Skip navigation

AGAINST – Matters of Urgency — Native Timber Harvesting

Sue Lines

I inform the Senate that I have received the following letter, dated 21 June, from Senator Duniam:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today I propose to move 'That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The Victorian Labor Government's decision to end native timber harvesting in January 2024 is a devastating betrayal of timber workers and communities, will cause multiple economic and social problems for Australia, and needs to be met with an immediate and comprehensive policy response from the Federal Labor Government.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

Jonathon Duniam

I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

This is a very important motion. There's lots happening in the chamber today but this is an important item for discussion. I was pleased to attend the Australian Forest Products Association dinner last night, along with Minister Watt, Senator Ciccone and a number of other members of this parliament, to talk about what is an extremely important industry, one that sustains thousands of jobs across the country and does so in a sustainable way.

What we're talking about here is a resource that is, as the industry itself says, the ultimate renewable. Trees grow; you cut them down; you use them for the resources that we see displayed proudly in this chamber here; you replant them, as we are required to by law in this country; and they grow again. That's the wonderful thing about this forestry industry.

What's more, we do it to world's best standard. Our forests, be they plantation or native, hardwood or softwood, are managed to world's best standard. And, of course, the forests we harvest and manage here are certified, unlike 80 per cent of the forests from across the rest of the globe, which are not certified. I'll come back to those forests from other parts of the world, where, frankly, standards of forest management are much lower—if indeed they exist at all—than they are here in Australia.

It brings me to what's happening in the state of Victoria, which is a deeply disappointing decision. We all knew back in 2019 that the Victorian Labor government had made their plans, and set them out clearly, to phase out native forest logging by the year 2030. That was a long period of time for that government to work with industry to phase it out. I disagreed with their decision, but at least there was time for them to work with industry to phase out logging of native forests in that state. Now, the reason I disagreed with that is that it was not based on science. It was not based on fact. It was an emotive decision. Mayors of local councils in Victoria, representatives of the industry, workers from the contracting sector and anyone who is interested have been seeking the science that the decision was based upon, yet it has not been forthcoming. There is no document that the government have been able to table to point to and underpin the decision they made to shut down the native forest industry and displace the hundreds and thousands of workers whose incomes are dependent on this, as I said before, sustainable industry, and that is a crying shame.

What's worse is that in their budget the Victorian Labor government made a decision to press fast-forward on this phasing-out of native forest logging. We had seven more years to phase out this industry. A decision bad enough in itself, not based on science—but they brought it forward to seven months. They fast-forwarded it by seven years. So, by the end of this year, that industry, which is sustainable, based on science, world's best practice and good for the environment, will be gone. But you know what won't be gone, President? It's demand for the product that that industry generates: hardwood products of an appearance grade and strength grade to be used in applications that plantation timber can't be.

Australians are still going to want that product. A huge proportion of what we use here we already import. When that demand is still there and we're not producing it in Australia, we're bringing it in from countries that, quite frankly, don't give a damn about the environment. It's those forests, those native forests across the rest of the world—including in the Congo basin where, sadly, trees are ripped out of the ground; deforestation does occur—that we are going to get our timber from. Today we're already importing timber into Victoria from Tasmania.

The pie is not getting any bigger with our sustainable world-leading forests; it's getting smaller. We're dealing ourselves out of the game to make ourselves feel better. We don't have to look at clear-felled coops. We don't have to see that end of the industry. We just get the nice products. We don't care where they come from overseas. And, in the process, we're sending jobs offshore. So there are bad environmental outcomes, because we're seeing deforestation occur—I'd also argue that there are some modern slavery implications to some of these decisions when it comes to the jurisdictions we're taking timber from—but we're are also having an economic hit, with thousands of jobs in regional communities lost, never to return, all based on emotion, to win over inner-city votes in downtown Melbourne. The federal Labor government needs to stand up and stop it.

Anthony Chisholm

I rise to oppose this motion put by Senator Duniam. You'd think Senator Duniam would have some things to worry about in his actual job, rather than worrying about what's going on in the state of Victoria. You'd think he'd have some national issues that he wanted to address. But, as is typical with Senator Duniam, he has become very obsessed with state issues and he just can't quite see the bigger picture. He's really focused on these state things that he seems to specialise in.

