GIPPSLAND politicians, unions, environmental organisations and community groups are being called on to campaign against a Federal Government decision to no longer use 100 per cent recycled paper in department offices.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union last week claimed the government had put jobs at risk at Australian Paper Maryvale mill by scrapping a previous five-year commitment to use 100 per cent recycled paper by July this year.
This commitment was part of mandatory environmental standards established under its Information and Communication and Technology Sustainability Plan 2010-2015.
Australian Paper says it decided to invest in its recently completed de-inking and recycling plant largely due to the Federal Government’s previous plan.
AP hoped this leadership would have a flow-on effect and encourage all levels of governments to choose Australian-made 100 per cent recycled paper over imports.
But the recycling plant is currently only operating at about a third of its capacity to produce 50,000 tonnes of recycled paper each year from 80,000 tonnes of waste paper, due to little demand for locally-made.
Australian Paper sustainability and communication manager Craig Dunn described the government’s decision to no longer continue with its plan as “disturbing” and said the new plant formed a big part of the company’s future viability.
“We need strong demand to be viable and when you have a situation where (the government) is walking away from that policy we find that really disturbing,” Mr Dunn said.
“We need much more local support and recognition of the benefits of Australian-made recycled paper.
“(The government) is sending a strong message – ‘we believe buying Australian-made recycled paper isn’t important’ is the message. That’s a real disappointment for us.”
He said Australian Paper’s owners had made a “significant investment” to try and compete with overseas paper manufacturers.
Australian Paper estimates that 60 per cent of the largest government departments are currently importing their copy paper from overseas without knowing if it was manufactured using sustainable timber.
“With one stroke of a pen the government has put that investment at risk… it now seems like the Federal Government is trying to drive the paper industry out of business,” Mr Dunn said.
“The Department of Environment has responsibility for waste policy, but they’re choosing to buy recycled copy paper from Germany rather than Australian-made copy paper. We really can’t believe that the Department of Environment is supporting Germany’s landfill issues rather than ours.”
The CFMEU will seek backing from Gippsland’s federal and state MPs to “exert pressure” on the government to commit to buying 100 per cent Australian-made recycled paper.
The union’s pulp and paper secretary Alex Millar indicated community protests could form part of the plan to get the government to reverse its decision.
“We’re seeking to get support from local politicians, NGOs, green groups, chambers of commerce and anyone with a broad interest in seeing prosperity in the Latrobe Valley,” Mr Millar said.
“This issue is too important for the prosperity and liability of investment and businesses in the Latrobe Valley to just let it go.
“We will use the full weight of the CFMEU and our members in the Latrobe Valley to get this decision reversed.”
Member for Gippsland Darren Chester, whose department (Defence) uses Maryvale-made paper, said he was working with Liberals Member for McMillan Russell Broadbent to encourage the government to buy more Australian-made paper.
Earlier this year Mr Chester said it was “appalling” that many government departments did not source their office paper from Australia.
“There is a long list of Australian government departments that continue to use imported paper,” Mr Chester said.
“I cannot understand how it can even be possible that paper imported to Australia from Germany, Austria or Indonesia could compete with an Australian made product on price, quality or environmental credentials.”
A spokesperson for the Commonwealth’s Department of Environment said the plan was a “guidance document” which had now lapsed.
“There is no evidence to indicate that the ICT Sustainability Plan had a material impact on the demand for Australian recycled paper,” the spokesperson said.
With government departments and agencies moving to digital formats for record-keeping by December, the spokesperson said there had been a “significant drop” in the use of paper.