The authoritative report mapping the state of Australia’s forests has shown a serious reduction in the area of forest plantations in Australia. The State of the Forest Report 2018 says that the area of plantations had fallen to just 1.95 million hectares by 2015, when the last data was available. This was an alarming decline of 44,000 hectares over the previous five yearly reporting period.

Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Forest Products Association, Mr Ross Hampton said, “This is exactly what we have been warning that the State of the Forests 2018 would reveal. There is no evidence that this downward trend has reversed in the three years since 2015 and it is my expectation that the next report will paint an even bleaker picture.”

The reason is clear. There has been no policy to increase, or indeed even maintain the area of plantation trees in Australia for production purposes. The only current available policy which might act as a brake on this trend would be for plantations to be able to fully participate in carbon storage policy but, as yet, the Government has not removed the barriers which stand in the way.

“State and Federal Governments over the last decade have continued to lock away vast areas of natural forest and have reduced the area and volume of timber which our industries can access. Industry can only access timber from a modest 5 million hectares of the total 132 million hectares of native forest across Australia and of that total only a tiny half a percent a year is harvested. Every area cleared, is regrown. Over the twenty-year life of the last Regional Forest Agreements the natural estate available for forestry decreased by more than 3 million hectares. Whilst this has occurred, governments have not put into place mechanisms which will deliver offsetting growth in the plantation estate and it is showing in the statistics. Australia has a trade deficit in timber products of more than $2 billion and we have reached the ridiculous situation in which we are importing more than a quarter of the timber we need for our house frames. It is time for this to change and it must happen urgently.

“The Government has just announced 4 pilot ‘forest industry hubs’ and 5 more prospective hubs around Australia and a goal of a billion more trees.

“Both the planting goal and the focus on hubs are very welcome, however without changes to allow tree planting to gain carbon payments we may see little change in the alarming downwards trajectory in plantation plantings,” Mr Hampton concluded.

AFPA will be campaigning in regional forest industry focused electorates during the Federal Election seeking answers to these questions from all Parties.