House debates

Monday, 2 December 2019


Forestry Industry, Dairy Industry

7:54 pm

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

When I first came to this place in 2013, I was shocked at how few conversations were had on the positives of our national forestry industry. Since that time, we have had over six years of a coalition government, and it's a very different conversation. Forestry is truly a sunrise industry. It's in a really great position to grow and create jobs, and in Canberra I feel we have a bipartisan approach to this. I've always had an innate sense of the importance of forestry because I grew up in a timber town. Like my great state of South Australia, our friends across the border in Victoria have a thriving timber and forestry industry providing thousands of jobs, particularly in regional areas. Whilst most of the conversations I'm engaged in focus on softwood forestry plantations, I appreciate that our native forests play an important part in the overall industry and the economic contribution it provides to Australia's regions.

Timber harvesting of our native forests is highly regulated, highly restricted and carefully managed to take into account the environmental, social, cultural and economic values of the forest. And the products that flow from the industry are underpinned by some of the best practices in the world. Timber, of course, is the ultimate renewable, recyclable and sustainable resource. In Victoria, just four—I'll say it again, just four—out of every 10,000 trees are harvested from state forests each year. It beggars belief on that basis that the state government would take the decision to halt all logging in native forests by 2030.

Victoria has the most environmentally sustainable native timber harvesting industry in the world, with value-adding occurring in our timber manufacturing facilities. This is an economically reckless decision which has nothing to do with the environment or environmental science and everything to do with politics or political science. It's made clear for me that if you vote Labor in Victoria you get the Greens. It seems that Premier Andrews has done the numbers and decided that he values Greens preferences more than he does blue-collar jobs. By banning the felling of four trees in every 10,000, we will now see more imported paper and hardwood products from countries with lower environmental standards, worsening our current status as a net importer of wood and wood products. The demand for these products doesn't disappear; the supply just shifts. The decision is bad for the environment globally and bad for local communities. If more timber jobs go, we can say goodbye to the local footy club, the local netball club, schools, doctors, hospitals and other essential services and see populations decline in local towns. Indeed, as the member for Gippsland would agree, this decision will spell the end for many small timber towns in Victoria. I won't give up on local jobs and our small communities, whether they're in South Australia or Victoria.

Much of our nation is experiencing prolonged drought. Its effects on our farmers and our rural and regional communities is occupying much national attention, including the attention of those on both sides of this place. Self-evidently, farmers are facing tough times because of this drought. For our dairy farmers these difficulties are compounded by high input costs and, of course, the power imbalance in trying to achieve a fair price. Our government is working to deliver the dairy code of conduct and we're investing in $22 million worth of measures to support dairy farmers to address high input costs. In the meantime, while our government works to deliver for the future of the industry, we need supermarkets to come to the table and give fair returns to the farm gate. We need supermarkets to step up.

The drought is seeing the price of many products increase, whether it's beef, sheepmeat or fruit and veges, but the same can't be said for dairy. Home brand supermarket products across the dairy section of the supermarket, not just milk, remain at the same prices, regardless of the high production costs at the farm gate. I hope I'm speaking directly to supermarket executives: they need to come to the table and pay processors more in recognition of the drought and the impact it has on farmers. We are occupied in this place to ensure that our farmers survive this drought. I hope the boardrooms of the supermarkets in this country are equally well exercised.

House adjourned at 20:00

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Rob Mitchell) took the chair at 10:30.