With Federal and State elections due in coming months, South West timber towns such as Manjimup, Northcliffe and Greenbushes are benefiting from unprecedented government largesse.
Both the Federal and State governments are claiming to be the true friends of the timber towns, which have been adversely affected by large cuts to logging quotas.
State Development Minister Clive Brown and Federal member for Forrest Geoff Prosser fired the latest salvos this month after announcing multi million-dollar assistance schemes.
Mr Brown said the State would provide $1.6 million towards the establishment of a new sawmill at Manjimup and $500,000 to upgrade the Nannup sawmill.
For his part, Mr Prosser announced $1.9 million of community assistance grants, and his office said the Federal Government would soon finalise applications for a further $13 million worth of assistance.
The list of recipients makes for interesting reading.
Northcliffe is getting $99,000 to upgrade its sports centre, $20,000 for a skate park and $64,000 for an artisans’ workshop.
Nannup is getting $30,000 for “construction of the world’s largest wooden clock” and $3,630 for a paid, part-time promoter of its music and flower festivals.
The shires of Bridgetown, Collie and Manjimup are each getting $100,000 for new community facilities.
The backdrop to these handouts is the job losses and economic disruption flowing from State Government cuts to logging in old growth forests.
Mr Prosser claimed the South West timber communities had been abandoned by the Gallop Government.
The Federal handouts are part of a $15 million package of industry and community assistance initially promised before the 2001 Federal election.
The package was subsequently withdrawn – ostensibly because the State Government cut logging volumes more than anticipated – but was reinstated early this year.
Mr Brown claimed the State was helping to build sustainable industry in the South West.
“We have now committed $28.5 million to industry development in the South West and South West communities are now building a future that isn’t dependent upon the depletion of a non-renewable resource,” he said.
Australian Craftwood and Timbers Pty Ltd is the biggest winner from the latest State Government assistance.
It will receive $1.6 million towards the establishment of a new sawmill at Manjimup, which has a total cost of $3.5 million.
The mill will process 15,000 cubic metres of low-grade jarrah, which Mr Brown said is normally unutilised.
The mill will be operational next year and will create an estimated 25 jobs.
The government assistance includes an allocation for a full-scale feasibility study on the possible milling of low-grade marri at the Manjimup mill.
Nannup Timber Processing, which employs about 50 staff, will receive $505,000 to support a $1.6 million upgrade of its sawmilling and processing facilities.
The upgrade was necessitated by the shift from old growth trees to smaller logs from regrowth forests.
This follows a $1.4 million assistance package negotiated in 2001, when Bayswater-based building products company M&B Sales bought the mill.