*Pic: Guy Barnett from the Libs’ website, HERE
Thank you Kevin [Dr Kevin Harding, National President, AFG] for the invitation to join you here this evening.
Events such as tonight’s are of great importance to this State in particular, and Australia more broadly.
I say that as forestry has been the lifeblood of many Tasmanian communities since our earliest days.
It has been and is a well-run and sustainable industry that has created jobs and provided opportunities for Tasmanians, particularly in our rural regions.
Even today, Tasmania is perhaps the State within Australia with the greatest natural ability to grow trees.
It is a matter of fact that approximately half of Tasmania is forested—a staggering 3.5 million hectares.
Our speciality timbers—Huon pine, King Billy, celery top and others—are known around the nation and beyond for their beauty and unique characteristics.
It is also pleasing to note that since the election of the Hodgman Liberal Government, confidence has been growing in the forestry sector.
Exports are up, jobs are being created and the contribution of the private forests—which we particularly note tonight—is growing.
I know I don’t have to tell you about the role of private forests in the Australian forestry industry but there are some points I think are worth touching on:
• about 67 per cent of native forest in Australia is privately managed, including freehold and leasehold land;
• almost 30 million hectares of privately managed native forest is considered available and suitable for commercial wood production; and
• plantations cover approximately 2 million hectares across Australia, of which around 80 per cent are privately owned.
This just shows how critical private forestry is in the overall Australian forest industry.
In the Tasmanian context, private forests cover 1.1 million hectares, comprising some 30 per cent of our forest area. Of this total 858,000 hectares, is native forest and 242,000 hectares is plantation forest– more than three quarters of the State’s total plantations.
Importantly, our private forest estate ‘punches well above its weight’ now contributing 67 per cent of the State’s forestry production.
The Tasmanian Government recognises the importance of our private forests not only to the sector but also to the economic fabric of regional and rural communities.
It is for this reason that we are absolutely committed to supporting the private sector all along the forestry value chain in driving Tasmania’s forest industry forward.
This support takes a number of forms, including through the Tasmanian Private Forest Industry Development Program—which I know is of relevance to many of the conference delegates here—and forms part of our 2050 Agrivision Plan.
It is good to see members of the PFT Board among us this evening and well as CEO Tom Fisk – I know they are excited about the program and the future of the sector in Tasmania through our Agrivision Plan.
Of course, Private Forests Tasmania is also the Principal Sponsor of your conference over the coming days.
Many here would also be aware that recently I updated Parliament on the Government’s plans to put both the Tasmanian forest industry and Forestry Tasmania on a sustainable financial footing.
In that update, I noted that one key issue we need to get right is resource security, which is fundamental to our capacity to maintain and strengthen our renewed forestry growth cycle.
The Government has recently received advice from Forestry Tasmania raising issues about the commercially sustainable yield from public production forests.
This advice makes it very clear that the production levels stemming from the Tasmanian Forest Agreement cannot be delivered in a commercially sustainable way.
In fact, the TFA locked up the best forests and pushed Forestry Tasmania into more marginal country.
As a result, the Board has advised that over one quarter of the trees harvested are costing Forestry Tasmania, and by implication Tasmanian taxpayers, money.
This is not a position we can allow to continue.
One option that Forestry Tasmania has proposed to address this shortfall is to reduce the legislated supply of sawlog, commencing 1 July 2017.
This would result in a reduction in the size of the forest industry by over 25%– that’s one quarter.
It would also mean a serious reduction in the state’s firefighting capacity has as a result of the further loss of skilled forest workers and their associated heavy equipment.
It would also mean cost increases in other areas of Government.
And, of course, it would mean job losses – around 700 direct and indirect jobs–-and another round of devastation inflicted upon regional communities still recovering from the disastrous effects of the forest deal, which saw two out of three forest industry jobs wiped out
I want to be very clear. This is a not a position we support, or will be adopting.
