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ABC News

NSW government announces subsidy for waterlogged North Coast timber industry

The timber industry has ground to a halt along the saturated east coast of Australia. (ABC News: Gregor Salmon)

The state government has announced a $10 million subsidy to help the flood-ravaged timber industry in northern NSW stay afloat.

The subsidy, $30 per tonne of timber, is designed to ease the cost of transporting timber – a task that has become more difficult this year due to soaring petrol prices and the wet.

The subsidy is available in 18 NSW LGAs declared disaster zones. 

Andrew Hurford, Chairman of Hurford Hardwood, said his mill in northern NSW had been hauling timber from as far as central Queensland.

"Our company has been bringing some timber down from another operation we have up in the Burnett region in Queensland."

"That's a long haul, 700 kilometres, it's not really economically viable for us, but we have to do that to keep our staff working."

Agriculture Minister Dugald Saunders with GM of Notaras Sawmill in South Grafton, Donna Layton. (ABC Coffs Coast: Nick Parmeter)

The NSW Agriculture Minister Dugald Saunders said many plantations remain inaccessible due to wet conditions, and much of the machinery used to harvest timber can not be operated in the wet.

"Access roads to forests in NSW may take many months to repair, resulting in low or no harvesting activity and a critical lack of supply of hardwood resources that timber processing facilities would normally rely on."

Mr Hurford said the industry was feeling the pinch of rising cost of living pressures.

"We're just minimising our costs, just keeping our staff going … you can only do that for so long."

Industry juggles high demand for timber as flood repairs begin

The industry is also dealing with increasing demand for timber to be used to repair and reconstruct homes lost in this year's floods.

Andrew Hurford (right) said his mill has had to transport timber from central Queensland – as far as 700 kilometres away. (ABC Coffs Coast: Nick Parmeter)

State Member for Clarence, National Chris Gulaptis, said timber will play a vital role in the region's rebuilding.

"In the Northern Rivers, people have to rebuild and they've got to find a resource that's reliable, good to work with and affordable."

Donna Layton, general manager of the Notaras Sawmill in South Grafton, said her mill was struggling to meet demand. 

"We're probably 60, 70 per cent down on what we would normally supply."

Mr Hurford said he hoped the subsidy would be enough to hold on until spring, a time of year when forests usually dried out. 

"We're coming into winter now and the ground is wet," he said.

"We just need to try to get through the next few months to spring, when the weather warms up and the cycle generally dries out."

Minister: Subsidy unrelated to ongoing inquiry into forestry industry

Mr Saunders said the ongoing inquiry into the sustainability of the forestry industry was unrelated to the subsidy announcement.

"The inquiry doesn't really inform this announcement," he said.

"What we're here today to do is really show support for timber workers, for timber mills and drivers and harvesters up and down the coast."

Last month, the NSW Inquiry heard continuous breaches of native forest regulations by Forestry Corporation show a systemic pattern of noncompliance despite the lack of profits from the industry.

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