OPINION EDITORIAL: Originally published in The Northern Daily Reader.
Ross Hampton, chief executive officer, Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) writes outlining what he thinks the next federal government needs to do to sustain the forest industry.
Federal election 2016 must be about securing Australia’s longer- term future, and for NSW, this means the future of the forest industry.
In New England, forestry and related industries generate 595 direct jobs, and a further 950 indirect jobs.
The forestry products industry, and the people who depend on it in New England, will be looking to the candidates and the political parties campaigning in election 2016 to set down a vision and make real commitments to the future of the industry.
That vision should include a national forest and fibre plan, which sets out clear targets and actions to deliver a bright and sustainable future for the forest products industry out to the year 2050.
It must also contain commitments to expand forest plantations.
Sadly, investment in forest plantations has come to a standstill. Without more plantations the forest products industry will contract and Australia will become ever more reliant on imports.
We also need to see some real progress on the treatment of forestry under the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI), which would deliver both increased investment in new plantations and help in our national carbon abatement challenge.
Promoting new research and development (R&D) is also important for the forest products industry.
Investment in R&D in the industry has fallen significantly over the past decade.
A new, focused and well-resourced National Institute for Forest Products Innovation would help redress the R&D gap.
The next federal government will also need to have another look at how the Renewable Energy Target (RET) works.
This must include taking a wider view of the benefits of renewable energy, recognising the potentially valuable contribution of thermal heat energy produced during timber processing.
Farm forestry must also be on the agenda for the next federal government.
There are more than 150,000 hectares of small-scale forest in Australia, planted and maintained by farmers.
These woodlands create benefits such as soil and water conservation, help with salinity control, and promote farm productivity (for example, by providing shade and shelter for livestock).
To this end, AFPA would like to see the main political parties provide $3 million of seed funding to establish a new national farm forestry co-operative for farmers.
The next federal government needs to extend the lives of the Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) which balance production, conservation and other uses and values for Australia’s managed native forests.
A good starting point would be a commitment to a 20-year ahead rolling life for such agreements, to promote certainty for all participants in the forestry supply chain.
And, we need assurances from the next federal government to implement a long-term strategy for bushfire mitigation. Controlled burn-offs are simply not enough.
We need to expand trials of mechanical removal of redundant trees and leaf litter, which are often the fuel-stock for bushfires.
Thirty-million dollars for an expanded trial of such an initiative would likely yield benefits many times over the amount outlaid – not least of which would be reduced incidence and severity of fires, especially around regional towns and villages.
If the next federal government is willing to commit to this agenda, then it will deliver better socio-economic outcomes for regional and rural Australia, and make a significant contribution towards providing a low-carbon economy.
Chief Executive Officer, Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA)
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