Senate debates

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Regulations and Determinations

Industry Research and Development (Forestry Recovery Development Fund Program) Instrument 2020; Disallowance

6:53 pm

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries) Share this | Hansard source

I want to commend Senator McKenzie on that wonderful contribution—from the heart, about a great industry—to the disallowance motion we are discussing with regard to the forest industry and to vital support that is needed to help an industry that has been hit many times over by significant events. At a time when we are trying to reopen the economy, get people back to work and support regional economies in particular, we have a disallowance motion trying to pull the rug out from underneath an industry that needs this support.

I will come to the mischaracterisation of the program. Senator Rice conflated issues terribly around what the funding in this program would do. Most of what Senator Rice said had nothing to do with this program, the way that her contribution painted it. In fact it will go to do a lot of the things that I'm pretty sure Senator Rice, who, I'm pleased to acknowledge, is a supporter of parts of the forestry industry—the plantation industry but also the value-add industry in this country. Instead of shipping jobs offshore, we can keep them in regional communities to turn these raw products—these beautiful, sustainably managed raw products; timber products, the fibre that we get from these trees—into wonderful products in this country. That's what this program goes to.

Let's look at the history leading up to the need to provide this support. At the beginning of the year the bushfires that hit many parts of our nation had a huge impact on our forest industry, and we're still coming to terms with the actual gravity of the impact felt by this industry. We're still seeking to understand exactly how much of the forest resource was burnt in those bushfires across New South Wales, Victoria and Kangaroo Island in South Australia, and in order to properly support the industry we do need that data. But the fact is we lost a significant amount of resource, so for industry to be able to continue on, to be able to do what it does, to provide jobs in regional communities in a sustainable way, we need to do more with less. There is less timber to use, and so we have to find ways to support industry to be able to get as much out of that resource as it possibly can.

On top of that we've had COVID, which had an impact on freight and logistics chains, an impact, of course, on the consumption of these products, hence the need for programs like HomeBuilder to stimulate home building across the nation. The impact of the downturn in housing starts, as was predicted before HomeBuilder was announced, would have had devastating impacts on the timber industry and those right throughout the supply chain, so we need to make sure that they can keep up with demand for this wonderful material while being able to support the housing and construction sector. Again, we only have to look at more recent issues post-COVID: bushfires, COVID and now we have issues with exports, and this is why we need this program. Far from propping up an ailing industry, far from having anything to do with the points of the industry that Senator Rice highlighted as what this funding would go to, this is about actually helping this industry innovate to improve its practices, to improve the technology available to it to be able to get more out of less with less waste, to be able to produce new products that new markets might wish to access.


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