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Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Page: 1469

Senator COLBECK (2:28 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Ludwig. I refer to the coalition-announced, Labor-matched $20 million funding to begin a restructure of the Tasmanian forest contractors sector. Two months later forest workers are still in the dark about these funds. Last week the Tasmanian Labor Premier said, ‘I am disappointed that it has not happened as rapidly as it should have.’ Can the minister guarantee this program will be open by the end of this week and if not why not?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank the opposition for their question. Of course, the forestry industry in Australia is facing several challenges including the continuation of the fallout from the global financial crisis and the recent strength of the Australian dollar. The annual value of Australia’s forests harvesting and processing industry was valued at $7.1 billion in 2008-09 and employed more than 64,000 people. Domestic demand for structural timber products increased significantly from the previous year.

When you look at the industry occurring in Tasmania you can see the value of what is harvested from native forests across Australia. In 2008-09 it was valued at $582 million. If you then have a look at the issues that surround the Tasmanian $20 million election commitment which the government made, you can see that it was very early on in my portfolio. Within a week of my appointment I visited Tasmania to announce the $20 million promise, which was an election commitment made to the Tasmanian forest industry. In doing so, it was very important to hear from harvest contractors, the timber industry itself and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union about the timber industry and the issues they were confronted with in the downturn of the industry in Tasmania. It was also important to look at the structure of this assistance package we could provide to the Tasmanian industry. What I have said, and what the industry expects, is that within a very short period— (Time expired)

Senator COLBECK —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The industry is listening and I am sure it would like to get a real answer. Can the minister confirm to the Senate whether or not the funding to be provided to Tasmanian forest contractors will be subject to GST and whether it will be treated as taxable income?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank Senator Colbeck for his question. What I am not going to do is provide in advance what the package will look like and how the package will be structured for industry assistance. In Tasmania the forest industry plus the haulage contractors have significant issues. This government is concerned about the downturn in the industry, which has created hardships.

I understand Senator Colbeck has an interest in ensuring that we do roll out the $20 million package of assistance for the haulage contractors in the forestry industry, particularly for the employees who are employed by the contractors. In addition to that, this government, as I have indicated, will be announcing the package soon, but what I am not going to provide is a pre-announcement of that package, how it will be used by industry and how it will be rolled out to industry. But I am sure that in a very short space of time that information will be available. (Time expired)

Senator COLBECK —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the government advise what the administration cost of the program for Tasmanian forest contractors will be and whether or not this too will be deducted from the $20 million funding announcement?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —As I have indicated, I am not going to pre-announce how the package will be structured. What these questions do go to is how the package will be structured. What I have indicated is that the package will be provided. Industry will be aware of how the package will be rolled out in a very short space of time.

As I have indicated, those discussions with the Tasmanian forest contractors have been productive and we have continued, through my department, to meet with the forest contractors to ensure that there is good dialogue and that we do have a package that provides assistance to those industries that have been under financial stress since the downturn in the forest industry. What I would also like to go on and say is that there has been incredible cooperation from all parties to date in respect of the rollout of this package. (Time expired)