Mr NORTHE (Morwell) (5929): My adjournment debate is directed to the Assistant Treasurer.
The action I seek is for the Assistant Treasurer to mandate that state government departments and agencies purchase Australian-made paper as part of their procurement policy practices over imported paper.
There are concerns that under existing state purchasing contracts the procurement of Australian-made paper is not as strong as what it could or should be. This is a critically important issue to my community as Opal Australian Paper, the largest and only manufacturer of copy paper in Australia, is based in my electorate at Maryvale, and subsequently thousands of people are employed directly and indirectly.
In December 2015, I had asked via the questions on notice forum as to what percentage of paper was purchased by each Victorian government department and agency through contracts that were awarded to New South Wales-based company Complete Office Supplies. The then Minister for Finance responded, saying that 99 per cent (by value) of all copy paper procured in 2014–2015 was Australian made. My concern is that this is not the case now and that imported paper is being procured on a regular basis by Victorian government departments and agencies. To quote from the government’s current paper procurement guide, it states the following: ‘There is no restriction on the type of copy paper (imported, local, recycled or non-recycled) available to government buyers under the SPC’. This surely leave the door ajar and wide open for imported paper to be acquired by government departments and agencies, which frankly is unacceptable.
This current procurement policy is less supportive than the federal government’s position, which now mandates 100 per cent Australian-made paper. The Victorian government should be just as supportive as the commonwealth, given the only copy paper producer in Australia is based right here in Victoria in the Latrobe Valley.
In question time at the last sitting week of Parliament, I had also flagged issues with respect to the new mandated state purchasing contracts policy that comes into effect from 1 July 2021. I am advised that there are few, if any, regional suppliers on the list of preferred suppliers for the purchase of items such as stationery, travel, professional services, recruitment and print.
I ask rhetorically what does this mean for paper manufactured at Opal Australian Paper, Maryvale, in my electorate and for their workforce. The state government must take a strong stance on this issue and mandate as a priority the purchase of Australian-made paper for its own government departments and agencies. Anything less is a kick in the face for regional businesses who have already seen in recent months the centralisation of services that were previously provided by regional businesses for many years.
We can ill afford to let Australian-made paper go down this same pathway. To prefer imported paper over locally grown and manufactured products makes no sense. We have a sustainable timber industry that not only employs thousands of Victorians, but it also operates under the strictest of environmental regulations, so why would we want to put that at risk. It was pleasing to observe recently that the federal government finally committed that all its federal government agencies would have to procure Australian-manufactured office paper. Hopefully that provides a level of comfort to all workers at Opal Australian Paper at Maryvale but we also need the same reassurance from the Victorian government now. In closing, the action I seek is for the Assistant Treasurer to mandate that Australian-made office paper be procured by its state government departments and agencies in lieu of imported paper in all state purchasing contracts.