MARCH 4, 2014



Thanks very much, Ross, and isn't it sensational to see a full Great Hall of people involved in the forest industry. Congratulations everyone, it is fantastic.

I think that is supported by the number of my parliamentary colleagues who are here tonight and it's really great to see such a sensational turn out amongst members of parliament in support of what is one of Australia's wonderful industries. I hope that support will convert into a Parliamentary Friends of Forestry Group which Ross Hampton and I have been talking about and a number of my colleagues have shown great enthusiasm for. I look forward to that being revived within the parliament along with renewed levels of support for one of Australia's great natural industries.

Some of you may have seen some of the photographic exploits that I've been engaging with over the last week or so. There's plenty more to come. I should issue you all with an apology, I was considering giving you a bit of a slideshow tonight but I thought it might distract too much from what I had to say. So the technology wasn't working as well as it could, but be assured there is plenty more to come from my cellar of photographs of Australia's newest Wilderness World Heritage area.

That really brings me back to the core theme of what I want to talk to you about tonight - I think it's time that we got some common sense back into our forest policy in Australia. I was talking to Peter Volker, my forestry adviser, yesterday and he told me of a recently locked up area of forest in NSW where the NSW Government paid millions of taxpayers' dollars to buy-out an industry and put local communities out of work and local contactors out of business. So in that area of 400ha of Riverina Redgum we are now spending more taxpayers' money to have that area thinned. Ecological thinning it's called and that's costing $3,750 a hectare.

Had we placed a management plan over that region and allowed the industry to continue sensibly managing it and creating a community benefit, as they were before, the timber that's coming off through that ecological thinning would reap $5,000 per hectare and a profit of $1,250 a hectare which could have gone back into managing the rest of that area to maintain its environmental values. And yet here we are restricting what we can do in that region and continuing to put taxpayers' dollars in where we could be getting an environmental benefit, we could be getting a community benefit and we could be getting an industry benefit. But we're doing none of that.

In fact I heard of one area in that management area where they took two live trees out and kept a dead one. So instead of costing NSW taxpayers $1.5 million we could be generating a return for the government for the ongoing management of that area and other regions around NSW. It just doesn't make sense. It just doesn't make sense.

We see too many times constructs being created to tell our forest industry that you just can't go there. We've heard it in respect of carbon storage - lock up the forest and get $7 billion instead of an industry return and a community return and an environmental return from a strong well-managed forest industry. And yet that piece of research doesn't consider a whole forestry life cycle, it only considers part of it and it doesn't matter what construct that the forest science deniers create, you cannot get away from the fact that you will store more carbon over time in a managed forest than you will in one which is left static.

A forest will grow, it will peak out in its carbon storage and it will plateau out. In fact a mature natural forest is a net carbon emitter. It seems that in a number of different policy areas we all talk about wanting to put carbon back into the landscape but then we do everything in our regulatory process to stop it actually practically occurring.

I met with some farmers in Tasmania last week that were looking at wind breaks on farms. A huge opportunity I think to put some native vegetation back into our landscape where it's needed across the country. They were talking about a benefit from those windbreaks 400m from the windbreak and they were talking about reduction in evaporation of 20 percent across the area of the windbreak. They were talking about increased pasture growth as a result of putting those windbreaks back in.

The opportunities that there are to get multiple benefits from putting forests and forestry and trees back into our rural landscapes are quite extraordinary. The pay offs can be considered across a whole range of elements of a whole of farm management plan. And yet our regulatory processes actually stop that from occurring. You would wonder whether we really want to put carbon back into the landscape.

Now from a broader native forestry perspective we know that we don't destroy a forest when we harvest it. We have incontrovertible proof that we do not destroy a native forest when we harvest it. Because there are tens of thousands of hectares of native forests that have been harvested in Tasmania that are now classified as Wilderness World Heritage with outstanding wilderness world heritage values. If there was ever an endorsement of our forestry practices in this country that is it.

So from my perspective I think it is about time that we out some common sense back into the forest industry and forest industry policy. I would love to see the time that we had once in the past where both the major parties were on the same page.

I think that something we can all aspire to and hopefully the Parliamentary Friends of Forestry Group can promote and foster that. Because I think that's a really important thing for this industry. This industry that has got so much to look forward to, the opportunities that I can see into the future for our forest products are quite extraordinary, the demand that I see into the future for not only our high quality solid timber products, the things that we all love, the great floors in this building, the great timber, high quality furniture, all of those things that we cherish, but right down the line into products like nanocrystalline cellulose products.

GMH are talking about replacing 30% of a motorcar with products derived from trees. Companies are talking to me about high value cellulose based chemicals. The airlines are coming and talking to me about a source of cellulose for aviation jet fuel. These are some of the opportunities that I see for the industry into the future and quite frankly, the platform that I would like to lay for the forest industry while I stay in the portfolio. There are enormous opportunities.

The demands that will be there for our plantation estate and for elements out of our native forest industry into the future I think are quite extraordinary. It's been said internationally and it should be understood here, that timber is the building material of the 21st century. We have in this country the highest residential/commercial structure built out of cross laminated timber (CLT) - Forte in Melbourne. It's quite something to boast considering we don't actually produce that product in Australia yet. But to walk into the building and to feel the atmosphere of an all-timber building is really something quite special.

When you consider the company that put that up is thinking about 30% of their residential construction coming from CLT there is another opportunity that exists for this timber industry of ours in Australia.

So in the context of getting there, the work that Ross and his team at AFPA have been doing around establishing a focused R&D structure for the industry in Australia in a similar manner to what Canada has done with FP Innovations and what the New Zealanders are doing, so that we can get ourselves to the leading edge of forest science and technology in this country, where we should be, I think is a great idea. I look forward to continuing to work with him and my colleagues for that as an opportunity into the future.

I think that the wheel has turned far enough for the Australian people to understand that, yes we do manage our forests well and yes it is sustainable. When we manage our forests on a broader landscape scale rather than structured tenure which locks us in and out of different parts of the landscape we'll be much better off.

The work that AFPA published last week around the economics of managing our forests to mitigate for bushfires I think is really valuable work. You only have to look at what is happening in the United States, where they are more intensively managing their forests closer to build-up areas to mitigate for forests after those horrendous forest fires they had in the early 2000s and considering how prone our country is to bushfires and the cycle that we've seen over recent decades. We need to be looking closely at that.

The $15 million bushfire mitigation plan that we committed to in our election policy I think will be an important part in that process and hopefully we can get some trials of that work that Ross has been talking about done as part of that process.

We need to open up the industry and the opportunities for things like generating energy from biomass, and when you consider that on a whole-of-life-cycle basis you will reduce your carbon emissions by 96% by converting from coal to biomass it seems like a bit of no brainer. And yet under our current regulatory framework we're prohibited from doing that which just doesn't make sense.

I'd like to leave you with a quote from the latest State of the Forests Report by the FAO, it's not me saying this but it's by the Director-General of the FAO and it says this:

"The challenge for the forestry profession is to communicate the simple idea that the best way of saving a forest is to manage it sustainably and to benefit from its products and ecosystem services. If the principles of sustainable forest management are applied and forest products and ecosystems services play an increasing role, the global economy will become greener"

That's not me saying that. That's the head of the FAO at the UN saying that. We are so far behind the rest of the world. We are being taken in a direction that is the opposite of the rest of the world and it's about time we caught up and I look forward to playing a part with you in doing that and look forward to hearing your voices alongside mine in promoting that in the broader community.

Thanks for the opportunity to be here.

040314 - Colbeck - AFPA Forest Works dinner speech
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