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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4488

Senator COLBECK (4:52 PM) —I, too, would like to make a contribution on the minister’s response to the question by the Greens. It gives me a good opportunity to briefly discuss this. I suppose I agree with Senator Brown in the context that I am not sure that the minister really is across what is going on in this portfolio with respect to sequestration of carbon in forests and timber products. I also note that Senator Brown is only prepared to tell half of the story when it comes to this issue. I have been very interested over the last few months in the conduct of the inquiry into climate change and in discussions that I have had on the measurement of carbon in forests and sequestration of carbon in solid timber products. Senator Brown, when he talks about the release of carbon dioxide from the harvesting of native forest, talks about it in the context of the current Kyoto accounting rules, where the assumption is that when you harvest a tree all of the carbon contained in that tree is emitted immediately, including the carbon in the roots. So, if you harvest a tree, the assumption for the current Kyoto accounting purposes is—

Senator Bob Brown —Who says it’s for Kyoto accounting purposes? Please show me.

Senator COLBECK —Ask your colleague, Senator Brown. Senator Milne was with me on the inquiry. There is no dispute about it, Senator Brown. If you are so far behind you do not know, that is your problem, not mine. That is the accounting process that is acknowledged internationally. But there is no acknowledgement in the current accounting processes for carbon stored in timber products. So managed forests, forests of the type Senator Brown is talking of—in fact, regrowth forests—are not accounted for. It is very good to hear Senator Brown acknowledge that you will find old-growth qualities in regrowth forests. It is a very important point that Senator Brown acknowledges. In fact, I have had it put to me by a member of the Wilderness Society in Tasmania that a 40-year-old regrowth forest is regarded as an old-growth forest, recognising the values that are being created in the regeneration of forests in Tasmania and in other jurisdictions around the country by the quality forestry practices that operate in this country.

The Greens talk about the deconstruction. They do not talk about the high-quality regeneration forests that are occurring in Australia. They are quite happy to claim the forests after they are regenerated, down the track, as old-growth, even though they do not specifically fit the definition; but they do not recognise the carbon stored in timber products, and they are quite happy for that process to continue. There is a recognition of carbon stored in timber products over the long-term cycle. Senator Brown talks about the here and now and the harvesting of forests but does not talk about the long-term cycle, where you can, by recognising the carbon stored in solid timber products, actually store more carbon through actively managing a forest over a long term. The CSIRO told us that. There is research out of North America that tells us that. And it has been recognised in conversations that I have had in Europe over the last few weeks. You will sequester more carbon by managing forests sustainably over a long period of time when you recognise the carbon stored in solid timber products, whether they be paper, which has a shorter life, or solid timber products, which have a long-term life. Senator Brown, you are so far behind with your thinking in respect of this. This religious fervour that you do not cut down a tree is doing nothing for the timber industry. It is doing nothing to stop illegal logging in Third World countries.

If we can apply common sense to this, in my view there is a real opportunity for us to use the recognition of carbon stored in solid timber products to start directing funding back to Third World countries to get regeneration programs—which would be an absolutely positive thing—in forests that are being challenged, like tropical forests in South America. We can get funding directed back into regeneration programs and then get very genuine certification processes into our forests, which recognise and measure these factors so that there is a long-term future for forestry. Also, you can have sustainable forestry into the longer term. There is a huge opportunity for the forest industry to work with this. We know that timber sequesters carbon. We ought to be looking at making sure we are using sustainable products like timber in our construction industry. We can move away from using those products with heavy carbon footprints that use a lot of energy in their generation, and we can store that. We can look at the longer-term recycling of timber products as well so that we can maintain that carbon stock in the timber that is being stored but return some of the revenue generated to regenerating forests in Third World countries.

We talk about certification of timber out of some of these countries through what is regarded as legal logging. Very little of it has a regeneration process attached to it. So we are still seeing deafforestation, which is, in the context of long-term carbon storage, not a good thing. In places like Tasmania and other Australian states we are actually planting new native forests. Using the genus that comes out of those forest coupes, there is a real opportunity for us to demonstrate that what we are doing is right and to export that technology to other places so that we can have a sustainable timber industry.

There will continue to be enormous demand for timber. We currently have a $2 billion trade deficit on timber products coming into Australia. We should be valuing the work that is being done by our forest industries and making sure that we have those long-term rotations of our native forests so that we can continue to sequester carbon over time and make sure that not only do we maintain the value that comes out of our forest industries as well as having some replacement for the products that are currently being imported—about 10 per cent of which are illegally logged—but also we have a sustainable timber industry in the long term and at the same time achieve the climate change objective of locking up more carbon. That is what the science says. It is not like in the old religious days of not cutting down a tree. If you have a long-term rotation of native forests, allowing them to reach a level of maturity where they have peaked in their carbon sequestration before you reharvest, you will find old-growth forest characteristics in those regrowth forests.

Those are the sorts of things that we have got to get to, and it was great to see Forestry Tasmania release a strategy last week for maintaining access to specialist Tasmanian timbers. They are doing a lot of great work—world-leading work in a lot of cases—and yet are continuously being denigrated by those who are so far behind in the science, who have no idea what is going on in this process and who are in fact actively trying to frustrate the process by not wanting to recognise the carbon stored in solid timber products, which provides a huge opportunity both to totally change the way that the forest industries work internationally and provide some solutions to what are significant problems at the moment.