Please explain

By Benalla Ensign

State Member for Euroa Steph Ryan joined Nationals leader Peter Walsh at Ryan & McNulty sawmill in Benalla on Thursday to discuss their issues regarding contract extensions being cancelled.

Ryan & McNulty is one of the G6 timber mills who feel its contract extensions have been cancelled to benefit the Heyfield Mill, which was acquired by the Victorian Government last year.

The six mills recently wrote an open letter to Premier Daniel Andrews seeking clarity on why his government revoked these extensions.

The Nationals have subsequently accused the Andrews Government of putting Benalla jobs at risk by reneging on a promise to supply extra timber to Ryan & McNulty.

Ms Ryan said Labor had gone back on its word by reducing timber supplies for Ryan & McNulty and other Victorian sawmills.

‘‘The Premier must explain why he has pulled the pin on these timber supply contracts,’’ Ms Ryan said.

‘‘The Victorian Government now owns the Heyfield Mill in Gippsland and has secured its timber supply, but it has not renewed contracts for other competitor mills across the state.

‘‘By reducing supply to Ryan & McNulty, Daniel Andrews and the Labor party are risking the ongoing viability of the mill, which employs more than 50 people locally.

‘‘For more than 70 years, Ryan & McNulty has been a vital part of Benalla.

‘‘They have donated generously to community causes and been model employers.

‘‘Daniel Andrews and the Labor party have now pulled the rug out from underneath them.’’

Mr Walsh said sawmills were major employers in regional towns like Benalla and for the government to dishonour its agreement with them was unacceptable.

‘‘The Victorian Labor Party is so focused on holding seats in inner-city Melbourne against the Greens that it is willing to sell Benalla jobs down the gurgler,’’ Mr Walsh said.

‘‘Not only has the government locked up timber supplies, it has now reneged on contracts with family owned mills in favour of awarding supply to its own mill in a complete conflict of interest.

‘‘If Daniel Andrews cared about jobs here he would honour the contract arrangements with Ryan & McNulty.’’

However, State Member for Northern Victoria Jaclyn Symes has denied that any contracts have been ‘‘torn up’’.

‘‘No contracts with timber mills were ever cancelled as has been claimed by the National Party and Steph Ryan,’’ Ms Symes said.

‘‘VicForests will be meeting with Ryan & McNulty shortly to discuss their longer-term needs.

‘‘In fact, what Steph Ryan conveniently overlooked for a media stunt is that Ryan & McNulty have timber supply locked in until 2024.

‘‘Steph Ryan scaremongering about local jobs that are not at risk is another desperate attempt to try and distract the Benalla community from the fact the Nationals voted against 400 new jobs in Benalla.

‘‘The Andrews Labor Government will continue to support this vital local Benalla business.’’

Greg McNulty said he hoped things were moving in the right direction and confirmed he has a meeting with VicForests arranged for this week.

‘‘We’ll have a discussion with them and hopefully we’ll find out more about what’s going on,’’ Mr McNulty said.

‘‘We had our freedom of information request (regarding the deal between Heyfield and the state government) denied last month.

‘‘We haven’t got any more information on the deal as yet, we’re still waiting.

‘‘But we’re not going to give up.’’