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Thursday, 24 November 2011
Page: 13868

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (11:10): I rise today to commend this House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry report to the House. Like the previous speaker, I do not agree with everything in it but I agree with the overall nature of it. I would like to thank all committee members for their contribution to this and I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the secretariat for the very good way they managed the process and all the logistics around it.

The report has come up with a number of recommendations. I would like to step through those recommendations because I think they are important and go to the heart of what is in the report. The first recommendation is:

… the Australian Government, through the COAG Standing Council on Primary Industries, lead a process to assess and publicly report on likely wood demand and supply scenarios over the longer term …

By 'longer term' we mean over the next 40 years. We would like to see this process completed within 12 months. That was one of the clear things that we heard evidence on: there should be a public process which should include both state and federal governments to report on what Australia's future timber demands are going to be. That would help coordinate and plan for what occurs within the industry and how the government can help and facilitate as a result of that plan.

The second recommendation is that, once again, through the COAG Standing Council on Primary Industries, there be:

… a process to consider and publicly report on whether Australia should aim for wood supply 'self-sufficiency'.

I do not think that we should get too hung up on the end result. The main thing is that we look clearly at where Australia wants to head with its timber production, what our overall aims are and what the overall policy settings, from both the federal and the state levels, should be to achieve that.

Recommendation 3 asks the Australian government to:

… run public information campaigns to promote timber and wood products as replacements for more energy-intensive materials.

That is something that we need to do because, sadly, the green movement has captured the view of timber, logging and the whole process of forestry. There is a real need for us to re-educate, especially young Australians, on the whole timber process—how user-friendly and renewable timber products are. We really need to get the balance back in this argument. We have been chopping down trees since Adam and Eve and we need to continue to do so. As long as it is done in a manageable way, in a renewable way, we can and should continue to do it; yet, sadly, I get the feeling that the Greens would be very happy if not another tree was chopped down in Australia. This is a problem that I think we need to address sensibly. Both major political parties could usefully look at something around this and say, 'Let's go out there and look at what the timber industry has to offer Australia.'

The fourth recommendation is:

… the Australian Government develop robust national standards quantifying the carbon stored in different products made from harvested trees, including the duration of storage and policy implications of those standards.

Once again, a fairly sensible recommendation. We can look around at all the timber here in the Main Committee chamber. There is carbon stored in all the wood product here. We should be able to see the benefits of that. We are not causing severe environmental harm by chopping down a tree; if you replant that tree and you use the timber wisely, you are actually storing carbon. We have to make sure that we take notice of that, and that is a sensible part of the public debate on how we can make sure that we use timber successfully and also promote timber as being an environmentally friendly product.

The fifth recommendation of the committee was that the Australian government, as it develops a mature Carbon Farming Initiative regime, consider the capacity for additionality, the capacity for permanence and other ways for the CFI to support the forestry industry generally. This recommendation is not very clear cut—we have to be very careful in this area. But there are real opportunities when it comes to farm forestry. This is where the use of additionality and the use of permanence can, if we get the policy settings right, benefit farm forestry.

With farm forestry, I am not talking about a plantation of a single species in a vast area; what I am talking about is a farmer using 10 or 15 per cent of his land for tree plantations whereby he can actually increase the productivity of that land by the sensible plantation of timber and then that timber can value-add to his property because in 20 or 30 years time he can rotate that timber. It can be hardwood timber which goes into mills. If done sensibly this is an area where we can get farming communities and the timber communities working together. When it comes to additionality, when it comes to permanence, if we get the settings right, this can be very good. If we do not, sadly, there is a worry that the CFI could lead to more single plantations, and we heard a lot of evidence that they were put in at the wrong time at the wrong place and have not benefited anyone. If we get this recommendation right, there are some real opportunities there.

Recommendations 6, 7, 8 and 9 are around native forestry. Once again, this report sets clearly what should be defined as a 'native forest' and what should be defined as an 'old-growth forest'. We need to stick to these definitions and we need to stick to them in our regional forestry plans. We are seeing timber communities being driven out of forestry under regional forestry agreements because of the continual redefining of what is a native forest and what is an old-growth forest. The more they are redefined, the more our timber industry is going to rely on plantations, which is then going to create land use issues between farmers, between the timber industry—and we are already seeing land use competition when it comes to mining. We have got to get this balance right. But we have to make sure that, where forestry has been occurring, we let it continue. Let us not define an area which has been forested as all of a sudden being 'old-growth' and 'native' so those timber industries and timber communities who want to go in and harvest that product can no longer do so. I am hoping that that will be something which comes out of that series of recommendations.