We are not in the business of buying out jobs and shutting down sawmills, like our Labor-Green opponents are.
But nor can we continue to pour tens of millions of taxpayer dollars into Forestry Tasmania to keep it solvent.
These are funds that should properly be used for frontline services such as hospitals, education, police and supporting the vulnerable.
This is why we are considering opening up the 400 000ha Future Potential Production Forest ‘land bank’ set aside by the Hodgman Liberal Government, for precisely the purposes raised by this Forestry Tasmania advice.
This approach would assist Forestry Tasmania to provide the timber our mills need without subsidy from the public purse.
This Future Potential Production Forest is not in reserve—it has been set aside by the Parliament as a wood bank for future production.
It was Production Forest in the past, and it is currently set aside for production again when required.
As it happens, that future need has come closer than the 2020 we initially expected.
Opening up this resource will also open up opportunities for the private sector.
So, from our perspective, the choice is very clear: shrink the industry by 25 percent – or provide access to more timber resource.
As foreshadowed in Parliament last week, I intend to say more on this in the week ahead.
It is pleasing to see that the resurgence across the industry is also occurring in some parts of the private forest industry.
New owners of the private hardwood plantation estates have made substantial investments, refurbishing processing facilities across the north of the Tasmania, as they ramp up their harvesting and replanting activities.
During the last financial year the private forest harvest increased by nearly 50 per cent to 2.94 million tonnes – production levels not seen for eight years.
This increase was primarily underpinned by an 89 per cent increase in the hardwood plantation harvest.
However, it is also encouraging to see an almost doubling of the private native forest harvest from last year—a start that we intend to grow with your support.
As key leaders and influencers in this industry, you play significant role in keeping the forestry sector moving.
I trust you will find the remaining days of the conference useful and informative. I look forward to receiving a full report on both its proceedings and outcomes.
Congratulations to Kevin, Arthur [Lyons, Conference Convenor, Secretary AFG Tasmanian Branch and Manager Services, Private Forests Tasmania] and your conference committee for putting together what promises to be a great event.
Thank you for joining us from all across Australia, and I hope you take away a lot from the Tasmanian forestry experience while you are here.
• Vica Bayley: Poll results show less than a quarter of Tasmanians support Premier’s plan to log reserves An exclusive opinion poll conducted on Monday night demonstrates that Tasmanians overwhelming reject Premier Will Hodgman’s plan to log 400,000 hectares of protected forests as a response to economic viability issues for Forestry Tasmania, The Wilderness Society said today …
• Russell Langfield in Comments: When was the last time FT made a profit (without subsidies and handouts)? If this was a private business it would be bankrupt and be charged with trading while being insolvent. There was sustainable employment and profitability in the timber industry before FT and Gunns as a duopoly ran it into the ground for loss-making woodchips and give-away whole trees to China. Dissolve FT and let the family sawmillers sustainably run the industry again …
• Andrew Ricketts in Comments: Guy Barnett, Minister for Forests and former advisor to Erich Abetz, expands the scope and reality of the Liberal failure over forestry in Tasmania. He should resign - fall on his sword. His stupid proposition to log legislatively deferred, High Conservation Value native forests (in northern Tasmania) would become an irrefutable breach of the Regional Forest Agreement. It would include a destruction of an important part of the National Reserve System. Barnett’s proposition will not work. I forecast it would become a Controlled Action under the EPBC Act. If Tasmania’s forests have been so hopelessly mismanaged that the only thing left to do in Barnett’s miserable little mind is to log those areas formally set aside and of obvious high conservation value, then there should be a Royal Commission. Come to think of it the economic performance of Forestry Tasmania also demands a Royal Commission. There is not a skerrick of logic behind the Minister’s proposition. It is a crime.
• Peg Putt: Out of touch government oblivious to reputational damage and investment risk of their controversial logging plans. Thinks ‘Sustainable Timber Tasmania’ is not a joke renaming of Forestry Tasmania.