Speech - Key note address AFPA Members' Dinner - Canberra - Wednesday 8 November




In any political or policy forum, securing universal agreement is an unlikely achievement.

That’s particularly true when production aspirations clash with conservation ambitions.

I know a bit about that; I’ve spent the last twenty two years representing an electorate in which coal mining, coal-fired power generation, agriculture, viticulture and thoroughbred breeding are major employers.

I also had two stints in the mining and energy sectors, a period as shadow minister for forestry, and for the past four years have been in the thick of land-use conflict in the agriculture, fisheries and forestry portfolios.

You might say I have a PhD in land use conflict.

When I first came to my current portfolio just over four years ago, I decided the best way to manage the rising friction between production and conservation was to establish bipartisanship between the major parties on these issues.

It was not an aspiration I kept to myself.  Rather, I spent the first few months publicly advocating for it.

While I’ve been left feeling disappointed by the response of my political counterparts, it’s an aspiration I still hold and remain determined to pursue.

Indeed I don’t remember a time when the need to work together has been more important. 

In fact the political upheaval we are witnessing around the world demands it.

That revolution is very much a rejection of both the current economic orthodoxy; and our political settlement.

The same economic orthodoxy which has given us twenty two years of unbroken economic growth, and the same parliamentary model that has given us relative political stability for the last 116 years.

The dumb response is to ignore and dismiss that upheaval. 

The smart response is to acknowledge it and accommodate it.

The alternative is what you see unfolding in the United States or indeed in the U.K. where - to quote one market analyst: “the only certainty is that there is much to be uncertain about”.

Of course, of all the challenges you face as a sector, investment uncertainty is king.

And, if investment certainty is all important, our main objective has to be political consensus.

Just take a look at what's been happening in the energy sector: a diabolical situation with consequences for all of us.  Where 10 years of climate wars and investment uncertainty has given us all the wrong outcomes: high prices; unreliability; and supply shortfalls.

That's the outcome you can expect, when political opportunism trumps good policy.

But while the climate wars are the obvious example. Let me draw on one which is less so.

Let's examine your own sector. I had cause in preparation for tonight’s event, to go back over the 1992 National Forest Policy Statement and all of its guidance. I then compared it with the Forest Industry Advisory Council’s recommendations and guess what, the issues remain the same.

I didn't even bother going back to the pamphlet my friend Richard Colbeck unveiled up on the Hill in 2015!  And I'm certainly not going to get bogged down lamenting the Government’s recent announcement of yet another plan – one, which according to Anne Ruston, will “hopefully” be delivered in 12 months’ time.  In other words, in their sixth year of government, maybe?

It’s important to say however; if they produce a good and meaningful plan, we’ll back it.  We shall see.

But beware those who promise much but never deliver. Be even more wary of those who want to use a sector as a tool for polarising the electorate as some chose to do in the energy policy space.  It's a zero sum game.

Let me give you an example in my own portfolio.  In 2011 ABC Four Corners ran a rather confronting story about animal cruelty in the live trade sector.  On their televisions that night, Australians saw graphic pictures of cattle being cruelly mishandled in Indonesian abattoirs.  

After an extended period of public outcry, the Gillard Government suspended trade.  It had little choice; the industry had not provided the tools necessary to provide a third choice.  It was suspend the trade or do nothing and, given the volume and weight of community