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Thursday, 24 November 2011
Page: 13859

Mr ADAMS (Lyons) (10:30): by leave—It has been a very active day in the parliamentary processes. I believe this report, Seeing the forest through the trees, has come at an important time for the forestry industry. The debate on forestry has been raging for the last 20 years, and it is time to look properly at the future of the industry. The House committee has certainly done that. Its report reflects the nuances of the discussion on forestry. The title comes, of course, from the saying 'you can't see the forest for the trees', meaning, in this case, that people have been focusing too much on the details and have lost sight of the bigger picture of forestry and the importance it has for this nation—for the states, the regional centres and rural Australia. We need to look at the big picture of forestry because it is the mainstay of many areas of the Australian economy—it has been so in the past and will continue to be so into the future. It also has an important role to play in the world's efforts in dealing with excess carbon emissions.

There is a lot to do around the use of wood. When I look around this room I see how much carbon is stored here in wooden products—in our furniture and in our panelling. We have to make sure we are measuring the storage of carbon and recognising where it is stored.

There is a great future for forestry. It can help with the storage of carbon. Also, it is a renewable resource whereas resources such as plastic and steel, which contain an enormous amount of embedded energy, are not. The forestry industry does not use much energy converting wood into what we see in front of us in this room, so it presents a great opportunity. We import about $2 billion worth of forest products, but we do not want to be taking wood from other parts of the world, especially countries in our own region, which certainly do not have the same environmental standards as we have in this country.

The report also focuses on the time when I believe we started to really get on top of forestry policy. The National Forest Policy Statement came about in 1992, and from that grew the RFA processes and the regional forest agreements which meant that we focused on regions to make sure that we maintained the different species of each region. We wanted to make sure that we had a lasting process based on science so that we could continue to have a good forest industry into the future, and that is what we have done. The report focuses on renewing RFAs and on making sure they are modern and that they deal with the issues we will need to deal with in the future. For this report the committee consulted widely with many communities and all aspects of forest industry. We certainly looked at downstream processing and how that has changed. We looked at how the peelings from small logs that come from thinnings are now turned into really good products. There are opportunities for building large pieces of wood from small pieces by joining them together, and we saw that the economics of all those things work very well. Those things can be done in regional Australia in the sawmilling industry that we presently have.

Through innovation there are lots of opportunities for new products that will take us forward but we also need to have a look at how we grow wood. We need look to the future and decide how to encourage investment in the forest industry—whether it is through plantations or supporting rural Australia through our farming communities. I think 70 per cent of the Australian landmass is owned privately and there is a lot of wood there that can come into production, but it can also store carbon into the future. We need to find the right policy settings for that. Farmers certainly need extension work and there is the aspect of meeting the future needs of the Australian industry. We need to help farmers take advantage of those opportunities and reach the potentials available through the storage of carbon and the production of wood.

We need to look at the way we build plantations. People look at plantations as being monocultures when really that is only one part of what a plantation can be. There can be many species in a plantation. Farmers looking at growing wood can do it in different configurations on their farms. We had a good discussion within the committee about bringing forward opportunities from Caring for our Country to encourage that sort of policy direction. Where a farmer might plant three rows of trees to protect a river or creek bank, maybe we could go out to 10 or 15 rows and fence it, therefore building a whole wood lot in that place. These are innovative ideas that we should be able to achieve. But farmers will need help in extension, in finding the right business model and, of course, in finding the opportunity, as an enterprise, to be able to turn a dollar and pay their way.

When we were taking information and evidence it was quite interesting. It was pointed out that many farmers have the opportunity not to make a cut at a certain time. They have a lot more flexibility, and wood gives them opportunities outside the normal agricultural cropping cycles—the turning off of lambs or beef cattle or whatever—so their incomes can be stretched out.

There are lots of opportunities into the future but we need to look innovatively. Governments certainly have a role to play in getting some of these policy directions right. In the committee we touched on the arguments that come up in terms of land use—forestry versus other crops—and we received evidence that there are overdone arguments that do not hold up. There is one per cent of the Australian landmass under plantation. So some arguments against plantations do not make much sense, although plantations certainly have an effect in a local area and should be done in a proper, sensitive way to meet the needs of the community.

What species is grown is very important. We certainly came across areas where, during previous times, when we were trying to meet the needs of the 2020 Vision project, trees of the wrong species were planted in the wrong area so that we did not get the right outcome—the proper outcome that we could have got for the nation and for this industry. We need to make sure that we get those things right. We need to have the policy directions that pull things together and make them work.

This is a very good report—I certainly hope. It is a very important report. It is also a report well done. I am very proud to have been the chair of the committee. I am very proud of the people who put in so much, including the staff of the secretariat. I believe we have done very good work that will go on to help governments and oppositions form good policy positions into the future. We wanted to make sure that waste from the forest industry could be dealt with for the best economic benefit for the nation. We based the recommendation on that being waste only—that we do not go into native forests and use them as the basis for, say, driving a power station. The waste from sawmills and the timber industry should be used fully, for the best economic need, as they do in other parts of the world. Europe and South America, for instance, are driven by the greener side of politics, and bioenergy is one of the big renewable energies. So we need to make sure that we are on board for that and not left behind as a nation.

There are some very good recommendations and some very good work in this report. I am very proud that we have been able to pull it together, and I believe that it will serve the nation well.