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Address to the Australian Forest Growers 2004 Conference, Caro Convention Centre (formerly Founders Hall), Mt Helen campus, University of Ballarat.



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Last updated: 26 May 2004

To the Australian Forest Growers 2004 Conference

Caro Convention Centre (formerly Founders Hall), Mt Helen campus, University of Ballarat -5 May 2004

Thanks very much David Geddes for that very generous welcome and introduction and may I say how delighted I am to be with you. I've just returned from a couple of weeks overseas doing some other parts of my portfolio work but it's good to be back with Australian forestry people, Australian tree growers. Having been overseas it's always great to get home and to see what a great country we've got here.

During my travels in Europe I passed some things they pass off as forests, but I thought that compared to Australia's forests and the work we do here was pretty low-level sort of stuff. So it is good to be back with you and it's good to be with people who do have a significant part to play in Australia's future, particularly it's future economic growth. I want to say a little bit about that later on.

I'm very pleased that the Australian Government has been able to be a sponsor of your conference. As David has mentioned, we do very much appreciate the input from the Australian Forest Growers and again as David has mentioned, I see Warwick very regularly. He's never backward in coming forward with a view on forestry and representing your issues to the Australian Government. And I've had the pleasure a number of times of meeting with David and again, getting a feel of the issues that are important to you. So I'm very pleased that we were able to sponsor this conference.

We of course never give money away without getting something back and we do value the output from conferences such as this, and I'm delighted to see that we are co-sponsors with the Victorian Department. We don't always see eye to eye with some of the forestry issues that the Victorian Government raises but it's good that they are as well sponsoring this session and I'm delighted to be a joint sponsor with them.

Your theme of Integrating forestry into farms, communities and catchments is of course very topical, and I'm confident that the last couple of days and today will give you invaluable opportunities to hear about and see the latest innovations in silviculture and forest management, forestry and environmental services, forest certification, and wood marketing.

Forestry is really about people as much as it is about trees, it's about individuals, it's about families, it's about communities all working together to manage our natural resources responsibly and taking care of our environment and using innovative means for caring for our environment and that of course includes forestry.

It's also about creating wealth, creating employment and opportunities for rural and regional communities through forest industry development.

The Government that I'm proud to be part of has given strong support to

timber communities and we want to work together with the communities, with the industry, to see Australia's balance of trade deficit in forest and wood products overcome.

Together I think the Government and the people such as yourselves have the job indeed, the obligation to address that $2 billion deficit we have in forest and wood products.

One of Australia's greatest challenges in addressing that $2 billion deficit is to responsibly manage our natural resources, that is our soil, our water, our plants and our animals. Without ecologically sustainable management, we cannot maintain our environment's health, we can't conserve our very special and unique Australian biodiversity, and we can't continue to be a major agricultural producer and exporter.

It is a sad and regrettable fact of past life in Australia that past land-clearing practices have put at risk long-term farm productivity, water quality and as I say our unique biodiversity. I believe though that governments and communities have perhaps belatedly responded with extraordinary zeal to address these issues and together I think Governments and communities have come up with innovative solutions to address this threat.

We have got to remember that the scale of action needed to redress that land degradation, particularly salinity is quite enormous. The National Land and Water Resources Audit found that about 5 million hectares of Australia's agricultural and pastoral zone are at risk, and that could treble to around 17 million hectares over the next 50 years unless we do something about it.

And as a Government we've recognised the magnitude of the problem and we set up what is unquestionably the largest ever environmental plan - that is the $2.7 billion Natural Heritage Trust to help restore and conserve the environmental and natural resources of our land. And of course we do this not just as a Government by providing money (although we have got to do that) but it can only work if we do it in partnership with communities, landholders and organisations, such as your own.

Since it began in 1997, the Trust has funded thousands of community projects to undertake environmental and natural resource management projects.

The National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality, the second of the Australian Government' major environmental initiatives, is actually a strategy to tackle salinity and to improve water quality in some of Australia's worst affected areas. To that programme we committed more than $1.4 billion and we hope to address these issues, and we're again supporting regional communities and landholders in carrying out targeted action in salinity-affected catchments or regions.

The Natural Heritage Trust and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality both promote the role of trees in the rural landscape because trees can conserve biodiversity, they can increase agricultural productivity, and they can and do improve water quality, and reduce the effects of salinity. And as a result it is there increasingly for all to see that the establishing of trees in rural and regional Australia does today enjoy unprecedented levels of support.

There's no denying forestry has proved to be a very important tool in addressing many of Australia's environmental concerns. With sound planning and implementation strategies we can ensure that we plant the right trees in the right places in the landscape to maximise their multiple benefits.

There has been a bit of talk in recent months about the impact of, particularly plantation forestry on our water resources, but again I believe a lot of that media exposure is not properly focused and if we do things right, and I think if we are clever enough to do that, we can make sure that we get the best value from our land and we can support and increase our forestry industries by wise planning, wise management of those issues.

We do want to, as I say, maximise those multiple benefits and to this end the Australian Government together with the CSIRO, the Victorian State Government, the Goulburn-Broken Catchment Management Authority, and the National Association of Forestry Industries are exploring the role of Commercial Environmental Forestry in achieving some of those natural resource management goals that we set ourselves.

The Commercial Environmental Forestry Project is a Natural Heritage Trust-funded project that aims to establish a framework for landholders in the 500 -800 mm rainfall zone that will optimise commercial outcomes from forestry, while delivering long-term environmental benefits.

The pilot project in the Goulburn-Broken Catchment is in an area that is a priority area with a very high salinity risk.

I am pleased that the AFG have a representative on the Technical Advisory Panel for that Commercial Environmental Forestry Project and I thank you again David for your organisation's input into that very important initiative.

Brochures on the Commercial Environmental Forestry Project are available from our stand at this conference and in addition, there are Departmental officers here today to answer any questions you may have about that Commercial Environmental Forestry Project.

This first one is a pilot project only, but I am looking forward to big things from it and I think if we can get it right, if we do the sums and get the plans then commercial environmental forestry can be a very big part of the landscape in Australia in the future.

Our Government also supports private forestry through the Private Forestry Development Committees. These committees are community-based groups, and I know there are many of you here today. These groups work with governments, industry and the community to facilitate sustainable and responsible forest industry development, as well as providing sound practical advice to farmers who want to give forestry a go.

The Private Forestry Development Committees do play an integral part in promoting the commercial benefits of linking environmental plantings with existing industry structures. And these groups do help create important natural resource management outcomes - like conserving biodiversity and reducing salinity - and they do facilitate commercial returns on investment.

You'll be aware, I expect that recently the Australian Government and the State and Territory Governments and the plantation and wood processing industry partners, revised the key strategy 'Plantations for Australia: the 2020 Vision'.

That Vision as you'd know is about increasing regional wealth creation and international competitiveness through sustainable increases in Australia's plantation resources, based on a notional target of trebling the area of commercial tree crops by 2020.

We have already seen more than half-a-million hectares of new plantations established since the Vision was launched in 1997.

One of the key services the Australian Government provides for forestry is high-quality national information about our forest resources. Again this year the Bureau of Rural Sciences has completed the National Plantation Inventory annual update and I'm pleased today at this conference to officially launch the 2004 update. If you haven't already picked up a copy of the update again they are available either in paper form or electronically on CD at my Department's stand.

The Australian plantation resource is continuing to expand with 43,000 hectares of new plantations, mainly of course hardwood through private investment established in the last year alone and mainly in Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania. And again I want to acknowledge the Australian Forest Growers' assistance in obtaining the data for this report.

Private native forests are increasingly important as part of this forest sector. Thirty nine million hectares, or 24 per cent, of Australia's forests are in private ownership and 76 million hectares, or about 46 per cent, are managed under leasehold arrangements.

These forests are a very important source of timber in many regions. They also supply up to one third of Australia's native forest timber supply. They provide other goods and services, like grazing, honey, water, biodiversity conservation and carbon storage and I understand you had some discussions on the benefits during the course of the last couple of days.

But ladies and gentlemen that leads me to the second launch that I want to do today and this time I want to officially launch the Western Hardwood's Region of Queensland Private Native Forest Inventory. Again that inventory and the work has been done by the Bureau of Rural Sciences and has been funded by the Australian Government.

This Western Hardwoods study assessed the 1.4 million hectares of the region's potentially commercial forests and has found that the total standing timber volume was almost 50 million cubic metres. Of this, around 4 million cubic metres are of sawlog standard - and I am told that's enough timber to frame and floor 50,000 houses. So it is a very substantial asset.