But I speak on this motion as a really strong supporter of the forestry industry. To be honest, if I worked in the timber industry I would actually be the third generation of my family to work in the timber industry in Tasmania, where both my grandfathers worked in the timber industry and my father did as well. So I do have a good sense of how important this industry is for regional communities, not only in Victoria but across the country as well.

As I said, the Albanese government is a strong supporter of the forestry industry, from the Prime Minister down, and we're delivering a comprehensive plan for the future of the industry. Through the regional forest agreements process we work with the states and territories to support Australia's forest industries to operate under high standards for environmental management and sustainable harvesting. Our support for a sustainable forestry is well documented, making record investments in a forestry industry that's environmentally, socially and commercially sustainable.

We need timber products and we want the sustainable forest jobs that go with them. That's why we're investing over $300 million to grow plantations, to modernise our timber-manufacturing infrastructure and to build the skills of our forestry workforce. Our forest products industries are vital to our regional communities. They directly employ about 51,000 people, and tens of thousands more jobs are supported indirectly by this sector, which contributes nearly $24 billion to the national economy each year.

The benefits of a competitive, sustainable and renewable forestry industry in our regional communities should not be underestimated. It delivers positive economic and social outcomes. In addition to employment and income throughout the supply chain, it also underpins the social networks and fabric of many of our regional towns and communities. It's astounding to me that the LNP and, in particular, Senator Duniam, should be putting this motion forward, given the timid and insipid approach to the forestry sector during their three terms of government. They failed to chart a path towards a sustainable future for the industry, they failed to intervene when the Victorian government previously scaled back native forestry and they failed to put in appropriate measures to ramp up production in its place. Even worse, they presided over a 10 per cent decline in plantation estate since 2014.

In stark contrast, the Albanese government didn't waste a second in implementing strong policies for a sustainable future in forestry. At the last election we took a suite of policies to the people of Australia to increase production and support new jobs in the sector. Unlike the previous government, which was all announcement and no delivery, we're already seeing these policies put into action. That's whether it's the $100 million for an Australia-wide institute to deliver forestry research and development, or the $8.6 million to extend the life of the 11 Regional Forestry Hubs until 2027 or the $10 million for forestry workforce training needs. Today, our government is also announcing $73 million for a grants program to establish new forestry plantations across Australia. Together, these measures will strengthen the forestry industry's capacity to make greater use of the available timber resources and will drive innovation and growth.

The Victorian government's decision to end native forest logging is a decision for them. It's one that we understand they've taken with a specific operating context in mind, and we will work closely with communities and state governments to maximise the economic opportunities and job opportunities that flow from protecting forests. Certainly, I know that I can speak from my family's experience in that I understand how important forestry jobs are for families. I know the support that my grandfather was able to provide to my mum, who was one of nine, growing up in regional Tasmania, and how important forestry was for them to survive as a family. We want those jobs to be able to continue and we understand that regional communities have been built on the back of strong jobs within forestry. The Albanese Labor government is absolutely committed to doing our part to ensure that there's a sustainable forestry industry well into the future.

Janet Rice

The time for native forest logging is over. Native forest logging has to come to an end. Just like whaling finally came to an end in the middle of last century, the time for native forest logging to come to an end is now—way before now! The Victorian government and the WA government are just catching up.

Native forest logging is destructive, it is uneconomic and it has increasingly been shown to be illegal. It is destructive! The number of animal and plant species that have been hurtled towards extinction include the critically endangered Leadbeater's possum and the swift parrot. We have greater gliders shifting from being common to endangered because of the combination of logging and fires and logging that causes fires.

It is destructive. It is uneconomic. Native forest logging has cost the taxpayers over $100 million over the last 10 years. Just think of that: $100 million to prop up a dying industry. In Victoria alone, the Victorian government-owned logging agency has lost close to $100 million over the last 10 years. In 2021, it was reported that the New South Wales government-owned forestry corporation suffered a $20 million loss. Tasmania delivered a whopping $1.3 billion loss.

The future for the timber industry is in plantations, in farm forestry, in urban forestry and in getting greater use out of the wood that is currently being shipped offshore as whole logs and being chipped. There is so much potential here. There are jobs just waiting if we recognise that native forest logging needs to come to an end. If governments across the country did that, there'd be a whole bright new future in the industry. (Time expired)

Long debate text truncated.


Date and time: 4:13 PM on 2023-06-21
Senator Pocock's vote: No
Total number of "aye" votes: 30
Total number of "no" votes: 32
Total number of abstentions: 14

Adapted from information made available by