Interview: Power and the Passion
Unions: Tackling the Heavy Hitters
Industrial: Seeing the Forest For The Wood
Housing: Home Truths
International: Boycott Busters
Economics: Ideology and Free Trade
History: Long Shadow of a Forgotten Man
Review: Chewing the Fat
Poetry: Dear John
The Locker Room
A Place To Call Home
Seeing the Forest For The Wood
The Gurnang is a wild windswept plateau that straddles the Great Divide south of Oberon in the state's Central West. Much of it is planted with the ubiquitous Monterey Pine, known colloquially by its Latin name, Radiata.
The Gurnang radiata forest is a little known but important part of the state's 250,000 hectares of softwood plantation.
NSW Forests manages three quarters of the plantation softwood in NSW, with the rest being managed by private companies.
Media leaks on the eve of last month's state budget revealed a desire by bean counters at the NSW treasury to sell off the State Forests managed plantations.
The privatisation proposal raised concern from many stakeholders. Graziers near the Gurnang at Shooters Hill and Edith told Workers Online of their worries about fire management, while recreational users and environmentalists have raised their own concerns about private operators cutting corners in their forest management.
But it is the security of timber workers jobs, which comes down to reliable access to logs, that has drawn the ire of the Forestry Division of the CFMEU.
"It was a silly idea to sell off a natural resource," says Craig Smith, NSW secretary of the Forestry division of the CFMEU. "If it ain't broken don't fix it."
Smith blamed the "economic rationalist position of treasury" for the proposal.
"If that's the mentality driving the flogging off of public assets then we've got real problems," says Smith. "There's a long list of concerns over privatising the state's softwood plantations."
Timber workers are concerned that important regional 'value adding' jobs in could be placed under threat by the privatisation move.
A plan involving the Timberman company to shore up over 200 timber processing jobs in the state's south east would be placed under threat if a competitor gained control of Timberman's log supply, a distinct possibility if forests went under the hammer.
The Timberman Company is directing logs from the south east of the state to its mill in Canberra since the devastating fires of 2003 created a shortage of logs.
According to the CFMEU this was just one example of the uncertainty the privatisation proposal has created in the industry.
"Potentially, under full blown privatisation, we could see logs directed elsewhere," says Smith.
The Regional Forestry Agreement (RFA) was believed to ensure investment in a new sawmilling facility in Bombala, to be built by building products giant CSR.
CSR sold the Bombala project to Austral, who subsequently went into administration.
"This is what privatisation leads to," says Smith. "The Government promised new development to create 100 jobs."
There is almost 65,000 hectares private afforestation across the state and it is the management of some of these forests that has drawn concerns from timber workers.
In Bombala in the state's south two forests planted at the same time, from the same seed stock, using the same methods have seen two very different results.
The Willmott privately managed forest has been dramatically under performing its state managed next door neighbour whose trees are "significantly more mature", a result that forestry workers attribute to "private enterprise cutting corners".
The other burning issue is a fear that private operators will cut larger to maximise a return to investors.
"What is important is a consistent rotational cropping regime," says Smith. "Otherwise we'll start running out of logs for the industry."
State Forests directly employs workers with expertise to manage forests although there has been a move in recent times to use contractors.
Even so, with State Forests at the helm, contractors are bound to provide adequate pay and conditions. There is much concern amongst contractors and forestry workers that conditions for contractors and their employees could be seriously eroded by privately managed forests.
The supply of logs from the softwood plantations is particularly sensitive in towns such as Tumut and Oberon where there are significant processing facilities that turn the radiata logs into a range of timber products.
Any threat to the log supply from the plantations immediately threatens scores of jobs at facilities like the Carter Holt Harvey mill in Oberon.
For many of these workers across the state, and for the hope of new jobs in places like Bombala, security of log supply is needed - and it's something that timber workers believe the private sector can't deliver.
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