Untapped potential

The Latrobe Valley timber industry could attract further investment and innovation after council took the first step to adopt a wood encouragement policy during Monday night’s meeting.

Latrobe City Council unanimously voted to request the Federal Government support the establishment of research facilities in the Valley to develop innovative technology for the forestry, wood and paper sector.

Councillor Sandy Kam, who put forward the motion to highlight wood’s untapped potential, said this could bring further jobs to the Valley, as well as contribute to the diversification of the economy.

Another part of Cr Kam’s three-fold motion noted the role of the region’s productive timber and forestry industry, providing hardwood and paper products.

“It is a key industry for Latrobe Valley and it can diversify so much more,” Cr Kam said.

“Wood stores carbon – from an environmental side, it’s a renewable and sustainable product.”

The East Ward councillor said many countries have wood encouragement policies, where all levels of government must consider wood, where feasible, as the primary building material for all new buildings.

Latrobe City could be the first local government area in Australia to adopt this policy.

“There are times wood is not even considered. We need to be fully informed looking at all the options (when building) and have wood being factored into the decision,” Cr Kam said.

A report quantifying the economic contribution of the forestry, timber and paper sector and detailing the opportunities and benefits of Latrobe City adopting a wood encouragement policy, will be presented to council before 3 March.

Cr Kam said there was potential to attract businesses which turn primary wood products such as paper and wood into secondary products such as stationary, kit homes and furniture to Latrobe City.

“There’s a range of new uses for timber being explored in other countries. Australia is capable of research infrastructure,” Cr Kam said.

“The idea is we need to have a hub somewhere and I believe we are well-suited to house this, given we have (Federation University) and are located in the centre of a timber area.”

Mayor Sharon Gibson said she seconded the motion because of the policy’s potential to create jobs and reduce pollution.

“This is about Latrobe City on the front foot of the whole country… it says we’re open for business; let’s start making our mark,” Cr Gibson said.

Hancock Victorian Plantations Gippsland general manager Simon Gatt said the concept sounded good.

“Anything put forward by council that supports the industry we would endorse,” Mr Gatt said.

“It’s good for council to acknowledge the importance of the industry in the Valley.

“HVP has strong links with Australian Paper and Carter Holt Harvey. Both these companies are major customers of ours and we underpin the supply for both of those mills.”

Australian Paper senior marketing manager of Sustainability Craig Dunn said the company would engage with council as they explored the potential for a research facility.

Mr Dunn said council’s motion was a positive step and as the leading private employer in Latrobe Valley, Australian Paper appreciated the support for itself and the wider forestry industry.

“Australian Paper doesn’t directly manager any forestry resources, but we depend very much on competitive and innovative forest management outcomes,” Mr Dunn said.