SUBJECTS: Labor’s removal of the Carbon Farming Initiative Forestry Water Rule, Forestry industry in Australia.
PATRICK DEEGAN, CANDIDATE FOR PAGE: Okay, yes it’s fantastic to have Joel Fitzgibbon here on the Northern Rivers today to talk about a fantastic announcement for forestry, along with industry representatives. When I was first pre-selected and went out speaking to people in the community, there were two key issues that kept coming up- that’s jobs for the Page electorate and protecting the environment. This announcement today ticks both of those boxes. It goes a long way towards protecting the environment and addressing carbon but also protecting the thousands of jobs and thousands of workers who work in the industry in this electorate but I’ll hand over now to Joel to speak a little more in detail.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Thanks very much Patrick, this certainly is an announcement about the environment and about jobs. The timber industry and associated products employ about 3,000 people in the Page electorate and tens of thousands of people across New South Wales and I’m really pleased to have with us today Andrew Herford from Herford Forest. Of course he is a fourth generation saw miller, a person who has a long-standing involvement in the industry, and Ross Hampton from the Australian Forest Products Association. I’m pleased that they are supporting this announcement today. To reach our ambitions on carbon emissions we need to both leave more trees in the ground and plant more trees. To maintain and create more jobs here in Page we need to plant more trees. Now, demand for our forest products is on the rise and we have new high-tech products coming in supply but we don’t have enough trees in the ground to keep those jobs going and to keep that manufacturing industry alive and well. What we need is investors investing in plantations, both in plantation estates and on farms. That of course will give our farmers additional revenue, diversifying their incomes and of course building resilience to drought when they do so. The problem is no where near enough people are planting trees because the barriers to investment are too high. We can change that by getting rid of this ridiculous water rule, a rule that says you can only secure carbon credits or carbon income for storing all that carbon by planting a tree if you are in a very low rainfall area. That means you can’t do it anywhere here in Page and expect to get a carbon credit out of the carbon economy.
A Labor Government will get rid of the so-called water rule and we will do it as quickly as we possibly can because that restriction on investors investing in plantations and on farm is holding both investment and jobs back. It makes no sense to say you can only plant trees where they can’t grow. It makes no sense whatsoever. What a Labor Government will do is allow investors to invest in areas where trees grow well and of course where farmers and investors can get a carbon credit for the work they do. Now we know that the government ministers, the key government minsters agree with the Labor Party. We know that they think this water rule should go. In fact the junior minister, Richard Colbeck wrote to the Environment Minister in February appealing to her to remove the water rule. But alas, the government has done nothing and seems determined not to do anything. So my message today is to Kevin Hogan. Kevin you had tried to establish yourself as an independent thinker. You need to pick the phone up today to the Prime Minister and tell him that jobs are going to be lost and we’re certainly not going to grow jobs in Page if you’re not prepared to do the right thing both for the environment and for the workforce here and remove this silly restriction on where we can plant trees and also receive carbon income as a result. So, it’s pretty easy Kevin, pick up the phone to the Prime Minister and say we should be backing the Labor Party, this should be bipartisan, this makes sense, let’s create jobs here in Page by removing the water rule. I think Ross might want to say something.
ROSS HAMPTON, AFPA CEO: So my name is Ross Hampton and I am the CEO of the national industry representative body, the Australian Forest Products Association. Andrew Herford is going to speak in a minute, he’s a local as many of you would be aware and also has both the sawmill and the farm, where he is doing farm forestry so he can talk about the specifics of it. The first thing I need to say is we represent at AFPA pretty much the whole of the Australian industry and we are a completely apolitical organisation and in this election we’ve made it very clear that we won’t be backing any particular brand of politics, we’re backing the policies that are going to deliver the jobs in our industry and so we’ve said quite upfront to the Opposition and to the Government that if you say those things that are going to deliver the future of the many young people and older who work in our industries around Australia, there are around 100,000 people who work in our industries, then we will stand up and we will support you doing that. The two big asks really for our industry have been around the resource because whilst we can support our timber mills and our pulp paper plants and all the rest of it without the resource they’re not going to be able to do much into the future. And so we have a bipartisan approach from the Coalition and the Labor Party in relation to native forestry, that’s all about regional forest agreements, making sure we don’t lose any more of the very small amount of native forestry we have, but then the big ask really this election has been about unlocking the future of these little guys. This is plantation forestry, this is where the future is and the future growth potential is for Australia and so we know that we need about another 400,000 hectares planted of this sort of thing around Australia over the next 10-15 years otherwise we’re not going to keep pace with the growth of demand in Australia. The big barrier to allowing this to happen, as Joel pointed out a few minutes ago, has been the economics just don’t work for a farmer for example who might say well I’ve got 10 per cent of the land that’s not much use for the cattle or whatever I’m doing as my primary production but it costs just too much to put the trees in the ground and leave them there long enough for the saw mill down the road, so when farms can access carbon payments then that will mean they will cover that dead zone if you like, those first 10 years of not getting any return on the trees. And we have been blocked out of the carbon policies in Australia for the last 5-10 years and so we’ve been saying to the parties ‘come forward and say that these artificial impediments to farmers particularly but also to plantations more broadly, participating in the carbon market are going to be removed’. So we are really pleased that that is happening today, that Labor has made that announcement and we are calling on the Government to really match that as well because unless that happens, all of the statement about wanting to grow our industry are sort of just slogans they really aren’t going to make a lot of difference. My kids, we live at Canberra, my kids wish it would snow at Christmas time but it doesn’t. So just wishing we have a growing forest industry isn’t going to cut it without some policy change to get these little trees in the ground. So I’ll hand over to Andrew Herford who is a saw miller, local saw miller also a farm forester, to talk about what it would mean for him.
ANDREW HERFORD: Thanks Ross. Okay, this is an important announcement particularly here on the North Coast where we really need to expand our forest estate. We already fully utilise that part of the native forest estate that’s available to the industry. The country’s growing, the population is growing, the demand for timber is growing. We’re going to need more timber into the future and the only way we’re going to secure that timber is by putting more tees in the ground now. It’s a long term investment, as Ross just said and for a farmer to decide to put trees in the ground he needs to know there is going to be some kind of income there. Timber is the ultimate renewable and we know that we grow trees and we can produce timber long into the future, but an important part of the decision process for a land holder or a farmer is how can I cover that cost in a reasonable time frame? The exciting thing is that carbon income gives us that opportunity as the trees grow, they sequester the carbon in the stems of the trees which later gets locked into the products that we produce from them but the farmer will be eligible for those payments in that first ten years which is, which is the critical point for a land holder to be able to attract that income.