An analysis by the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA), of forest industry related policy commitments has revealed that the ALP leads the Coalition as the campaign enters the last days.

Chair of AFPA, Mr Greg McCormack said, “Our industries have spent two years developing a growth plan for our sector to provide all candidates clear guidance as to the enabling policy change and seed funding, which is required to grow and support forest industries. Our plan would generate another $5 billion in economic activity and see the creation of some 20,000 more jobs, especially in our rural and regional communities.”

AFPA’s10 Actions for Growth, ranged across the bioeconomy, trade, social purpose and renewable energy policy.The pillars of the growth plan however, were the twin policy objectives of ensuring no further reduction of the very small amount of native forestry which is vital to supply hardwood timber (used for example for our floors and objects such as tables), and the growth of our plantation estate (used for example in our house frames).

The ALP and Liberal/National Parties both signed up to support native forestry by promising rolling Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) and no further reduction in the small area of multi-use forests nationally that are available for timber production and sustainably regenerated.

Both Parties also scored well for backing the growth goal of 400,000 additional hectares of production forest trees to be planted over the next decade. The key change which industry has been seeking throughout the campaign however is the altering of a policy to allow that bipartisan 400,000-hectare target to be met.

Mr McCormack said, “Forest industries have been requesting the removal of an artificial regulatory barrier, or water rule, which discriminates against farmers and landowners gaining carbon credits planting production trees. No such barrier exists for planting trees for environmental purposes. The ALP announced early on in the campaign that this ‘nonsense’ rule would be quickly removed with no caveats attached to the promise.

“For its part the Government declined to match this promise instead announcing $500 million in low interest loans to help the planting of production trees. Whilst a welcome development, our analysis suggests that this will not be as successful a policy measure as allowing forestry into carbon markets, which is why it was not requested during this campaign. For this reason, the removal of the water rule earns the ALP higher marks than the Liberal/National Parties,” Mr McCormack said.

“The key to achieving a sustainable and careful uptick in plantations in Australia must be to ensure that we now plant the right trees, in the right places, at the right scale and gain community support wherever this occurs.

“For this reason, we have been working with farmers for several years to ensure they are a major beneficiary of an increase in production trees. They potentially can gain carbon credits for trees as they grow, increase the value of their primary production and then sell the timber when the trees mature and start the cycle again. To ensure this happens, AFPA has also been calling for thirteen Regional Forest Industry Hubs to be funded to the tune of $1 million each.

“The Hubs would be centred around current forestry regions ensuring that there are established buyers for the timber which will be grown and underpinning further economic growth in these communities. Labor has said it will commit $13 million across the 13 Hubs, while the Coalition has committed $5 million in funding for five Hubs and has said four more will follow next year. The ALP therefore also has a superior position in this policy area,” Mr McCormack concluded.

Neither side scored well in terms of support for research and development. Labor says it will examine the issue if elected, but has not addressed requests to support the National Institute for Forest Products Innovation (NIFPI). The Liberal/Nationals say they support the NIFPI, but have not announced funding for the two existing centres in Launceston and Mount Gambier, or specifics around any additional centres.

Both Parties scored for supporting the circular economy and efforts to improve social purpose.