Shoalhaven paper mill to close

Australian Paper’s Shoalhaven mill will close after 59 years with the loss of 75 jobs. It means passports and birth certificates will no longer be printed on Australian-made paper.

The paper manufacturer’s chief operating officer Peter Williams says falling demand for the products the mill produces have made its ongoing operation progressively unviable.

“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,” he says.

Despite being the only mill in Australia equipped to manufacture security paper, its survival had been under threat for some time from falling demand and competition from cheaper overseas imports.

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Last July mill manager Bruce Borchardt called on the government, paper merchants, and printers to buy more local paper and less from overseas to keep Shoalhaven going.

Borchardt said the mill’s production had fallen from 70,000 tonnes a year on three machines in 2006 to about 12,000 on one machine, and that shifts had been cut from five to three in the past two years at the cost of 30 jobs, mostly voluntary redundancies.

The mill, which once employed 600 people, opened in 1956 and has been the manufacturer of Australia’s passport paper for more than 30 years.

Williams says the exact timing of the closure is yet to be determined due to customer considerations. It is unlikely to be until after the government’s passport paper contract expires in July.

“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,” Williams says.

Alex Millar, secretary of the CFMEU Pulp & Paper Workers District, says the mill could have been saved if the Abbott Government had listened to the Shoalhaven community, the mill workers, and the local MP.

“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,” Millar says.

“In a period of increased risk of passport fraud and threats to cyber security, it beggars belief that the Federal Government could not move to protect Australians’ identity security and passport integrity.”

Millar says the mill’s closure will cost 150 flow on jobs and $20m in regional household income for the local economy in a region that has lost 10,000 jobs, 16 per cent of its workforce, since September 2013.

A spokeswoman for Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane told the Sydney Morning Herald the government understands the closure will be a blow to the local community, and that the mill is closing due to market conditions.

“The nature of manufacturing in Australia is changing, and the government will be unrelenting in working with Australia's manufacturing businesses, employees and the regions that have traditionally relied on manufacturing to support their economy, to capitalise on new opportunities and create new jobs in sustainable industries where Australia has a competitive edge,” the spokeswoman says.

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