THE region’s $1b-plus forest products sector has urged Premier Steven Marshall to ensure the industry remains an “essential service” through any roll-out of further COVID-19 restrictions.
“Our submission is that a holistic approach to our forest industries should be considered by government as a matter of urgency,” Australian Forest Products Association SA branch manager Leon Rademeyer said.
“This approach should not only include our road freight sector, but also other essential cross-border functions within the Green Triangle like firefighting, tree planting, weed management and the daily movement of staff and essential equipment.”
Mr Rademeyer – who sent a letter to Mr Marshall yesterday – said it was important the government understood the scale of essential services and products the forest industries provide, some of which are experiencing record demand as a result of COVID-19.
“It was also important for government to realise how the continued supply of these vital products is contingent on the continuation of the whole forest products value chain,” he said.
“As a primary producer, the state’s forest industries have a long value chain and any disruption to especially the road freight sector could have devastating and far-reaching affects throughout the industry, which would impact very negatively on regional and rural communities,” he said.
Figures show the state’s forestry sector supports 13,000 people directly and indirectly and contributes more than $2b to the state economy annually.
Importantly, South Australia is part of the Green Triangle with cross-border Victoria which is one of Australia’s primary forest production regions and home to one of federal government’s forest industry hubs.
The Green Triangle forestry industry constitutes 17pc (around 330,000ha) of Australia’s plantations and its local and national importance “cannot be overstated”.
The forest industry also will plays a major role in getting local communities “back on their feet” once the virus threat has abated since these industries form the backbone of communities.
“Our industries have been proactive in implementing mitigation measures to minimise the risk of COVID-19 across our supply chains and we will continue to act in accordance with the latest health advice,” he said.
“Most of our industry is highly automated, making it possible for employees to practice social distancing in accordance with the government’s health guidelines.”
Furthermore, the association’s member companies have adopted new best practice sanitation and hygiene measures and where possible, retooled workspaces and split and staggered shifts to allow more distance between workers.
While the industries acknowledge the potential for further restrictions, Mr Rademeyer said it was important for decision makers to understand South Australia and Australia’s forest products industries supply essential products and services.
He said timber could prove even more vital should the urgent construction of new makeshift hospitals and temporary structures be required.
Mr Rademeyer said the industries were ready to work constructively with government to ensure they can continue to supply vital products and services to South Australians during these difficult times.