Timber supply can't keep up with demand

Friday 9 Jul 2021

The Australian federal government is being urged to intervene in the national timber industry, as the construction and forestry union forecasts the sector will not be able to meet demand fuelled by the national construction boom.

The Commonwealth's HomeBuilder program, which provides grants for people building or renovating homes, is being cited as one of the main drivers of construction activity across the country. The coronavirus pandemic has fuelled a desire in many Australians to search for more living space, but supplies of building products such as timber frames are simply not there to meet that surge.

Modelling by the CFMEU suggests the amount of construction across the country will require 2.1 million cubic metres of timber framing this year, but current capacity across the nation's sawmills is only sitting at 1.8 million cubic metres. A global construction boom is putting pressure on international supplies, hampering efforts to meet that 15 per cent shortfall with imports.

Bushfires that ripped through Australian plantations in late 2019 and early 2020 have also hit domestic forestry reserves.

"We need logs, but we also need enough sawmills and enough processors to process those logs as well" said CFMEU National Secretary Michael O'Connor. Some sawmills across the country are operating around the clock, awash with supplies, while others are struggling to access any timber and are fearful of collapsing.

Executive Officer of the Frame and Truss Manufacturers Association of Australia Kersten Gentle said it was a remarkable shift in fortunes for the building industry. "From what I've been told, Albury [in NSW] normally does 600 homes a year, they've already signed up 2,000 homes for the year," Ms Gentle said.

"You've got builders all around the country that normally would do 70 homes, they've signed up 200 homes; or builders that would do 2,000 homes have signed up 3,000 homes."

Ms Gentle argued it would have been hard to avoid the pressure on supply chains, considering how dire the situation was at the height of the pandemic in 2020. "This time last year, or even earlier last year, people were winding down their businesses thinking that the market was going to crash," she said.

"Nobody, nobody in Australia predicted that we were going to have this massive housing boom. The stress levels are through the roof."

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Source: ABC

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