The West

Timber mill gets a lifeline
Timber mill gets a lifeline

It wasn't so long ago that Rob Lanzini was staring into an abyss.

At 55 and with one eye on his twilight years, he had just learnt the timber mill in which he worked near Manjimup was about to close its doors, in all likelihood forever.

The news was "gut-wrenching", he said. For Mr Lanzini, along with the 50 colleagues whom he'd come to regard as family, the announcement would leave him in limbo and out of the only job he'd ever known.

It was also the latest in a seemingly endless line of mill closures since the former Gallop government came to power in 2001 with a pledge to end old-growth logging.

"I thought that was it," Mr Lanzini recalled.

"It's all I've ever done - it's in your blood. Some people did cry.

"I mean, we had young people working here with mortgages and it was just devastating."

That all changed this month when, against the odds, the Deanmill timber operation reopened and Mr Lanzini got his job back.

Under a deal struck last year, Perth-based Auswest Timbers agreed to buy the ageing mill from a desperate Gunns at a fraction of the original $23 million asking price.

The transaction threw a lifeline to Mr Lanzini and his co-workers plus dozens more staff at the Manjimup processing centre, where there had been a pall of uncertainty over Gunns' decision to pull out.

Auswest managing director Gary Addison said the deal saved 86 jobs.

Asked to explain why the company felt it could succeed where timber giant Gunns failed, Mr Addison said Auswest was committed to the hardwood timber industry and had set itself more realistic goals.

Forestry Minister Terry Redman, whose seat of Blackwood-Stirling takes in the timber industry's heartland, said the reopening had given people a "spring in their step" after years of grim news.

Ahead of next year's finalisation of the timber industry's next 10-year blueprint, Mr Redman said the industry was now sustainable and should not be subject to a further reduction in quotas.

Green groups are outraged at the minister's position and Deanmill's recommissioning.

Conservation Council of WA director Piers Verstegen said it was a "death sentence" for critically endangered forest wildlife for dubious financial benefits.

"The State Government has lured Auswest to purchase and re-open Deanmill only by providing taxpayer-backed investment security guarantees to the company," Mr Verstegen said.

"These guarantees mean that Auswest may receive lucrative compensation handouts in the event that the Government decides to reduce logging to sustainable levels, however they offer no security for Deanmill workers."

WA Forest Alliance spokeswoman Jess Beckerling said reopening Deanmill would only prolong the native timber industry's inevitable death.

The West Australian

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