SUBJECT: Government procurement of Australian made paper.

AMBER IRVING-GUTHRIE, HOST: Under the cover of the covid-19 pandemic, many Government departments reduced the proportion of office stationery produced in Australia – printing paper, exercise books, you get the idea. For Opal Australian Paper, one of the biggest employers in the Valley, the double whammy of lockdown reductions and reduced demand stung. But now the Government has backflipped and committed to using only local paper in its offices. We reached out to Opal Australian Paper for an interview. They declined, but we have Victorian Labor Senator Kim Carr, who’s been part of the campaign to procure Australian stationery. Good morning, thanks for being on the program.


IRVING-GUTHRIE: So late last year you revealed that the Government’s use of Australian paper dropped from 85 per cent to around 33 per cent. What was the Government’s reasoning for doing that?

CARR: What’s happened is that for many years the Government has allowed local procurement officers to do whatever they like when it comes to the purchase of Australian paper. They’ve been fired up by all this free-trade rhetoric and as a consequence Australian manufacturing jobs have been lost to overseas dumped paper in Australia – that is, paper sold below cost, and has resulted in massive disadvantages to Australian industry. That has meant that the Australian Anti-Dumping Commission has had to take quite strong action, and it has meant that we’ve been in some conflicts with some of the paper mills from overseas. Now, I’ve been strongly campaigning, along with the unions and community groups, to encourage people to buy Australian. For many, many years now we’ve been arguing this case, and I’m pleased to see that the Government has finally issued some directives. But we’ve got a long way to go. A long, long way to go.

IRVING-GUTHRIE: Will this cost more money, to focus on Australian paper?

CARR: It’s an issue here about what the cost is to the community as a whole, and the cost to Australia as a whole. Its also about whether we make sure, as we’ve seen recently with the pandemic, whether we’ve got the capacity to look after ourselves. People talk the big talk about making things in Australia but the Government’s got to lead the way to make sure that things happen. We’ve had big investments at the Maryvale mill over the years to make sure that we can recycle paper and do the job efficiently and cost-effectively, but that doesn’t work if there’s no markets, and if the markets are taken away by our own Government when they buy paper from overseas – cheap, imported paper – when they could be buying Australian-made paper and protecting Australian jobs.

IRVING-GUTHRIE: There seems to support across the spectrum for supporting Australian-made products. But do we risk shutting ourselves from these negotiations overseas? How do we navigate and juggle the two?

CARR: Well, there are quite strict guidelines within the WTO for Australian governments to be able to look after their own purchasing. This is quite consistent with our international obligations. It’s not about cutting ourselves off. It’s about making sure that we are able to sustain ourselves in a difficult world environment where we will be able to make sure that we’ve got the capacity to manufacture goods in Australia. The problem you’ve got at the moment with the Government’s regulations is that many of the statutory authorities, many of the quangos that the Government has, are still not buying Australian paper. The Clean Energy Corporation, Comcare, the Treasury department, all these sorts of agencies, are often buying paper from overseas rather than buying Australian. So this edict has to go to all the authorities as well. The Australian Army has to be able to buy Australian paper. We’ve got an expectation that we’ve got to be able to defend ourselves in one sense, and we’ve got to be able to do that in an economic sense as well.

IRVING-GUTHRIE: Bunnings have said that they won’t sell any timber from Vic forests, so local timber, because of their track record I guess. Do you think that attitude is happening elsewhere, and that people will start to question the timber harvested in our backyard?

CARR: You’ve got some real conflicts of interest here. The Clean Energy Regulator have only been buying around a third of their paper from Australian sources. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation have only been buying 1.5 per cent, according to figures I saw recently. Many of the so-called environment agencies are not considering the cost to the Australian social and economic environment when they’re making these decisions. We need to make sure that we have sustainable forestry practices, and we need to make sure that we’re not buying paper from countries that do not have sustainable environmental practices, and we have these sorts of conflicts now arising through the WTO. We’ve got to make sure that we look to Australia and Australian industry, Australian jobs and Australian companies, to ensure the future sustainability of the Australian way of life.

IRVING-GUTHRIE: Senator Kim Carr, thank you very much.


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  • Kim Carr
    published this page in Transcripts 2022-02-09 08:20:00 +1100