Families are set to bear the brunt of the nation’s latest supply crisis, with the price of back-to-school items set to soar.

Australians are set to pay nearly double for paper, while the price of school books and stationery could soar after production was suspended at the nation’s last white paper mill in the Latrobe Valley. Office Brands, a group representing businesses that provide stationery supplies, has warned of cost-of-living pressures directly linked to the end of white-paper production at Maryvale mill. Local manufacturing of copy paper ceased on December 23 because of timber shortages, and it is feared it may not return as authorities struggle to solve the crisis.

Chief executive Adam Joy said that since the shutdown, the cost of a ream of paper had gone from $4 to $7 because companies and stationery stores were now being hit with massive tariffs to import paper for print. They were introduced to prevent dumping.

“Supply of white paper has now stopped in Australia and we’re all importing,” he said.

”You’re already seeing prices moving up, almost weekly, from the wholesale cost of sourcing the paper. The price is moving very fast.”

Mr. Joy said small businesses would be caught up in the price rises, as would educators and government departments that relied on the paper, and paper-related products such as printers, cartridges and laminators would cost more. He also said the federal government should remove the tariffs, particularly if local production was now finished. Opal Australian Paper has struggled to source the native timber needed to produce white paper because of regulations placed on logging after multiple long court battles.

The laws have left VicForests unable to meet some contracts and the Maryvale mill emptied its stockpile in the time spent seeking a solution. An Opal spokeswoman said the firm was yet to identify an alternative source of wood. “Opal continues to consider a number of different scenarios for the longer term in case possible alternative wood sources are below the volumes required or are not commercially feasible,” she said. 

Almost 50 Maryvale workers have been stood down and another 90 are expected to follow if production ends. CFMEU pulp and paper workers district secretary Denise Campbell-Burns said there might be a shortage of back-to-school paper products. 

“It’s about our workers’ jobs and the importance of Australian manufacturing, but the other thing is about Australian consumers,” she said.

“Why should families have to pay more for imported products because we haven’t solved our log-supply crisis?”

She said legislation needed to change so harvesting could resume. “It is a state and a – national issue, not just a Gippsland issue,” she said.

“We use paper produced at the Maryvale mill every single day and no one thinks of it.”

A state government spokeswoman said it was working with Opal on options to support the mill in the long term.

This article was originally published in the Sun Herald on the 17th of January 2023