House debates

Thursday, 30 October 2014


Parliamentary Friends of Forestry and Forest Products

4:35 pm

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Two nights ago I had the pleasure of witnessing the beginning of a new parliamentary friendship group. Along with my fellow convener, the member for Hunter, and the shadow spokesman on regional affairs and agriculture, the Hon. Joel Fitzgibbon, I was heartened to see the Parliamentary Friends Of Forestry and Forest Products reach to all corners of this chamber and, indeed, the other place. Members of parliament and senators, representing taxpayers from rural as well as urban areas, came along and showed they all—or most of them, at least—share the same view of the forestry and forest products industry.

It is a carbon-positive industry—an industry with enormous potential to meet regional and local demand for fibre, timber and paper products and one that will provide the economic backbone of many communities Australia wide. It was also pleasing to see acknowledgement that while the forestry and forest products industry is Australia's fifth largest manufacturing sector, directly employing over 77,000 Australians and contributing a whopping $22 billion in sales to the Australian economy, it can do so much more—but only if we get two things right. The first of those is that the policy settings must be right in order for the industry to grow and continue to transform to meet the demands of the future.

At the moment Australia does have advanced manufacturing capabilities. Making various grades of lightweight and coated paper for catalogues, newsprint and office paper, as well as cardboard and tissue, is not a simple backyard operation. These massive regional players have invested millions in reducing their reliance on both energy and water to produce vastly transformed products that are essentially made from wood fibre. As the future beckons, more and more uses for these natural, long chain polymer fibres are being found.

The forestry and forest products industries are central to two of the five pillars of Australia's economic growth: agriculture and manufacturing. It may come as a surprise to learn that over 200 common car parks can be made using wood fibre. In fact, when transformed into bioplastic almost the whole interior of a car can be made from a renewable, biodegradable and recyclable wood fibre. The fuel in your tank can also be the product of a tree.

I am proud to be part of a government that is working to get the policy settings right. The recent meeting of the Forestry Industry Advisory Council, established by Senator Colbeck, the parliamentary secretary for forestry, and the drive towards a long-term comprehensive industry plan with input from members of the Australian Forest Products Association are important steps in getting the policy right.

The second element that we need to get right is to take the political sting out of forestry policy, to find a path that all members of this House and the other place can feel comfortable with so that industry can plan and invest for the future without the shocks that can come from a short electoral cycle. The establishment of a parliamentary friendship group has shown that this is possible and I look forward to working with any member of this place or, indeed, the other place who wants to be part of the solution, not the problem.

In my electorate of Barker in South Australia the forest industry is one of the major economic drivers and employers in an area that we know as the green triangle. There are five major plantation owners tending around 150,000 hectares of plantation timber. There are several major processors including sawmillers TimberLink, Carter Holt Harvey and NF McDonnell; particleboard and laminated veneer lumber manufacturers Carter Holt Harvey; and tissue paper manufacturer Kimberly-Clark. Plantation management and forest product manufacturing employs around 4,200 people directly and a further 6,700 indirectly.

In towns such as Mount Gambia, which is South Australia's second largest town and my hometown, the industry provides almost 11 per cent of total employment or 1,225 jobs. The share of employment in smaller towns is even higher—Tarpeena, 25 per cent; Nangwarry, 22 per cent; and Millicent, 15 per cent.

The purpose of the Parliamentary Friends of Forestry and Forest Products group is to raise awareness of the issues facing the industry. I hope that this will be a vehicle for forest related groups to speak directly to members and senators, but more importantly it represents a chance to help get the policy settings right and take the sting out of the often turbulent political cycle when it comes to forest policy.