THE future of the Australian Paper mill in the Shoalhaven might come down to something as simple as governments and businesses buying Australian-made paper.
A delegation of Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) pulp and paper workers travelled to Canberra last week to meet with federal parliamentarians, including Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis, to discuss challenges facing the industry.
Union officials attempted to gain assurances that federal government departments and agencies would use Australian-made paper and prevent the dumping of cheap overseas imports on the local market.
National secretary of the union’s Pulp and Paper Division Alex Millar said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Shoalhaven mill was shut down.
He said if the mill didn’t get some support and protection its days could be numbered.
“The Bomaderry mill hasn’t made a profit for three years,” he said.
“If it had been in the hands of a less committed operator than Nippon Paper, it would have closed years ago.
“Nippon Paper has shown a lot of patience, it will not last forever.”
Mr Millar said Mrs Sudmalis was very supportive of the mill and keen to work with the company, union and workers to try to ensure its survival.
Workers sought the MPs’ support as part of their Don’t Shred Pulp and Paper Jobs initiative, a part of the CFMEU’s Let’s Spread it Around campaign.
“We will continue talks and will endeavour to get MPs to sign a pledge to set the right example to the community by buying Australian-made paper and paper products for their offices and personal use,” Mr Millar said.
“Australian manufacturing is put under threat every day by the extensive use of imported paper by governments, their agencies and businesses.
“Most of the MPs we spoke to want to go back and check with their local offices what papers they were using.
“We have seen constant restructuring and reduction in shifts at the local mill.
“Even earlier this year we saw one paper machine reduced by one shift.
“Nippon Paper has tried a whole range of things to make the mill profitable. It has put a lot of time, effort and capital into the mill.
“The culture of the place is good. The employees are all putting the effort into the mill to try to change things around.
“Hopefully, the company can continue to support those efforts, but like everything there has to come a time when a company says enough is enough.
“It would be a huge blow for the Shoalhaven if the mill was to close.”
In its heyday the Shoalhaven mill employed 600-plus workers, now it is down to less than 100.
One member who was part of the delegation was Karen Cole, who has worked at the mill for 26 years and like many of the workers is keen to see the
operation remain open not only for her future but future generations.
“There are many parents and siblings who have worked at the local mill over the years,” Mr Millar said.
He said the Bomaderry mill needed protection because of the key role it played in the production of watermark paper used in security documents.
“Shoalhaven is the only mill in Australia that has the capability to make specialty watermark papers,” he said.
“All the paper for Australian passports and other certificate documentation is made at the Shoalhaven mill.
“They are successful in what they do there.
“There are only two people in Australia that produce the dies for such papers and they are here at the Shoalhaven mill.
“The mill recently completed an order to Bangladesh for passport papers, so they can be competitive there.
“We are trying to ensure the future of the Shoalhaven mill and provide a level playing field with Australian government around procurement polices.
“At the moment there is no consideration around procurement and there hasn’t been for some time and that is impacted on regional areas with job losses.”
NOW: Australian Paper mill drier operator Ken Bradley and machine assistant Adam Whitaker are hopeful Australian-made paper will receive support from federal MPs. Photo: ADAM WRIGHT