Businesses have also reported difficulties in accessing the bushfire relief programs such as the $75,000 grants for primary producers, an amount also only a fraction of what many are losing each week.
Victorian contractors in East Gippsland are also facing a “perfect storm” of crises, following the Andrews government’s announcement in November to phase out the native forestry timber industry by 2030.
VicForests, which manages the amount of timber available for logging and associated contracts, revoked timber orders in eastern Victoria last week leaving up to 100 people without a job, and some contractors fear for their financial future due to large debts linked to machinery leases.
Australian Forest Contractors Association general manager Stacey Gardiner said many businesses had suffered direct impacts to their businesses through fires and the indirect effects were now contributing to the “significant costs” facing the industry.
She said contractors would need support to help repay loans and equipment leases, fund timber salvage and purchase specialised equipment.
Timber business owners from East Gippsland, Casino in northern NSW and Tumut in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains will meet federal MPs about the situation facing the industry in Canberra on Thursday.
Ms Gardiner said the business owners would provide “first-hand impacts” to governments.
Federal Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries, Jonathon Duniam, said the Morrison government was determined to help the industry “rebuild and get back on their feet”.
“I have spoken to many people in the industry over the last few weeks about what we can do to help, including at the forestry roundtable we convened last week, and am looking forward to meeting with the timber contractors [on Thursday] to hear their concerns,” Senator Duniam said.
“These contractors have been through hell, some directly on the frontline, and we fully back them in their call to ensure adequate access and supply is provided.”
The industry is also calling for longer-term assistance to help it plan for needs and priorities, amid the threat of more severe fires and potential changes in state forestry agreement which could affect contractors’ equipment needs for harvest and hauling and its workforce.
The Australian Forestry Products Association and state timber groups have also called for state and federal government support to “salvage” millions of tonnes of plantation and native timber from the charred bushfire zones of NSW and Victoria.
The Victorian government estimates more than 40 per cent of timber-producing trees in eastern Victoria and the state’s north-east have been burnt.
Adam Campbell, managing director of Blair and Campbell in Bruthen in eastern Victoria, has lost $300,000 in income since December and was forced to redeploy workers to other contractors.
The company is operating just four of its 11 trucks as a result of fires, with at least six needed to be in operation to remain viable.
P&T Lonergan in Tumbarumba stood its employees down for more than a fortnight and is facing a financial loss of $200,000 already this year. It also suffered severe damage to its workshop and equipment, expected to be up to $100,000.
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra