07 December, 2005

ARTICLE: Chips are down but don’t gamble away future

The Age (article)

Tuesday 6 December 2005

This is an edited version of a speech by shadow minister for primary industries, forestry and tourism Martin Ferguson to a seminar last week.

A sustainable forest industry is crucial to the Australian economy and to help wipe out illegal logging around the world, says Martin Ferguson

Australia's forests are very important in both an environmental and industry resource context. About 10 per cent - 11 million hectares - of Australia's 155 million hectares of native forests is managed for wood production, which is less than 1 per cent harvested in any one year.

The small proportion of forests harvested annually is regenerated so that a perpetual supply of native hardwood and softwood is maintained in this country. Australia is fortunate to have some of the best foresters in the world working to maintain our assets in perpetuity

Rather than being recognised for their contribution to forestry, profession is often criticised by those who think that forests should be left to their own devices.

The withdrawal of foresters, funding and management resources from forests turned over to conservation purposes in recent decades has led to some environmental disasters in this country. I could point to uncontrolled bushfires in a number of areas, and shudder to think of the consequences of runaway fire in the vast Tasmanian wilderness areas.

We are also one of a few countries in the Asia-Pacific region with the land availability and capability to expand sustainable forestry through further plantation development over the coming decades. Demand for forest products is skyrocketing. So the sustainable expansion of Australia's forest industry is very important to meet global demand and contribute to our own economic prosperity

Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister, arguing that the rest of the world is benefiting from PNG's natural forest wealth without shouldering the environmental cost, recently put the proposition that perhaps the developed world should pay for the preservation of rainforests in developing countries.

I would argue that any foreign aid directed in that way should come with reciprocal obligation, and that obligation has to include stamping out unsustainable forestry practices in those countries.

There are claims that illegal logging in Indonesia destroys about 3 million hectares of forests every year. That's about three times Australia’s legitimate harvest each year.

With the world facing significant problems in managing global demand for forest products and maintaining a sustainable forestr resource, I find it difficult to understand the campaign being run by the Greens against Australia's and particularly Tasmania’s forest industry.

The Labor Party knows full well that the key to a better Australia is jobs and economic prosperity for all. Australia and Tasmania's forest industries are part of the key to achieving that.

Tasmanian forestry is conducted in accordance with the Australian Forestry Standard, the development of which was initiated by the Commonwealth Government and based on internationally agreed criteria.

The AFS was developed through a three year process where community, expert scientists and government representatives came together to draft the standard. It holds global mutual recognition under the Endorsement of Forest Certification, which is the largest international sustainability recognition framework for forestry in the world.

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation has recognised Forestry Tasmania's AFS-certified forests for exemplary forest management as part of its In Search Of Excellence program. This puts the AFS and Tasmanian forestry in the world's best practice

Let me also say that, at a time when industrial relations and the protection of our most vulnerable workers are top of mind for many of us I am pleased to see the collaborative work of the CFMEU forest division and the industry, includes key ILO (International Labour Organisation) conventions in its provisions.

Labor supports changes in forest industry practices to end clear-felling and restructure the sawmilling industry. The move away from dear-felling to more selective logging practices comes with the need for retraining. The campaign being run by the Greens, however, has nothing to do with the environment or sustainability.

The result of the Greens' actions could well be to scare international customers away from sustainable forest resources in Tasmania to countries where illegal logging in forest products leaves a trail of devastation, but where ignorance is bliss.

This will cost jobs and ecomomic prosperity in Tasmania, and our forest resources will be the poorer. Australia’s deficit in forest products - already a massive $2 billion - will grow, and the products demanded by the global market will still be supplied, but by countries and producers who don't care about sustainable forestry standards and who don't care about trashing Thirld World forests forever.

More of Tasmania's land and forests are protected than anywhere else on earth – four timees the benchmark set by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and 40 per cent of the state.

The realitv is that we have to be part of the solution to the environmental impact of economic growth in our region. Part of that solution is to continue to grow a sustainable Australian and Tasmanian forest industry.

It is estimated that almost 10 per cent of timber products imported to Australia are of suspicious origin. The trade in illegal and unsustainable timber distorts trade, suppresses prices, and causes damage to the environment.

Dubious importing practices are already contribute to job losses in Australia, where local producers are arguably being unfairly undercut.

Our own economic and environmental future is in jeopardy if we don't adopt measures to control importation of illegal and unsustainable timber products and if we fail to set the example world’s best forestry forest industry practices with our trading partners. That’s why the Australian Labor Party supports the development of a worldclass-pulp mill in Tasmania. Our high standards could add around $100 million to the cost of the mill compared to less stringent standards for our competitors in this industry.

Despite the cost impediment, we required the development of Australian manufacturing industries, which we require to operate on a world's best practice basis with respect to environmental and greenhouse emissions, and not drive them offshore to countries with lower standards.

The Federal Labor platform commits a future Labor government to encourage moves away from woodchip exports by promoting greater value-adding and downstream processing.

The Tasmanian pulp mill be an important step in this direction, quadrupling the value of Tasmania's woodchips and going a long way to reduce Australia's, trade deficit in pulp and paper products. It is up to us as a nation to ensure that our imports and exports of forest products are certified to give us confidence about the origin of the products, the legality of their acquisition, and the reputation and forestry standards of the producers.

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