MARCH 4, 2014


As many of you know I've spent a lot of time shadowing this portfolio and even before I was put in that position I spent a lot of time in and around the forest industry. I started working with timber as a wood turner when I was young and I started to get to know the end product of the industry very well. It's great to be here and congratulations again to ForestWorks for putting on the event.

The Coalition went to the last election looking to revitalise the forest industry and to provide an investment future and some capacity for the industry to start looking forward. What I've seen over the last eight or ten years in the forest industry is that it's been very difficult for the industry to look into the future. We're at a time when we can start to turn that around. It's not going to be easy and it's going to take a lot of work but I'd like to be able to lay the foundations for that.

We know that when you harvest a forest you don't destroy it forever. We know that because previously harvested forests in Tasmania now qualify as having outstanding wilderness world heritage values. So when someone tells us following a harvest operation that we're going to destroy that forest we can say that's not true.

The cycle has turned far enough that the rhetoric over the past 30 years is starting to turn back on itself. We're now in a position where we can use the rhetoric that's been used against us back on those who want to oppose our industry. That's one of the benefits that we need to take advantage of and we need to use our own voices to stand up for our industry.

We're in a position where we can legitimately do that and I'd like to think that in this role I have an opportunity to take a lead on that and to provide a message back into the broader community that we are what we've been saying for the last 30 years, we are a sustainable industry and we are a renewable industry.

As it's been said globally, timber is the building material of the 21st century so your theme of innovation here today is very pertinent. It's time to start looking forward again.

We know that investment in research and development in the industry has fallen off over recent years and we understand why that's the case. The industry over the last couple of years has been hit by the high Australian dollar, the global financial crisis, the tsunami in Japan which took out some paper mills and very strong environmental pressure taking advantage of the weak state of the industry financially. That has all taken a toll and had an impact on the industry. But if you look at what's happening globally the industry is starting to recover.

I'd like to congratulate Ross and AFPA on the work that they've been doing looking at innovation in the industry and trying to drive some opportunities for investment and innovation. I have to say the industry needs to be prepared to contribute to that equation and it's going to be a very important part of the process. Industry needs to be prepared to make a commitment. It's your future that we're talking about. Forestry is important for regional Australia and regional jobs so that has to be part of the broader project.

What are we looking to do as a government and one of the things we said at the election that we would do is to put regional forest agreements on a 20-year rolling life. So there is an investment horizon for the industry to look at. I think that's a really important thing that the industry can have the confidence that there is a period of time of resource security and funding so they can make those investments and have time to get a return on those investments. We understand that's an important part of the industry.

We want to give greater certainty to industry about the resource and as I said a moment ago there is a cycle of events and discussion that is bringing us back to a position where we can actually start to do that.

Of course the other thing we need to be considering is the broader landscape management rather than management based on closing off certain area. The management system we have at the moment, if we don't set up to work for us, is going to provide a much greater threat to our landscape than the forest industry could ever have done. We can look at biodiversity on a broader scale of landscape values. It's pleasing some states are starting to look at that concept.

A paper published last week talks about the benefits to the community of having well managed landscapes and forest communities. We know in the United States they're managing their forests more intensively closer to build-up areas so that they can combat bushfires. Here in Australia, one of the great bushfire prone countries, we have an opportunity to do the same. That is an opportunity because we are established landscape managers and that has been well and truly proven.

The Coalition is making an investment of $15 million into a bushfire mitigation program and we're having conversations about incorporating some of the trials that Ross and AFPA have been talking about and I think that's an important element. Those conversations have started already.

I am going to restructure the Forest Industry Advisory Council. We know that in agriculture we're doing a whitepaper that doesn't include forestry and it doesn't include seafood, so I would like the new Council to look at some really hands on ways of how we can work alongside the agriculture whitepaper process and look at the future of the forest industry. So effectively we can start building up a forestry whitepaper alongside the agriculture whitepaper. I think it's an important thing to do, particularly given the integration of the forest industry with the agriculture sector.

Last Friday I was attending a function in Tasmania looking at putting trees back into the native landscape and the effectiveness of that. It was an absolutely excellent presentation that I was privy to and the opportunities that presents for the agriculture sector and the forestry industry I think are quite significant across large segments of the landscape.

