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Thursday, 24 November 2011
Page: 13863

Mr LYONS (Bass) (10:47): I rise today to speak on the report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry entitled Seeing the forest through the trees. I want to quote a couple of things from the report. The first is from A Whitney Brown, writer and comedian, who said:

… They give us two of the most crucial elements for our survival:

oxygen and books!

The other is Henry Abbey's poem. It is very appropriate and I would like to have it recorded; I thank the secretariat for including it. The poem is as follows:

What do we plant when we plant the tree?

We plant the ship, which will cross the sea.

We plant the mast to carry the sails;

We plant the planks to withstand the gales—

The keel, the keelson, and the beam and knee;

We plant the ship when we plant the tree.

What do we plant when we plant the tree?

We plant the houses for you and me.

We plant the rafters, the shingles, the floors.

We plant the studding, the lath, the doors,

The beams, and siding, all parts that be;

We plant the house when we plant the tree.

What do we plant when we plant the tree?

A thousand things that we daily see;

We plant the spire that out-towers the crag,

We plant the staff for our country's flag,

We plant the shade, from the hot sun free;

We plant all these things when we plant the tree.

Australia has 149.4 million hectares of forest, comprising 147.4 hectares of native forest and two million hectares of plantations. These forests cover about 21 per cent of the continent. That is about eight hectares of forest for each Australian, one of the highest areas of forest per person in the world. The world average is less than 0.6 hectares of forest per person. Australia has about four per cent of the world's forests. I have recently witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of uncertainty in the forest industry in my own electorate of Bass. I have spoken in this place before about Scottsdale and the north-east of my electorate of Bass. This is an area that has, in the past, been heavily reliant upon the forest industry. This region has faced a period of substantial uncertainty, with forest downturn in Tasmania. This saw the loss of many jobs in the area, which had a widespread impact on my local community. But the assistance provided in this report will begin to regain a level of certainty and direction for communities such as Scottsdale.

With a range of climate and soil types, the north-east of Tasmania is suitable for a range of agricultural production, being the recipient of a significant and reliable rainfall and being assisted by the federal Labor government with respect to several irrigation schemes. Forestry is a major sector of this region. In fact, in 2010, 26 per cent of the region's employment came from the agricultural and forestry sectors alone. As pointed out by many submissions to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry, the forest industry in Tasmania is currently undergoing some substantial changes. This is largely due to the announcement of a 'Statement of principles to lead to an agreement', which was signed on 14 October 2010.

The central aim of the process, beginning with the statement of principles, was to resolve the conflict over forests in Tasmania, to protect native forests and to develop a strong, sustainable timber industry. There are a number of parties to the statement of principles. It is important to note that neither the Tasmanian government nor the Australian government were parties to the statement. However, the Australian government has welcomed the new relationship between industry, union and environmental organisations to develop the Tasmanian forest statement of principles to lead to an agreement as a positive step towards balancing the conservation and sustainable development and management of Tasmania's forest resources. It is important to have the recommendations on the record. Recommendation 10 states:

The Committee recommends the Australian Government lead a process through COAG to create a national plan for plantations, to ensure that:

plantations of appropriate species are planted in appropriate locations; and

appropriate regional infrastructure exists or is planned and funded.

Recommendation 11 states:

The Committee recommends the Australian Government:

decide whether the encouragement of long-rotation plantations is an appropriate objective of policy …

Recommendation 13 states:

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in concert with state and local governments, provide immediate and ongoing financial support to local organisations that provide extension services for farm forestry, particularly through the Caring for our Country initiative.

Recommendation 19 states:

The Committee recommends the Australian Government lead a process of discussions with all state and territory governments, to consider national approaches to:

Forestry and climate change;

Farm forestry; and—

most importantly—

Future wood product demand and supply.

A persistent theme of the inquiry focused on the need for research and development of the forestry industry. These calls came from industry, community and environmental organisations, as well as from academics. This need was identified across all areas of the industry, including native forestry, plantation forestry, farm forestry, production development and energy generation.

Many submissions to the inquiry noted that many plantations have not been managed for sawlog production. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry submitted that less than 10 per cent—perhaps no more than five per cent—of hardwood plantations are managed for sawlog production. The remaining 90 to 95 per cent of hardwood plantations are managed for lower value products, such as woodchips.

Another issue I wish to outline is that there is considerable agreement that managed investment schemes did little to support long-rotation sawlog plantations. Evidence, however, suggests that it might be able to do so in the future. As noted by Ian Ruscoe of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, legislative change in 2007 was aimed at ensuring long-rotation plantations could be supported by MIS.

Throughout this report the committee has focused on new forestry opportunities, both for today and for the future. The committee firmly believes that the future of the Australian forestry industry is bright and looks forward to seeing those in the industry take advantage of those opportunities.

May I take this opportunity to thank the secretariat, for their hard work; the committee chair, the member for Lyons; and those who took the time to make submissions to the inquiry. I would like to thank all the witnesses who provided evidence to the committee during the inquiry and those who took us on informative site visits. During the course of the inquiry, the committee were impressed by the passion and commitment of individuals and groups throughout the forestry industry.

New methods of forestry planning and management are continually making an impact on the forestry industry, and this will enable the industry to be more efficient and flexible in the future. This inquiry has come at an important time for the forestry industry, especially in my home state of Tasmania. We were privileged to visit some of Australia's timber communities to talk about the future of the industry.

Forestry in the future will be about putting the right trees in the right places for the right reasons. Australia must be able to plan for the future of the forestry industry. As the poem said at the start of my speech:

What do we plant when we plant the tree?

We plant the ship, which will cross the sea.

We are moving to a great future for forestry, but it must be planned and we must get the right trees in the right places for the right reasons. One of the most important aspects of any inquiry is to spend time listening to people talk about the things they know best. I firmly believe that, with the right policy, the industry has a bright future and will continue to play an important role in Australia's economy, particularly in rural and regional Australia. I say again: we should plan to put the right trees in the right places at the right time for the right reasons for Australia.