The assessment is critical, assessments like this for industry, for governments and, importantly, for forest owners to value, manage and to plan for a sustainable future. More work like this in other regions would add to our understanding of timber and non-timber values of our private native forests and we intend to see what we can do to get a better handle on just what we do have available.

Ladies and gentlemen good things they say come in threes. So it's with pleasure that I make a third launch here today and that is something that your organisation, of course has been instrumental in doing and that's the Australian Forest Growers' Disclosure Code for Afforestation Managed Investment Schemes and its companion, the Investor's Guide to Afforestation Investment.

We as a Government are very pleased to have been able to provide substantial financial assistance and advisory support in this project.

Australian Forest Growers, as well as being the national voice for farm forestry and private native forestry, has long been an advocate and representative of the managed timber investment companies and their many

thousands of growers.

Growers in the managed investment plantations have financed more than 70 per cent of the half-a-million hectares of new plantations that have been established since the launch of the Plantations for Australia: the 2020 Vision in 1997.

For this plantation investment to continue to be competitive and attractive, investors must have confidence in the managed timber investments industry, the projects, and of course the management companies.

And it's initiatives like the Disclosure Code and the Investors' Guide that do contribute to that confidence. They complement the investor protection provided by the disclosure and compliance requirements of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, and the product rulings program of the Australian Taxation Office.

The voluntary Disclosure Code requires companies offering managed timber investments to ensure that the information they provide in their product disclosure statements is always clear, consistent and of high quality.

And I'm told that at the end of last month, seven of Australia's leading managed timber investment projects have actually received independent certification against the Code.

The Investors' Guide to Afforestation Investment does provide detailed explanations of the terms and compliance requirements. It also contains a comprehensive list of key questions that potential investors and their professional advisers should get answers to before they assess an afforestation managed investment scheme.

The short version of the Investors' Guide is available as a brochure for wide distribution and I understand that there are copies available at the conference.

The Australian Forest Growers and its national special branch, Treefarm Investment Managers Australia, have developed the Disclosure Code and the Investors' Guide. They produced it as I say, in conjunction with my Department, the financial planning sector, the Association of Consulting Foresters of Australia, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission and the Australian Taxation Office and the Joint Accreditation System - Australia and New Zealand.

I do want to congratulate David, Australian Forest Growers and Treefarm Investment Managers Australia for their initiative and commitment to strong self-regulation. I would like to especially acknowledge Australian Forest Growers for its continued commitment to the managed investment plantation industry and to investor protection during the past three decades.

Ladies and gentlemen I understand that AFG has announced some key changes in recent times. Firstly, it has internally restructured and it's announced the election of a new board and office bearers. This will allow it to engage more directly with its members locally, to seek their contributions on policy issues, and through its new Policy Forum, it will bring together representatives of all branches every second year.

David again I want to publicly congratulate you on your re-election as President, and the Australian Forest Growers' new Board on its election.

At the recent launch of A3P, which as you know is the merger of the

Plantation Timber Association of Australia and the Australian Paper Industry Council, my colleague, Warren Truss, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, announced a strategic alliance between A3P and the AFG. This demonstrates the forest industry's ongoing commitment to rationalise national representation. This alliance will see close consultation and advocacy on a wide range of issues in common to each organisation.

I certainly welcome this announcement and acknowledge this further step in providing me with more consistent advice from industry. I often tell the stories when I first became Minister, I asked for a chart of all the different organisations that represented anything to do with forestry. It was only last month I think, that my Department eventually came up with a broad sheet this big showing all these different groups and I am pleased to see that there has been some consolidation because it is important that the things that are common to all the aspects of the forestry industry should be spoken about in a united voice. And so I'm pleased to see what A3P are doing and pleased to see your association with them.

Ladies and gentlemen I expect that you have had a chance to learn something new, to catch up with old friends and make new contacts here at the conference. The need to integrate forestry into farms, communities and catchments is a message that we can all take home because forestry can make a difference to our environment, to our regions and to our communities.

On this note David and ladies and gentlemen, I want to wish you a successful day of enlightening presentations and interesting field tours and hope that what you've learnt here will certainly help your future, help the things that you do, and in doing that will certainly help Australia's overall economic impact in the way we all look after ourselves in this country.

So good luck and I look forward to catching up with you and continuing to see the progress of your association and more importantly your industry.

Thanks very much.