The great stink over cut-price toilet paper
A big stink over loo paper not only threatens to flush thousands of Aussie jobs down the can, but leave Kevin Rudd holding a steaming pile of, well, you get the picture.
In a precedent-setting decision that’s as “silly as a bum full of smarties”, to steal a line from Kenny, the government has allowed 20,000 tonnes of Chinese and Indonesian dunny paper to be dumped on the Australian market at prices up to 45 per cent cheaper than in their home countries; much of it under the Woolworths Select label.
But before you shout “you bloody bewdy” and pop out to Woolies for some bargain bog rolls, pause for a minute and contemplate just why any company would sell a mountain of goods at a loss.
Put simply, Asia Pulp and Paper, one of the biggest paper manufacturers on earth, has decided the Aussie market is a soft target where it can destroy local manufacturers, create a monopoly and make massive profits in the long term.
At risk are not only thousands of Aussie manufacturing jobs, but also $3.5 billion dollars worth of investment in equipment and machines, not to mention up to $900 million dollars a year from the local economy.
Internationally, and domestically, government’s have always taken a hard line against this sort of anti-competitive behaviour by charging “dumping duties”, or extra tax, to bring the market back to a level playing field.
And while I’m sure there are more than a few snickers at the irony of dumping duties on dunny paper, this issue is no laughing matter, which is why a growing number of unions, employers, business groups, and even Labor politicians are attacking the decision.
In recent weeks, South Australian Premier Mike Rann, obviously feeling the heat of an election campaign and well aware that the biggest factory affected is in his home state, wrote to the Prime Minister with a simple request: “I ask that you look into this matter and take all reasonable steps to have this decision reconsidered.”
The union representing paper workers, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, has also entered the fray in the SA election, backing a local independent in the seat of MacKillop, home to the largest tissue paper factory in the country which employes 750 people and supports hundreds of other local jobs.
With up to 20 Federal seats around Australia where forestry, timber or paper manufacturing are big employers, letting this problem fester is a sure way to guarantee Rudd will be busier than a blue assed fly come election time.
But the issue is much bigger than just jobs and investment. Asia Pulp & Paper is widely considered among the least sustainable pulp and paper manufacturers in the world, leaving a train of ecological, social and economic destruction dating back decades.
From the clear-felling of high conservation forests in Sumatra to the wholesale destruction of habitat for endangered animals like orangutans and pygmy elephants, countless environment groups have blown the whistle on their unsustainable practices.
Socially they have been accused of using child labor and forcefully relocating indigenous people from forests.
And economically they destroyed countless lives during the Asian economic crisis when they defaulted on loans totaling US$13.9 billion, then rose from the ashes like a phoenix, expanding the business without paying for their capital equipment.
Locally, weakening Australia’s anti-dumping measures not only damages local industry but effectively rewards and fosters this culture of exploitation in third world countries. The Rudd Government, which champions itself as caring about working families, cannot escape the fact that its words and actions on this issue are contradictory.
It is impossible to both admitted that this dumping has caused price suppression and a loss of market share to local businesses, as they have, while at the same time claiming the impact is “insignificant” or “inconsequential”. To do so demonstrates that they have lost touch with Australian communities.
Workers in the pulp and paper industry—many of whom have already been told that their jobs are at risk because their employers cannot justify continued investment in their operations due to the decision to allow the dumping—unsurprisingly understand that this worrying position puts not only their livelihoods, but also their families and communities at risk.
In demanding the Australian Government uphold this fundamental international principle and shield local industry from unfair trading practices, workers and the industry are not asking for protection, rather they are simply demanding a fair go.
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