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Relief package very welcome


The Tairawhiti relief package for workers affected by Covid-19 disruption is a very welcome response to the hardships being experienced here throughout the forestry supply chain.

An employment redeployment fund worth $28 million supplements the wage support announced by the Government earlier this week with concrete work opportunities for those affected, over the next three to six months. As well as supporting these workers and boosting an ailing economy, it will achieve other goals and help us be ready for the rebound in demand out the other side of this unprecedented situation.

Alternative work identified for Tairawhiti forestry workers includes local roading work, including road maintenance, hazardous tree removal, fast-tracked One Billion Trees projects, conservation activities, and retraining and educational opportunities.

While three to six months is likely to cover the period of adjustment estimated to clear Chinese ports down to their usual levels of logs, increasingly it looks like we are entering one to two years of Covid-19 disruption, until vaccinations can be rolled out internationally. Ongoing employment support will be required across different sectors, but potentially the forestry industry will be back to a more normal situation six months from now.

The regional package announced by three Government Ministers at the inner harbour late this morning also aims to help diversify and add value to our forestry industry into the future. There is $16m of additional support for wood processing here in the form of loans to help WET Gisborne Ltd ($13m) move to the next stage in its structural wood manufacturing ambitions, and $2.98m towards a combined heat and power plant at the former Prime site on Dunstan Road. This is where the Gisborne Wood Engineering Technology (WET) joint venture operates alongside the Far East Sawmill, and Trust Tairawhiti aims to establish a Wood Processing Centre of Excellence.

That this package was the Government's first priority with regard to the $100m fund it set aside for regional support on Tuesday not only highlights the great need here. It also shows again the Tairawhiti region's new-found ability to co-ordinate agencies and stakeholders around important topics and challenges that we face.

This means we can speak with one voice, and thereby maximise the outside support we get. It is also vital as we face the challenges ahead together.