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Launch of State of the Forests Report 2003: Parliament House, Canberra: 17 September 2003

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Last updated: 22 September 2003

State of the Forests Report 2003 launch

Parliament House Canberra - 17 September 2003

Thanks very much, Colin Grant.

First of all, can I sincerely congratulate the Bureau of Rural Sciences? Colin, you and your team, Peter Fisher, and those particularly and directly responsible for this quality report - Andrew Wilson, Claire Howell, Liona May, Belinda Ellison and Roger Beckman. It is another publication from the Bureau of Rural Sciences that really does show the quality of work that the Bureau does, and shows the sort of work that makes the Government so proud of that particular Bureau.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all very much for coming along, can I acknowledge a lot of very significant people in the forestry and conservation industry here at the present time? Particularly, my Parliamentary colleagues; I see Ian Causley there, who represents one of the significant forest growing areas of Australia; and also I see Senator Richard Colbeck from Tasmania among others. Richard, obviously, as a Tasmanian, has a very great interest

in the State of the Forests Report. Can I thank Professor Peter Kanowski for his introduction? Peter is obviously one of the significant timber and forestry scientists within Australia, and I am particularly grateful he was able to come along today.

Ladies and gentlemen, forests are among Australia's major assets. They cover 164 million hectares, including 1.6 million hectares of plantations, and they occupy more than 21 per cent of our continent.

Seventy four per cent of forests in Australia are available for wood supply - although very little of them are used. In fact, only 0.1 per cent of our forests that could be harvested are actually harvested every year. When you compare that, of course, with the destruction of our forests caused by the bushfires in the first three months of this year, you will appreciate how very sustainable our forestry and our forests are managed in Australia. In the bushfires we lost something like two and a half million hectares of trees - logging for 12 months takes only about 60,000 hectares.

Our forests do benefit all Australians - they're good for the environment, they're good for our land and water, and they help reduce greenhouse gas levels. They do contribute to the national economy through wood, through tourism and through a range of non-wood forest products.

Forestry represents about 1 per cent of Australia's GDP, and forest industries do provide jobs and economic benefits particularly to rural and regional Australia. They directly employ some 80,000 Australians, and indirectly employ a great deal more.

Because of their importance to Australia, the community rightly expects that they will be kept well informed about the forest estate and its management.

The National Forest Policy Statement, which was agreed upon back in 1992, did contain a commitment to prepare a public report on the state of Australia's forests every five years. The 2003 report fulfils this obligation, as well as helps us to meet our international reporting commitments as a member of the Montreal Process. I am pleased that this particular report will be presented to the World Forestry Congress in Quebec next week.

The seven broad criteria, or themes, we used in this report, and they embrace a very wide range of values the Australian community attaches to forests - Peter Kanowski had mentioned some those - the seven themes cover biological diversity, productive capacity, ecosystem health, soil and water, carbon, socio-economic and management.

Add to that, and there are 67 indicators looked at in this report, we've developed an additional seven to more accurately reflect regional and national issues. They cover issues like Indigenous forestry, and ways to include the community in the management of our forest lands and also our management to protect cultural and social values.

This report will achieve a high credibility, and it does show the Australian and the international community how well we are managing our forests. The report affirms that we are practising a high level of sustainable forest management in this country, and it's a level that I believe shows we've struck the right balance in the way that we in Australia manage our forests.

I want to share with you just a couple of the key findings. As I say:

direct employment in the forest sector rose over the past 10 years. The direct employment figures that I have mentioned are likely to be an underestimate, because those figures do not take in areas such as transport, conservation, public or private management agencies, consultants, eco-tourism or education. And the step up we have had in plantation processing has increased regional employment in some areas of our country.

The total value of primary forest production has risen in the past five years, and stands at something like $1.3 billion in the last recorded year.

Since 1998, the tenure of Australian native forests - about two million hectares - has changed. With the regional forest agreement areas, the area of nature conservation reserves in Australia has grown by some 36 per cent and I emphasise that. Our nature conservation reserves in Australia have grown by 36 per cent. At the same time, multiple-use or state forest has fallen by some 15 per cent.

