, earning widespread praise for her leadership and dedication to maintaining her workforce and keeping the sawmill in production during the significant reduction in timber supplies following the devastating bushfires in 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic, recent floods and the ongoing wet weather which has heavily impacted productivity.
With J Notaras and Sons Sawmill presently operating at 60-70 percent below normal production, Ms Layton said the announcement will enable the local business to source timber supplies from further afield, and most importantly, allow the sawmill to remain operational.
“It’s all about maintaining jobs,” she explained following the announcement.
“If we close, all of the people we employ will lose their jobs, or if we have to reduce our operating hours they might have to go elsewhere, so the whole idea is to help the mills and help local people stay employed.”
J Notaras and Sons Sawmill has been manufacturing hardwood products for over 70 years and employs a large number of Clarence Valley residents.
“We’ve got such good staff, they’ve been working for a long time, and it would be heartbreaking to lose any of them,” Ms Layton said.
“While the sawmill is not as productive as it usually is, we’re still sawing timber and we’re keeping everyone employed.
“This (announcement) is a wonderful supplement to what we can do, and it will make life a lot easier for most of the mills.
“We really want to keep operating and now we can confidently source timber from elsewhere.
“This has given us freedom to go further afield which is really wonderful.”
The Minister said the $10 million Hardwood Timber Haulage Subsidy Program is also aimed at providing more certainty around timber supply.
“Mills like the one here in South Grafton rely on a regular timber supply,” he said.
“The timber industry has been hit by a number of disasters including bushfires, then flooding, and constant wet weather at such a level that it is becoming more difficult to stay viable.
“The idea of the subsidy is it gets timber from wherever it is harvested to the mill, and we are supporting those in the industry who have been doing it tough.
“This announcement will help to make a positive impact on the timber industry.”
Mr Saunders said it was also important to make sure people feel secure in their jobs, especially in regional areas.
Describing the timber industry as one which generates hundreds of jobs across the region, Mr Gulaptis joined Ms Layton in welcoming the announcement, adding it will play a vital role in helping the timber industry recover. The Hardwood Timber Haulage Subsidy Program is co-funded by the NSW and Australian Governments under the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements.
This article appeared in the Clarence Valley Independent, 1 June 2022.