TRANSCRIPT OF SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK
ADDRESS TO AUSTRALIAN FOREST CONTRACTORS ASSOCIATION DINNER
LAUNCESTON, NOVEMBER 8, 2013
It is really great to be here. I'd like to do one thing to start with. I said to Colin earlier, is anyone actually going to toast the industry tonight? It is a great industry and I have worked with wood since I was a teenager, my first job was a paper round, but after I finished that my dad convinced me to buy a wood lathe and I've worked with special species timber since I was at high school which is when I started to get to know the product that you guys harvest, cart, process and supply. Can I start by asking you all to be upstanding and lets raise our glasses and toast to the industry. To the timber industry.
Can I again say how good it is to be here, I am really proud to be representing the Australian Government at tonight's forum as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, but more specifically with responsibilities for Forestry, Fisheries and Agriculture in Tasmania. I'm delighted to have the role. Forestry is an industry about families, it's about communities and it's about generations. We've heard about that already tonight in response to some who have been and gone who made significant contributions, but what it is really good to see is so many young people here tonight. That indicates to me that there is confidence into the future and there will be an industry into the longer term. That is why I have taken the policy stances that I've taken over the last three or four years, as difficult as it has been and as challenging as actioning those policy stances might be, my determination was to leave a platform where the industry had a future not for 10 or 20 years but for 100 years or more. So the generations coming in now can leave an industry for the generations to follow behind them, which I think is important.
I also think it's important to have advocacy on a national level which tells the story of how good this industry is, but also how important an industry it is. If you want a regional development policy, have a strong forest industry because of the jobs it provides into regional communities and the employment and the wealth creation. I don't think you could find one much better. I don't want to be in a situation in the future where we're looking at another fall in timber supply and having to go thought what we've been through in the last few years. I can't countenance putting another government in that situation in the future and that's why I've determined the policy positions that I took to the last election and why I'm determined to see that they are enacted.
The core of those election promises is to give long term life to the regional forest agreements. When they were put in place they were put in place with 20 years with five year reviews. What we've said is that we'll extend them to give them a 20 year life and if you complete your 5 year review we'll put another 5 years on the end of it so we've got a 20 year rolling life cycle for your regional forest agreement. There will be an investment horizon where the industry can be confident in investing for the longer term.
I think that's a really important change to the way we operated. There are going to be some challenges in dealing with that but we're going to work on that really hard and I know there are issues in each state around renegotiation of RFAs but they are a very important tool. One thing that people in the broader community don't understand is that they actually protect more forests than they give access to. They are an important tool in the sustainability of the industry but they are also an important tool in the protection of the environment. There are 147 million hectares of forests in Australia, the RFAs cover about 22 of those and we have access to 9.8 and we harvest at about 1% of the 9.8. It's not as if we're cutting a huge swathe.
We will very soon table new regulations in the parliament to reverse the absurd decision that was made by the previous Labor government to prohibit the use of native forest residues for the generation of energy and access to renewable energy credits, to provide another revenue stream for the industry and to open up the capacity for appropriately scaled energy generation using biomass. That was purely and simply a politically motivated decision based on a deal with the greens so the carbon tax legislation could be passed. We have already started the process to bring in new regulations to change that and are already having conversations in other states, but there is certainly a capacity here in Tasmania, in my view, for two or three small appropriately scaled biomass plants. Remembering the development down south was initially supposed to have a biomass plant with it and Ta Ann is still paying the price for the fact the biomass plant wasn't put into place. We really look forward to turning that around.
The other thing I'd urge you to consider is to look at the opportunities to continue to speak up when confronted with mistruths about the industry, the number of voices out there is really important. I've had a number of engagements lately with Institute of Foresters and when I've seen things I've known are not right I've asked them to peer review the so called science that's been put out about our industry and make public comment. I've seen it actually work. In the initial Climate Commission report, the chapter on forestry was basically the same old message - lock up the forest to store the carbon and don't cut them down because you'll lose the carbon stored in the forests. A particular forest scientist in Tasmania who is globally recognised for his work, knew that wasn't right and got 86 of his colleagues to co-sign a letter and the Climate Commission, having had that strength of peer review to their work, was forced to review the document.
As an industry we need to take advantage of the fact there is real opportunity for us. Lots of new discussions are being had at the moment about bio-fuels, potential for ethanol plants here in Tasmania, nanocrystalline cellulose, CLT and a whole range of other opportunities that exist for the industry. With confidence of having tenure of supply, those 20 year rolling RFAs, confidence of investment back into the industry and hopefully a political climate that provides some strength of advocacy. I think there is real opportunity for the forest industry ahead and as the construction industry starts to pick up there will be some real opportunity for demand.
In the last couple of years we missed real opportunity in this state. If you looked at the forward projections of timber supply, there was always going to be a restructure of the industry, that was obvious. It was no one's fault, it was the way it was set up after decisions were made in the 80s and 90s about how we would structure the industry. There was going to be a restructure because from 2017 there wasn't going to be any more than 150,000 cubic metres of category one sawlogs available to the industry.
Gunns made a decision to get out of the industry and that gave us a huge opportunity to provide a win-win-win for everyone involved. To reduce the intensity of harvest on the forest to provide an environmental outcome, to extend our rotations to give you high quality sawlogs at the end of the day, which would provide a better return to saw millers and secure jobs and income into regional economies. A win win win. Unfortunately, as part of the decision of Gunns there was a deal done out the back that put us in the situation where we went through the agony of the TFA. I've watched this situation and been through the equations with both sides with environmental groups and industry. I still think those opportunities still exist.
We ought be known for a high quality timber product, that's what we do really well in Tasmania. We have unique timber species and we're well known for it. I was talking to one of the major timber sellers recently, they're talking about buying timber out of PNG without certification because they're confident of its providence and know its legally harvested and they're saying to me that they want only one certification process here in Australia because of the cost and red tape it puts into the supply chain. I must say I was a bit taken back on that comment, but it gives an indication of one of the major retailers. But they did say they want Australian timber and we have an opportunity to supply a really high quality product into the market and I'd like to leave a platform for industry to do that into the future. Not just between now and 2030 but for 100 years plus.
Hopefully that gives you some indication of how we'd like to set things up into the future. It's a great industry to be associated with, great families, great communities, and it's a great privilege to be here tonight. Thank you for the invitation I really appreciate it and I look forward to many more nights like this where there is a full house and there is some enthusiasm and some hope for the future. We will continue to build a vital and important industry not only for the state but for the country and for regional communities. Thank you very much.