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AFPA welcomes start of Bushfire Royal Commission and calls for recognition of the economic importance of forestry assets

The Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) has welcomed the formal start of proceedings of the Bushfire Royal Commission and has reiterated its call for Australia’s forestry assets such as timber plantations to be considered critical infrastructure which must be a firefighting and mitigation priority.

This morning the Bushfire Royal Commission began its formal proceedings with a ceremonial hearing.  Due to social distancing requirements because of the CoVid-19 pandemic the hearing wasn’t open to the public but was live streamed. A recording of the hearing can be viewed here.

The acting Chief Executive Officer of AFPA Victor Violante has welcomed the start of the hearings.

“The Royal Commission provides the opportunity for Australians to find out why the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires were so catastrophic, and what needs to be done to limit the impact of such events in the future,” he said.

AFPA has also called on the Royal Commission to recognise the importance of Australia’s forestry assets such as timber plantations, timber-producing native forests, and processing facilities, as the recent fires highlighted the enormous economic impact on regional communities from the loss of
such assets.

“While saving lives must be the priority for firefighting resources, we must also redefine critical infrastructure to include key economic assets such as timber plantations because they are the economic backbone of many regional communities, and they can take decades to recover. This should
apply not just to the deployment of fire mitigation and suppression resources, but also recovery funding and timber salvaging operations.”

“In areas like the NSW Southwest Slopes, for example, where up to 40 per cent of region’s softwood plantation estate was damaged by the fires the softwood plantation-based industry is the biggest employer in this region, supporting nearly $2 billion of annual economic activity in the region and
employing around 5,000 people. The loss of so much of the plantation estate will have significant impact on the industry and the region’s economy for at least the next 15 years, which is why it is imperative that every effort is made to prevent another fire like this.”

Mr Violante said the current CoViD-19 crisis highlighted that forest industries were essential not just for their economic contribution to the regions but also the essential products and services they delivered.

“It is more important than ever for Australia to have the resources and manufacturing capability for essential forest products such as toilet paper, packaging, and housing construction timber. They should be considered critical infrastructure for Australia.”

AFPA is also urging the Royal Commission to examine the need for a whole-of-landscape approach to bushfire mitigation and land management.

“With the Royal Commission’s terms of reference including ‘the preparedness and resilience responsibilities, which includes land management and hazard reduction measures’, this is an opportunity to ensure Australia has a coordinated, whole-of-landscape approach to land management
and more aggressive fuel reduction that includes mechanical fuel reduction alongside prescribed burns in the future.”

“Currently there are multiple approaches to fuel reduction by multiple land managers and agencies across different land tenures, and that hasn’t worked,” Mr Violante said.

“We need a whole-of-landscape approach which should include using mechanical fuel reduction techniques, which have proved highly effective in other bushfire prone countries,” Mr Violante concluded.

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