A CORRYONG sawmill making thousands of pallets each week and with 22 workers is facing closure due to the Victorian government halting native timber processing.
Walkers Sawmill turns mountain ash timber into blue CHEP pallets, which are then used for transporting goods at and from factories such as Vitasoy and Mars Petcare in Wodonga.
But Premier Daniel Andrews' decision last week to end native timber production from 2030 will result in the mill having to close, managing director Graham Walker said on Monday.
Mr Walker was shocked by the government's decision, as he received a letter from Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes dated October 7 that gave no clue the end to native timber processing would be outlined within weeks.
"It is the Victorian Government's view that the careful management of Victoria's State forest can support the sustainable supply of resources as well as the protection of biodiversity," Ms Symes told Mr Walker.
That followed Ms Symes noting industry concerns "around the lack of certainty for the future of commercial forestry in Victoria" and commending Mr Walker for investing in solar power.
Mr Walker said he had invested a $1 million last year and had seen production rise by 50 per cent since 2017 and employees go from 16 to 22.
He also aims to spend another $3 million on an upgrade and had been given the nod for that work by his bank last Thursday, the day the government announced its plan.
"I feel betrayed, absolutely betrayed," Mr Walker said.
Each year 156,000 pallets emerge from the mill, with one B-double load, equating to 612 units, trucked from the plant each weekday.
Mr Walker said non-native timber was unsuitable for the pallets and he believes they will now have to be imported.
Yesterday was our plan for Victoria’s timber industry and an amazing Regional Partnership event. Today I’m completing the portfolio trifecta touring quarries and concrete plants giving jobs to locals right across the state and building the vital infrastructure Victorians need! pic.twitter.com/ges8qzLsa7— Jaclyn Symes (@JaclynSymes) November 8, 2019
"Plantation timber Daniel Andrews is talking about is only good for making paper, that's all blue gum and you can't use blue gum for what we're doing," he said.
Member for Benambra Bill Tilley, who will host Mr Walker at Parliament House in Melbourne on Wednesday, was gobsmacked by the government's move and Ms Symes' action.
"How can a government minister give an assurance one month and then pull the pin on an entire industry the next?" Mr Tilley asked.
"Places like Corryong are desperate for jobs and yet a short-sighted platitude to the inner city voters with their hardwood floors threatens 20 in the one, small isolated community."
Towong Shire mayor David Wortmann said Walkers Sawmill was Corryong's largest private employer and the situation would be raised at Tuesday's council meeting.
"A job in Corryong is very valuable compared to one in a large regional city or town," Cr Wortmann said.
"We're concerned there's no doubt about that."