Innovation key to forestry future

OPINION EDITORIAL: Originally published in The Examiner.

We all know that research and innovation is fundamental to the international competitiveness of businesses and industries, not least the forest products industry, which requires large capital investment and long-term market planning.

However, in Australia our national forest products industries have experienced a decade of decline in research and development with too many decision-makers not realising the massive potential we offer for economic growth and prosperity.

One decade ago, there were more than 730 researchers working in our industries and $100 million a year was being spent. That has now plummeted to about 250 researchers and $30 million.

In contrast, our competitors such as New Zealand and Canada have seized the initiative and invested heavily in focused research and development for their forest industries.

The Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) has continually urged that this state of affairs demanded urgent and decisive action.

That it was time for government and industry to act together and to act decisively.

The Turnbull Government has responded to three years of campaigning by announcing $4 million in funding to establish a National Institute for Forest Products Innovation (Institute) in two key hubs of Launceston, Tasmania and Mount Gambier, South Australia.

If the federal government funding is matched by both state government and industry funding, it would provide the institute ultimately $12 million.

This welcome announcement represents a turning back to our industries after years of decline.

Most importantly it signals that the Turnbull Government understands that the forest and forest product industries are not industries of the past but of the future.

This announcement is recognition of the fact that in a carbon constrained global economy, in which renewable resources are at a premium, and when the plastics and fuels currently derived from oil can be also made from wood fibre, our forest industries truly are one of the best bets of the 21st Century.

In relation to the Launceston research and development hub, the member for Bass, Andrew Nikolic, must be acknowledged for his determined and resolute advocacy for the institute and our industries.

It is not meant to be a political statement, but in our business you meet with many politicians. Some take your proposal and do nothing with it.

Mr Nikolic took our institute proposal and ran with it — right to the try line.

It makes great sense that the institute will operate equally from two initial nodes, one in Launceston and one in Mount Gambier.

This will provide the institute with the broad coverage of both the natural forest and plantation sectors.

There are areas of overlap and areas, which are different.

Ultimately the institute should also encompass at least a third hub to gather in tropical forestry research and development and the potential of northern Australia.

Ross Hampton,

Chief Executive Officer, Australian Forest Products Association