Recommendations 10 and 11 are around plantations. To me these are the most important recommendations which have come out of all this work—and obviously that is very much a personal view rather than a committee view. 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;

establish whether it is necessary and appropriate for government to provide an incentive to meet that objective;

if it is, set out a clear plan to meet that objective, according to the national plan for plantations;

assess whether MIS as a mechanism can meet that objective;

if MIS can meet that objective, determine whether it needs to be altered to make it more effective; and

if MIS cannot meet that objective, determine whether other mechanisms could do so.

The evidence we heard on MIS was quite damning. It is not working. It might have led to investment in regional and rural communities when it started, but that investment was driven by corporates looking for a tax advantage, not by the long-term interests of regional and rural communities. My view—but it is agreed by the committee and by all sides—is that the minimum we need to do is to review and relook at this. I hope that the government will be doing that, and I will be doing everything I can to make sure that the coalition does that.

This policy needs to be reviewed, and seriously reviewed. We have stepped out the process by which that should take place, and I will now be doing everything I can to make sure that that happens. MIS needs to be reviewed. We need to take evidence to see whether it is continuing to do what it was designed to do. My strong belief is that it is not. We need to relook at this whole area. That is what the committee has recommended, and I would hope that all sides will be looking at doing that now. Recommendation 11 of this report is a very important recommendation.

My view is: if we can get the long-term investment incentives right, we will see farm forestry continue to grow, with all the environmental benefits that that will bring, instead of one sector, the timber sector, competing with the farm sector in a way which I think does no good whatsoever to either side. Farming communities suffer. And, if you look at what is happening currently, especially in the area that I represent, the electorate of Wannon, you will see MIS plantations, trees, being ripped out of the ground and burnt. That is not doing anything for the timber industry either. We need to relook at this policy area. We need to get it right. My view is also that, following on from our committee's work, we really need a committee somewhere to look at recommendation 11—take it by itself, look at it and have a full review of what needs to happen in this area. We need to look at whether we need long-rotation plantation investment and to encourage that investment.

Recommendations 12 and 13 go to farm forestry. I was particularly glad to host the committee in the electorate of Wannon and to look at some of the farm forestry practices there. I think these have enormous potential. In my view we are going to see farm forestry grow, because you can continue to farm successfully by adding a little bit of diversity by putting plantations into 10 to 15 per cent. The evidence overwhelmingly was that this would increase the productivity of the farm plus increase the future income of the farm itself. So it is win-win, and it is an area where I think we need to see enormous growth. It is an area where, if we get the Carbon Farming Initiative correct, we could see a lot of growth. And it is something which I will continue to speak up on and to push.

I am running out of time so I will look at part 7, which includes recommendations 15, 16 and 17, to do with forestry biomass. The evidence we heard on this was overwhelming. We have these policy settings wrong. We are not encouraging biomass use as a renewable form. We are all, at the moment, beholden to the Greens and their ideology. It is ill-founded. It defies logic. It defies what the Greens are pushing as a movement in Europe, where they are encouraging biomass. It is the largest renewable energy source in Europe. That we are not doing that in this country beggars belief. We have to look at the absurdity of this policy, especially when it comes to the carbon tax—taxing carbon usage in the timber industries and then not allowing the use of biomass. Those timber offcuts are now going to go into landfill and release the worst kind of CO2 emission, nitrous oxide. How you could have a policy in place which is going to lead to this is—there are no other words to describe it—beyond belief.

I will leave it there at recommendation 18 in the chapter 'Forestry into the future' and the rest of the report. I think the timber industry does have a strong future in this country. If we get the policy settings right we will see that happen. What we have to do is change the way the timber industry is viewed. We have to get education into our schools to see the merits and the environmental friendliness of the industry, change the way it is perceived and change some of the policy settings. The timber industry's future is bright. (Time expired)