Construction crisis: NSW timber levels very low
The state's housing construction industry is on the brink of disaster, with the twin strains of the Black Summer bushfires and soaring international demand for quality pine predicted to cause a major shortfall in timber used for house frames.
Industry bodies fear the state's supply of softwood pine could be exhausted as early as April - triggering rocketing construction costs and thousands of job losses.
Hyne Timber CEO Jon Kleinschmidt is now appealing for timber that would usually be exported to China to be freighted from interstate to NSW for processing, but said transportation costs meant the move wasn't viable without government subsidies.
"People ask me, what are the alternatives? I explain, there are no alternatives," Mr Kleinschmidt, who runs one of NSW's largest timber mills at Tumbarumba said.
"This sawmill … needs logs to keep people in jobs and maintain the supply of Australian grown and manufactured timber for our construction sector."
However, with up to 40 per cent of NSW's timber stock razed in last year's fires, mills are facing a long-term shortage as local builders already begin to feel the bite.
According to Housing Industry Association chief economist Tim Reardon, the shortfall could force NSW into a costly international market.
"Less timber domestically means we're increasingly exposed to the global price of timber," Mr Reardon said.
Australian Forest Products Association deputy CEO Victor Violante said the high demand for homes - driven by the federal government's Homebuilder incentives - was the biggest factor in NSW's shortfall, but added that overseas shortages had made it "much harder for imports to fill the gaps we are seeing".
Master Builders Association of NSW executive director Brian Seidler said members held "very large concerns" and were predicting the shortage could bite as soon as April.
"That's the last thing we need while the industry leads the rebuild of a post-COVID-19 economy," he said.
Federal and state governments have pumped more than $200m into the forestry industry since the fires, while it's understood NSW considered subsidising long-haul transport of timber, only for it to be deemed unviable due to the long-term supply challenge facing the industry.
And while worse is predicted, the bite is already being felt at ground-level by builders as they grapple with a shortage of supplies for residential construction.
Laconia Carpentry business owner John Theos, of Castle Hill, said his suppliers were already struggling to source enough timber and were often late.
"It's hard to get the lengths you want, or the type of treated pine I normally use ... deliveries are often days late now too," Mr Theos, 55, said.
"I'm buying pallets of loose timber from my supplier just so we can make frames, and I'm shuffling my jobs around a lot because I can't complete them if I don't have the pine for it."
Originally published as Construction crisis: NSW timber levels very low