We all know there has been enormous pressure in our markets from fairly focused campaigns. We are working on the markets to provide support and whatever we can do reasonably to assist the industry to maintain and secure those markets. We don't have anything formal to announce yet but please be assured we are working actively in those markets, particularly in Tokyo, to ensure that industry and your customers in those markets understand the atmosphere of the products which we are sending into those markets. It's really important that is understood and we are doing all we can to ensure that they understand that our products go through a very strictly regulated model and they can be assured of that where they're purchasing anything that comes out of Australia.

We also want to ensure there is strong growth in regional Australia and if there is an industry that provides that it is forestry. We know and I've seen it personally at home the devastation that those communities have felt due to pressures on industry and so if there is a regional development policy that exists, and again there's some really good research that's come out of a national organisation talking about the regional job opportunities that exist from R&D investment in forestry and that's a really strong message. At a time when job security is something that's at the top of mind for our local communities and I can tell you all our research has shown that people are very uncertain about where they sit personally in respect to employment and that anything we can do to create jobs and certainty around jobs in regional Australia is going to be very important. We need to ensure that we continue to do that and that is part of the way that we're looking to encourage growth and employment in the forest industry regionally.

The thing that I'd really like to talk about now is innovation. I think that we and this industry are really on the cusp of an enormous opportunity. The innovations that are coming out of Canada and new products like nanocrystalline cellulose products. I've been talking to the airlines around aviation fuel and jet fuel and if you look at the way that the airlines are fighting with each other at the moment I can see them all coming together to have a discussion around what the opportunity for fibre or cellulose resource might be so that they can provide some surety around their aviation fuel.

There are a whole other range of biofuel opportunities and we will do what we said before the election which is re-open the opportunities for the use of forestry residues for biomass. It is an absolute no brainer that we do that. That will feed into a review of renewable energy targets which is commencing at the moment. When you consider that you can reduce your carbon emissions on a whole of lifecycle basis when compared with coal by 96% I don't know why we wouldn't consider doing it.

I think we now have enough science behind us in enough areas to be able to start really arguing our case around these things and it is the forest science deniers that are on the other side of the argument, and that's the only way to describe them. They are forest science deniers who don't recognise that you will store more carbon in a managed forest when you recognise carbon is stored in solid timber products and particularly when you look at substitution over 200 years you can store up to twice the carbon in a managed forest than one that is left static, that you can reduce carbon emissions by 96% over a lifecycle basis by converting from coal to biomass.

Now we need to make sure that we're sensible around the parameters that we manage in respect if that but when you consider that we've got 125 million hectares of forests in this country, 22 million of those managed by regional forest agreements, 9.8 million hectares of that is available for harvest and were harvesting that at less than 1% per annum. So with those sustainable management systems behind us I think there are real opportunities for innovation and for new products that will come out of that. With some security around the resource with rolling 20 year RFAs providing a good investment horizon I think we're in a situation where the forest industry has a great future.

Recognition within the community of the values that the forest industry can bring is important and I think one of the things that we need to be prepared to do is to talk to the community about those values. When we're saying the forest industry is sustainable they are listening to the values and they are interested in renewable products, so it's all of those values that we ought to be talking to our broader community about.

With the new opportunities for innovation and the push from markets, companies like the airlines, who are looking very closely at establishing themselves to do work in the green triangle in Victoria and SA because they know there is a resource there. That is something that the industry and the government need to get engaged with as part of that process.

The other thing also is the unconditional uses of the resource and the need to be thinking about where they sit in the whole equation because there's a whole heap of competition and that's not necessarily a bad thing for the industry.

I look forward to working with you all and I look forward to seeing you at more events over the near future.

I'm certainly delighted to see you've packed out the Great Hall of Parliament House tonight and that is a great message for the forest industry. I know there are a large number of my colleagues who will be there tonight which is also great news for the forest industry, that so many people are prepared to come out and share dinner with you and also the prime minister is going to speak. That's a great message from the leadership of the government.

I thank you for the invitation to be here today and I look forward to working with you in the portfolio and look forward to catching up with more of you. Thanks very much.

040314 Colbeck - AFPA ForestWorks conference speech
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