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Monday, 4 July 2011
Page: 7443

Mr ADAMS (Lyons) (11:02): I want to bring the House's attention to the International Year of Forests because I believe that the forestry industry is one of the really great news stories for Australia. We have been through turmoil and fights with this industry, but now I believe the debate is maturing and, with that, a new industry is emerging that can be counted on as one of world's best practice and as being sustainable for centuries to come. Australia has about four per cent of the world's forests on five per cent of the world's land area. It has one of the best managed forestry sectors in the world.

The nation's forests and the products they produce provide significant employment, environmental and recreational benefits to communities across Australia. Australia's forestry and wood manufacturing sector employs nearly 76,000 people, many in regional areas, and generates about $7 billion worth of wood and paper products annually. Across the nation, forests in conservation areas cover 23 million hectares. These reserves provide recreational benefits for communities and contribute to the 12 billion tonnes of carbon stored by Australian forests. Industry and government have been working hard to make sure our forests remain sustainable and viable for the long term.

The Australian government recognises the importance of World Forestry Day and the International Year of Forests and has actively supported both initiatives. This year the Gillard government has released legislation to ban the importation of timber products that have not been legally harvested. This will contribute to global efforts to stop illegal logging, provide for sustainable forest products made in Australia and reduce unfair competition. The Gillard government remains committed to promoting sustainable forestry initiatives and encourages people to celebrate the International Year of Forests.

With just four per cent of the world's forests in Australia, most people would not recognise forest conservation as a daily issue in our wide brown land. But Australia has a variety of forest types. There are seven main groups that cover much of the coastal regions of the country. In order of abundance these are eucalypt, with 11 subtypes; acacia; melaleuca; rainforest; callitris; casuarina; and mangroves. Australia has the world's sixth largest forest area with a total of just over 147 million hectares, or around 21 per cent of the country's total land area. Most of Australia's forests are found in Queensland, with 52.8 million hectares of forest covering almost one-third of the state. Tasmania's forests, both native and plantation, cover 50 per cent of the state.

All our forests are home to unique native wildlife—animals as diverse as the cassowary in the rainforests of North Queensland and the tiny woylie in Western Australia's south-west. They all rely on a healthy forest for survival, whether it be an old-growth forest that has seen no development, harvesting or agricultural clearing or a newly regenerated forest. All forests in Australia play an important part in the natural ecosystem.

Forests throughout Australia can be threatened by both man-made and natural processes. Fire, drought and flood are all natural phenomena and can be both friend and foe to the forests of Australia. Many eucalypt species are adapted to fire, and the river red gums of Victoria's newest state forests are adapted to the flooding waters that can reach halfway up their trunks.

It is important to recognise the role of forest management in the maintenance of our world-class forests. Without some managing authority to deal with fire, drought, flood, human and animal impacts in our forests, as well as disease that in some cases can sweep through an area—just as it can among humans—we would not have such pristine forests as we have today. I salute the foresters and the forest workers, many of whom have worked in forests for generations, who, by their work and their understanding of the forest systems, have allowed us such an outcome as we have today.

The future will be just as important. The forests will play an important part in recycling carbon by storing it in wood and releasing oxygen as a by-product. This has played and will play a very important part in keeping the world's atmosphere in balance and preventing those excesses on either side—warming and cooling.

It is going to be an exciting time as new ideas become reality and researchers find innovative ways to use the timber, the bark, the leaves and the sap of our trees. Most people see wood used in their homes for building structures, for furniture, for ornamental purposes and even for art. But few recognise the importance of wood products for making paper to label all our goods, for packaging and for artists, newspapers, books, posters and prints. There are the medical uses of our trees—eucalypt oil and other tinctures that have been distilled from parts of leaves or the sap. And there has been innovation in the use of timber itself. It is now viable to use the small pieces of timber being milled. Engineered timber with certain types of glue can make beams that are even stronger than steel.

There is also the pure delight of wandering through a forest and enjoying the smell and the feel of the earth as the atmosphere renews itself through the trees. I had the opportunity of taking the House committee to some of my favourite spots in working forests during the hearing in Tasmania last week. We were all hugely impressed by the work that is quietly going on in keeping our Tasmanian forests well looked after. It was awe inspiring. Some of the walks and lookouts would not have been created had there not been a forest manager to ensure access to the forests. Whether they are in a public forest or in a private forest, whether they are on a farmland or on the fringes of urban areas, trees work well with humans if we are not silly about their powers. There are also opportunities for many new products coming from trees into the future, including being able to utilise rotary peeled veneers, being able to glue trees back together after we have peeled them off, to make even stronger products than in the past. This can work very well in regional areas and there are great opportunities for that. Laminated veneer lumber is also becoming a reality throughout the world, especially in New Zealand and now in Australia. Being able to join small pieces of timber together and making it economically viable for that product to reach the standards for the building codes give us a great opportunity by allowing the use of a lot more wood. The future is certainly going to be about less native forest timber being available for processing but more plantation timber. We will need to identify more efficient ways of supplying customers. We will also need to know what people want in wood products in the future and about the changing demands. Consumers are certainly favouring strength and versatility of engineered wood products over traditional sawn timbers. There need to be opportunities to take wood to the biodiesel stage, and the opportunities into the future are growing wonderfully well.

This is a wonderful industry. It employs a lot of great Tasmanians, great Australians, and people throughout the world. It can help alleviate poverty throughout the world, and we do need to make timber products from trees, but there has to be a process that is sustainable to allow us to achieve that. Before this year ends I suggest everybody goes out to their favourite piece of forest, talks to the workers who use it, asks them their stories, hears about their pride in their areas and just thinks about their forests in this International Year of Forests.