In many areas, Australia is ahead of the game when it comes to conservation reserves meeting international targets. The proportion of Australia's native forest with International Union of Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) classification is 15 per cent. That compares very favourably with other developed countries. For example, Canada struggles to get half of that figure. Fourteen of our 17 national forest types exceed the IUCN - protected area target of 10 per cent. These include rainforest, eucalypts, mangroves and casuarinas.

And so our forests are well managed and sustainably managed. It always amazes me that there are people in Australia that will criticise the way we manage our forests and keep criticising our forest industries. When you think that we have a trade deficit of something like $1.7 billion dollars annually in wood and wood products, you wonder why we aren't doing more in Australia. Indeed, a lot of the wood products that we import into Australia come from forests that are nowhere near as sustainably managed as those forests are in Australia.

The report that we are releasing today does importantly highlight that Australia's expanding plantation resources now stands at over 1.6 million hectares. That's only about 1 per cent of Australia's total forested area but it is increasing. Plantations have increased by 50 per cent since 1990, primarily due to the Government's 2020 Vision policy, and also some substantial taxation incentives. The volume of plantation hardwood harvested has increased by more than 90 per cent in the past four years.

Commercial plantation establishment has averaged 87,000 hectares a year for the past five years, that is new plantations, and nearly all of this, and again this is important that I wish to stress this, nearly all of this establishment has occurred on land that was previously used for agriculture.

Plantations supply now covers over half the raw material required for Australia's forest product requirements and, as well, it provides a wide range of environmental and employment services.

Ladies and gentlemen, in releasing this report and drawing attention to the state of Australian forests, I do want to just briefly mention the current debate on water, which many of you know has become popular in recent months.

The interaction between trees and water in catchments is very complex. It is accepted that trees can reduce catchment water yield in greater measure than other agricultural crops, particularly in high rainfall areas.

However, where the catchment water yield is saline, this reduction in water yield may be beneficial by reducing the mobilisation of salt. The targeting of plantations within the landscape is therefore critical because well-planned and strategically located tree crops can address environmental concerns while, at the same time, delivering much needed economic benefit.

It is important to note that in those Murray Darling Basin catchments where plantations are most abundant, they account for just 2 per cent of the land area, that is in those catchments where plantations are abundant. For the Basin as a whole, plantations are only 0.3 per cent. The BRS estimates that the maximum expansion proposed by industry would increase that area to only 3 per cent.

CSIRO scientific analysis suggests that impacts of plantations on water yield are not significant until more than 20 per cent of the catchment is planted. Ladies and gentlemen, that proves why this report is just so vital, because you have got to know the science, and knowing the science holds the key to making informed decisions about sustaining our future.

Ladies and gentlemen, I just want to, before I conclude, mention another interesting and very exciting initiative of NAFI, of CSIRO and of the Government, all in partnership where the Government has put in some half a million dollars, and that is to a commercial environmental forestry initiative. We all understand that clearing of deep-rooted native vegetation to make way for cropping and grazing has caused rising water tables and increased salinity levels over a large range of Australia's low rainfall zone.

Developing commercial environmental forestry in low and medium rainfall areas has the potential to be the most effective and robust land-use option for managing salinity. Farmers, rural communities, private and public investors are planting trees to help control and even reverse these problems and the associated damage to farmlands and natural environments. From a forestry perspective, other benefits could include diversifying agricultural income through sales of timber and other products, sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide and increasing biodiversity.

So, investment in tree planting in Australia's low to medium rainfall areas will be maximised if the planting stock is adapted to the low rainfall environments, and able to yield marketable forest products at the same time. The key to the extensive take-up of commercial environmental forestry is commercial viability. We are hoping for an economic as well as an environmental return from this commercial environmental forestry initiative.

Ladies and gentlemen, I do invite you to explore the findings of this report. I encourage you to have a look at it, I can't confess to having read every page of this report. As you will see it is quite lengthy and full of a lot of very

detailed information. Again it is a credit to the work of the Bureau of Rural Sciences, and I thank it very much for that.

I also thank the various State agencies that have contributed to this report and worked together in conjunction and happily I understand. It doesn't always happen with the Commonwealth and State agencies, but in this instance I know they worked very happily to get this report done. So with congratulations to those who have done it, and those who have contributed, it is now my very great pleasure to officially launch Australia's State of the Forests Report 2003.

© Commonwealth of Australia 2002 | Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry | Other AFFA Ministers | Prime Minister