Article by Kersten Gentle

There was no chance at any stage this year that Australia was going to run out of toilet paper, but the reality on the ground told a completely different story.

Scenes of panic buying, and empty shelves meant people who were desperate for toilet paper had to go searching for it. Some people had to change from their usual brand or preference and buy 1 ply or 2 ply instead as they desperately needed toilet paper to do the job!

I thought this is an analogy that everyone could relate to this year. I’ve seen the empty shelves in South Australia this week and I’m still shocked by what is happening but what has this got to do with timber?

Our housing reports have stirred up some anger with people who argue that there is a timber shortage, and this is not just a business disruption. However, all Tim Woods of Industry Edge can do with his economist hat on, is report the facts and the facts show that there is no timber shortage.

The importers have for months and months talked about the difficulties they are facing.  There is no doubt that due to higher prices overseas, fires in Oregon, fires at Sweden sawmill, fire at Caboolture, fires throughout Australia, delays at our ports and an overall disruption due to COVID-19 that we are in the middle of the perfect storm.

The Australian producers are doing all they can to lift production with Caboolture going full steam ahead following the reopening after their fires and everyone is doing what they can to source timber.  Hyne sought $10m from the NSW government for transport support which was rejected. Instead, they were awarded almost $3m for some optimisation. 

 Hyne continues to seek support to get logs to the Mill as this is far from over.

Tuesday this week, when I read Tim’s report and spoke with some fabricators, I felt buoyed that this would only be a short-term impact and that there was light on horizon.

That was before South Australia went in to a six-day circuit breaker lockdown to address their new COVID-19 clusters.

The impact of the Timberlink Tarpeena Mill and the OneFortyOne Mt Gambier Mill closing is huge, and it could take months to catch up with the timber supply, causing more stress and angst on the ground within our sector as this region supplies approximately 20% of our sawn softwood timber.

The industry must come together to ensure, if the SA lockdown continues, that the SA Government recognises the importance of these mills opening for the Australian construction sector.

So timber shortage or business disruption?  Either way the reality on the ground is one of hardship and concern as outlined by the message received by one of our members which stated:

The reality on the ground by one of our Fabricator members

We have seen a raft of information being reported on positive housing numbers and a multitude of different angles on where timber / product supply is up to. But the variables on which state you are in, what customer base you are supplying and the makeup your purchasing means there is no goldilocks approach to the current conditions. What has been dubbed in our business as the “unofficial COVID-19 tax” appears to be having different issues / restrictions on each business.

Currently for us to put a standard I joist floor system to site which would normally be a simple PO raised with 48 hours before delivery now requires 4 x EWP suppliers to capture the required stocks, 4 x lots of freight, 7 days lead time and a nightmare of certification. While softwood availability has tightened for us it is manageable, some of our competitors who are supplying to different markets with different product makeup are in distress trying to source enough product day to day.

A timber shortage would then appear to be too blunt a description and a timber disruption perhaps not strong enough. We have had to redeploy our staff within the business to attempt to design / calculate the required materials for a job long before its detailed and then spend hours contacting suppliers to find out who has what products available and on what timing.

Our suppliers are not at fault and under the same constraints us as, trying to plan for what has been a completely unknown future market and bound by the same logistical issues. However, the “unofficial COVID-19 tax” is alive and well and something we predict we will be battling with for months to come.

Australian fabricators should stand proud that we haven’t had any COVID-19 cases and closures and I take my hat off to every single one of you for the great work during this pandemic.

Today’s FTMA Housing Report by Tim Woods of Industry Edge gives me hope for the future, but there is no doubt we have some extremely hard months in front of us as an industry.

For more information on the SA Timber Mill Shutdowns, please view the Media Releases below.

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