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‘Last cheques, gentlemen, please’ – calling time on Shoalhaven

Tuesday, 24 February 2015
By Patrick Howard

Declining use of cheques in the digital age along with problems in terms of scale and converting machinery brings an end to Australian Paper’s south coast plant.

Union demands for Government intervention fell on deaf ears as the Japanese-owned paper manufacturer bows to the inevitable. The closure this year comes following a lengthy review conducted by the company.

According to Peter Williams, Australian Paper’s COO, (pictured) the mill will shut “despite the best efforts and ongoing support of our people at Shoalhaven over a number of years to remain competitive. The market for specialty and security papers such as cheque and watermark papers has continued to experience a significant and sustained drop in demand. Unfortunately, this has made the ongoing operation of the site progressively unviable.”

The outcome is disputed by the CFMEU, which claims the mill could have been saved. According to Alex Millar, secretary of the CFMEU Pulp & Paper Workers District, what was required was a change in the Federal Government’s purchasing procedures for paper, especially security paper.

“Had the Abbott Government listened to the Shoalhaven community, the mill workers, and its own local member, the mill could have been saved. They weren’t asking for a handout or injection of cash, simply a change in the Government’s purchasing arrangements to buy more paper supplied by the mill, and less from overseas.

Shoalhaven workers in happier days.

“This is a devastating blow to the 75 workers at the mill, and the broader Shoalhaven community. It will result in the loss of 150 flow on jobs and $20 million in regional household income in the local economy.”

Australian Paper says that in the current situation it has no choice but to shut the mill. “The exact timing of the closure is yet to be finalised but production will cease during 2015, taking into full consideration the needs of our valued customers,” said Williams.

“We understand this decision will be difficult for employees at Shoalhaven who have witnessed machine closures at the site in recent times as market conditions have deteriorated. We greatly appreciate their sustained hard work and commitment over many years.

“As we work through the details of the closure with employees, and their respective unions, I want to assure them that we will be there to help them through this process,” he said.

The Shoalhaven mill has lived on borrowed time for years as market forces squeezed its viability. Small specialty mills have been closing all over the world under the pressure of changing market demand and production efficiencies. Watermarked paper was Shoalhaven’s specialty, with generations of skilled paper makers able to produce very small quantities of the highest grade paper for products such as Australian passports.  No one has ever cast doubt on the paper-making expertise of the Shoalhaven workforce, who boast of being able to produce 1400 different paper grades from the single paper-making machine.

However, free-trade oriented governments, of both orientations, have been unwilling to act to protect what is a 60-year-old bastion of manufacturing skill on the south coast of NSW.


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