Dispute remains but $15m lost

FOR an industry desperate for funding to help it become globally competitive and innovative, the furniture sector is surprisingly circumspect about the loss of $15 million in Federal funds.

The money, which has been dangled before the industry for a number of years, was previously promised to WA’s hard and soft wood timber industries through the Forest Industry Development Assistance Package for South West Western Australia.

In anticipation of such funding, large furniture manufacturing companies including Inglewood Products Group and Clare Craft compiled a business plan proposing to shift their operations to Manjimup.   

But the opportunity appears lost, with Canberra and the WA Government at odds over who bears ultimate responsibility – the Commonwealth says the WA Government’s insufficient timber allocation rendered the grant null and void, while the State says the funding was offered with no strings attached.

While the 2003-04 Federal Budget allocated no money to WA’s timber industry for this financial year, the NSW and Victorian timber industries received $19 million.

State Development Minister Clive Brown said the $15 million had been promised to the WA timber industry to assist with structural adjustment and was not at any stage subject to a timber allocation of 200,000 cubic metres of jarrah.

“The industry put in applications and my understanding is that none of those applications have been processed,” he said.

Mr Brown announced earlier in the year that he planned to lead an industry delegation to Canberra to urge the Commonwealth to reverse its decision. 

Now, however, he was uncertain about the mission’s chances of success considering whether the Federal Government had signalled its intention to remain firm on the jarrah allocation of 200,000cu m.

Federal Forestry and Conservation Minister, Senator Ian Macdonald, said he had urged the Gallop Government to agree to a sustainable allocation of 200,000cu m, and to accept the $15 million in Commonwealth funding that would have come with this announcement.

“The Western Australian Government had the opportunity to really pave the way for an exciting future out of its jarrah forests. But it shunned sustainable growth and a vibrant industry simply to pander to the special interests groups, and now the entire community is suffering,” Senator Macdonald said.

All may not be lost, however, with talk the Commonwealth plans to inject $35 million into the wood products industry, which will target key research areas affecting market access, international competitiveness, new investment opportunities and sustainable forest management.

Senator Macdonald said while it was early days, those who had had input agreed on the need to give the industry a strong future through a new direction.

“The implementation of the plan over the next five years will provide the industry with a stronger technological and resource base, improve training and professional development and better align products with market requirements and development,” he said.

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