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Thursday, 24 November 2011
Page: 13872

Mr CHEESEMAN (Corangamite) (11:25): It is with some pride today that I rise to speak on the Seeing the forest through the trees inquiry undertaken by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry. Upfront, I would like to put on the record my thanks to the secretariat, who did a first-class job in assisting the committee in undertaking its deliberations. I think the forestry industry has a very bright future in Australia—albeit it is an industry that has been going through and will continue to go through significant innovation in the way in which it conducts its business, particularly as in many parts of Australia we transition out of more traditional native forestry into more plantation and on-farm or private land forestry. That has been taking place for some time and will continue to do so.

I was delighted with the efforts that the committee put in, particularly in terms of farm forestry. Farm forestry has a very bright future, particularly if we get the policy settings right at a national level. I would like to highlight a very successful group in my part of the world, the Otway Agroforestry Network, which has been advising fellow farmers of the benefits of farm forestry for some years. Indeed, I have seen firsthand many farmers who have planted out their properties to the tune of 15 to 20 per cent without affecting the productivity of their properties or reducing stock on their properties and, as a consequence, have provided themselves with a long-term investment which they are able to take advantage of in more challenging years—and they have done so particularly over the last 10 years through drought and the like.

The real strength of an agroforestry approach, particularly if it is supported by government, is having in place a peer mentoring service, where farmers provide advice in an extension sense to other farmers. That is a far more powerful model than having extension provided by bureaucrats. Farmers providing advice and support to other farmers is an inherently stronger model. It is a model that will provide an opportunity for farmers not only in terms of being mentors but also in giving them access to people in their area that they trust who have a lot of practical experience in agroforestry. There is a real opportunity, particularly in marrying agroforestry with more traditional landcare. I use a practical example. Farmers, perhaps through a traditional landcare grant, might choose to fence off and plant a creek bed. Moving that fence 15 or 20 metres further into their properties provides an opportunity for farmers to plant a number of rows of hardwood timber—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 11:30 to 12:04

Mr CHEESEMAN: After such a long break I am not precisely sure where I got to in my contribution—

Mr McCormack: Trees.

Mr CHEESEMAN: I was talking about trees, as was quite rightly pointed out. There is no doubt that forestry has gone through and will continue to go through quite substantial innovation and change of practice as we continue that journey of transition out of more native forestry, which we have been doing. I was reflecting on the important contribution that agroforestry can make to Australia's wood security as we move forward. Not only is it good practice for farmers to undertake agroforestry where appropriate on their land; if it is done appropriately and with strong peer support in place, it can provide opportunities for farmers to diversify their own practices and provide support to fellow farmers in their communities. I think we have certainly been seeing that in a very strong way down in south-west Victoria, where agroforestry has been providing a useful additional income stream to farmers there. I would be hopeful that the work undertaken by the Otway Agroforestry Network can expand to other parts of Australia, where peer support mentoring can be put in place and agroforestry can take root. There are of course opportunities that will come from the Carbon Farming Initiative which will help support the extension of farm forestry throughout this nation, particularly in areas where farm forestry has been more marginal in the past. If developed properly and thought through and implemented appropriately, the Carbon Farming Initiative can provide additional support.

I do want to again make reference to the role that the Caring for our Country program can play in coupling agroforestry or farm forestry with Landcare to provide real opportunities for environmental gain, particularly where farmers might have been fencing off and planting out watercourses for environmental reasons. If we could have some practical arrangements put in place, where fences could be extended further into properties by perhaps 20 or 30 metres, it will provide opportunities for additional rows of trees to be planted for commercial gain. Leaving the Landcare arrangements in place and appropriately harvesting the farm forestry rows where appropriate is something that we can continue to work through in the Caring for our Country arrangements to ensure that they do work appropriately, and of course marrying up the arrangements under the Carbon Farming Initiative.

Comments have been made throughout the report, and certainly the committee received an enormous amount of evidence, on the taxation treatment of forestry. I think there are mixed views around the table on what taxation treatment for trees that have been planted has done for regional Australia. My view is that, in a broad sense, it has led to a very substantial additional planting of timber on private land, but there is and has been conflict between corporations—looking to plant, particularly, blue gums down my way—and farming communities. Of particular concern to some farmers is that they are having to compete with corporations on an unequal playing field, particularly around taxation. Further work and reform can be undertaken in this area to ensure that forestry does not have an unfair advantage over farming communities when it comes to acquiring a property. We need to think carefully about that as we move forward. We also need to consider carefully the taxation arrangements we have in place, which certainly has led to a very substantial increase in what we call short-rotation timber, which is predominantly grown for woodchip; predominantly the harvest can be secured after 10 or 15 years. That has done wonderful things for the woodchip market, but it has not helped with producing timber for structural purposes, tables or whatever. We do need to think carefully about whether additional arrangements can be put in place to encourage long rotation of timber so that we can work through a process to secure Australia's long-term forestry, particularly recognising that we will continue that journey of transitioning out of native forestry.

This inquiry has appropriately recommended additional work that needs to be undertaken at COAG, involving all the states and territories to continue to secure Australia's future wood independence. That is certainly something that I strongly endorse. A lot of work will be required, and I certainly hope that there is strong cooperation between the states and territories on this matter and that we continue to undertake that work. I very much look forward to having a discussion with the forestry minister to see how he might work through the recommendations within this report. There are some very strong opportunities moving forward. I recommend the report to all members of the House.

Debate adjourned.