Senate debates

Tuesday, 1 December 2020


South Australia: Forestry

8:16 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

I rise tonight to speak about South Australia's forestry industry, but in terms that will be of interest to everyone in the chamber, especially the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business.

We have a proud history of forestry in South Australia. In 1875, South Australia established the first government forest management organisation in the then British Empire. When first settled by Europeans, South Australia had only limited native forest of commercial interest, so it was imperative that the young community be provided with quality building and timber products. Early farming practices and the demand for timber quickly caused the depletion of a large proportion of the higher-rainfall vegetation. So the South Australian government had to work to establish forests, and, in 1876, tree nurseries and plantings were initiated in the Mid North and in Mount Gambier, in the south-east, to find suitable tree species and locations for plantations. Bundaleer Forest Reserve, near Jamestown, became Australia's first commercial plantation forest, and I will come back to talk about Bundaleer shortly.

The forestry industry is vital for my state. Forestry exists in the Mount Lofty Ranges, the Mid North, Kangaroo Island and the south-east, as part of the Green Triangle. South Australia's forestry industry plants approximately eight million trees each year. It encompasses more than 170,000 hectares of softwood and hardwood plantations, and it does need to expand. It's worth $2 billion to the economy. Almost 500,000 cubic metres of hardwood logs are harvested in South Australia for export as logs or woodchip. I don't have an issue with exporting woodchips, as we've undertaken the processing here in Australia, we've done the value-add here, and it's unlikely that we would reimport wood chips at greater value than we exported them. The forestry and wood-processing industry is an icon of south-east South Australia, responsible for about 35 per cent of employment.

The South Australian government has been supporting the sale of forest logs to China. Two and a half weeks ago, the Chinese government escalated its assault on Australian trade by banning imports of Australian timber due to bark beetle having been detected. The convenience of that timing is not coincidental. No-one thinks it's anything other than part of a planned sequence of punitive measures by the Chinese government. But I say that brings about opportunity. There are a couple of points to consider. There are about 17 trees in an average house frame, a timber floor for an average house uses three trees, and one pine tree can produce 2,000 rolls of toilet paper. So let's stimulate the economy and create jobs. Let's build some social housing. Let's re-fence our farms. Let's make toilet paper. If COVID-19 hasn't taught us anything, the one thing it has taught us is that we should be making toilet paper here.

In 2013, fires took place in the Bundaleer Forest, and no tree planting has occurred since. Earlier this year, our sawmills were watching as South Australia burned and bushfires went through plantations that were necessary for their livelihood. These mills need timber. In South Australia, sawmills have suffered for some time and struggled to secure timber for their mills, not necessarily because they've lost their logs in the fire, but because the South Australian government has been selling the logs to the highest bidder. It is a case of best price, not best value. They have no regard for what's in the best interests of South Australia. The risk is that we lose our sawmills, and we lose the ability to value-add. Indeed, the US Department of Homeland Security deems its wood product industry as an essential, critical infrastructure workforce. The South Australian government don't seem to care about value-add, because they don't pay the unemployment bill. The federal government does that. They're just about getting the best price for their log. If that means the log goes to China, that's what happens.

Governments need to start appreciating that there is a difference between best export price and best value to the nation. South Australia's government needs to wake up on this.


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