Productivity commission

Labor’s green lobby demands Productivity Commission forestry review

Jacob Greber
Senior correspondent
Aug 28, 2023 – 5.43pm

Labor’s internal green lobby is calling on Agriculture Minister Murray Watt to use the Productivity Commission for a major nationwide review of the forestry industry after the party resolved to rethink its three-decade-old stance on native logging.

The push comes after ALP powerbrokers defused a potentially damaging rift over forestry at the party conference in Brisbane two weeks ago by quashing a motion from the Labor Environmental Action Network (LEAN) to ban logging of native forests.

Labor has committed to revisiting the historic 1992 Keating government forestry platform.  Jessica Shapiro

Instead, the party resolved to review the so-called National Forest Policy Statement, a landmark 1992 policy established by the Keating government and state and territory governments.

The Keating-era deal led to a series of regional forest agreements that expanded forest conservation while boosting industry security with guaranteed areas for logging.

However, since then, a collapse in new plantations, emerging concerns over the need to sequester carbon, and Australia’s deteriorating record of species extinctions are prompting calls for a rethink among green and environmental groups.

Labor resolved this month in Brisbane to work with states and territories to update the 1992 statement to “ensure it is contemporary and fit for purpose”.

This includes expanding plantations to meet domestic and international “demand for high-value sustainably sourced wood products” and creation of an industry plan for long-term regional jobs.

The party also promised to develop so-called carbon and environmental markets to connect investors with land protection and greenhouse gas capturing forest.

“Whatever the broader process the government adopts to deliver a new National Forest Policy Statement before the next election, it should include a Productivity Commission inquiry to ensure both the industry issues and the carbon and biodiversity values of forests are re-assessed for the 21st century,” said LEAN co-convenor Felicity Wade.

“Thirty-one years is a long time for any policy to trundle along without review.”

Rewriting the National Forest Policy Statement, she said, should include an assessment of how to rapidly expand plantations, and shift away from “high volume/low value” harvesting to higher-value products, as well as proper analysis of “the global opportunity for purpose grown, engineered timber products in a low-carbon future”.

The Productivity Commission should also look at “the impacts of current practises on biodiversity and delivery of international nature positive commitments including the government’s policy to end extinctions, the carbon values of the forests and their potential contribution to emission reduction targets, the relative fire resilience of logged and un-logged forests and the ongoing fire management challenges”.

“And how these ‘new commodities’ (created carbon and biodiversity markets) might be rewarded in native forests and fund good ongoing employment for forestry workers.”

‘Forum shopping’

Joel Fitzgibbon, chairman of the Australian Forest Products Association, said: “LEAN needs to accept both conference support for the forestry sector and its recognition of the important contribution it makes to the economy, jobs, sovereign capability, bushfire mitigation, biodiversity, and efforts to address the climate challenge.”

“We welcome the review of the 30-year-old settlement to ensure it remains fit for purpose,” the former federal Labor minister said.

“Having lost at conference, LEAN can now forum shop all it likes, but we are confident the result will continue to be positive for the forestry sector.”

Australia needed “more wood, not less”, Ms Wade said.

“But we need it sustainably produced. When the [1992] policy was written the immense carbon values of healthy forests were not considered and catastrophic fire wasn’t a thing.”

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