SUBJECTS: Labor’s forestry policy, Tasmanian Forestry Agreement.
JOEL FITZGIBBON: Thanks everyone for coming along. It’s great to be here with Justine Keay. We came down here, well I came down here at her invitation last year to talk with the forest industry and timber workers, unions and investors, businesses, about the future of the forest and forest products industry in Tasmania and we have been spending all that time since developing policies to ensure that the industry has a bright future here in Tasmania and indeed right across the country. And I’m really pleased to be joined also by Ross, whose an industry representative and Scott as the representative of the workers and it’s fantastic that we have the support of both of those people and all the people they represent because we are here to talk about jobs for timber workers here in Tasmania and of course manufacturing jobs here in Tasmania. We want to be a country which continues to make things and that’s exactly what we are going to be doing here in Tasmania in the wood products industry for many years to come. So today I’m announcing a number of initiatives that a Bill Shorten led Labor Government will take if we win the election on May 18.
First thing we will do is we’ll convene a National Forestry Summit. We’ll bring all the key stakeholders together, industry, unions, State Governments, manufacturing, investors to play a role in the development of a national strategic plan for the forest and wood products industry, mainly focused of course on creating jobs right across the continent but of course in particular, here in Tasmania. Second, we’ll bring forward investment in plantations and of course in farm forestry. We’re going to remove the regulatory impediments that shut investors out of the carbon farming initiative. In other words, we’ll make investment in plantation more attractive for investment, securing supply for the timber industry. That of course is a win win for both the economy, for jobs and of course for farmers who will be able to build a more diverse income and earn money in the carbon economy.
The next thing we will do is we will establish 13 forestry hubs across Australia, including two here in Tasmania, one in the north and one in the south. The forestry hubs will create strategies locally and of course they will ensure that we have the infrastructure and the work force in place to grow the industry and to accommodate all that additional supply we are going to have as a result of increased investment in the plantation of farm forestry sectors. I make the point that the Government has indeed made a commitment to regional hubs but its only funding four hubs rather than 13 and only one here in Tasmania, that is in the north of Tasmania in the first period.
The next thing we will do is to make sure we’ve got a workforce, a skilled workforce to accommodate this extra supply and this extra processing work. There’s no shortage of evidence that we are facing a workforce shortage in certain skills in the sector already but that will only grow worse when we further grow the industry and we will invest in skills and the workforce. Next we will make sure that our research and development effort is optimal. If we are going to make the most of the global opportunities in new product like engineered products in timber, then we will need to be ahead of the game on research and we’ll make sure that research work is done and done most effectively. Labor’s $1billion manufacturing fund will give timber processers and manufacturers here in Tasmania an opportunity to further invest in their businesses. So, six points there, our six point package if you like. There are more but they’re the keys points about creating jobs here in Tasmania amongst timber workers and everyone else along the value chain. Now there’s a clear choice, obviously, given David Littleproud’s comments about the industry yesterday and well covered in the media today, he’s dismissed the key element, the key ask from industry and unions in this package and that is the removal of the so-called water rule, the key impediment to bringing forward investment in the forest and forest products industry. So now it’s a clear choice on election day for more jobs, for a stronger forestry industry in Tasmania, vote Labor. For an uncertain future, if any future at all, do not vote for the Liberal Party because David Littleproud made it clear yesterday that the Liberal Party does not support the forest and forest products industry. I might just ask Justine to say a few words.
JUSTINE KEAY: Thank you Joel for coming, thank you Ross. Thank you everyone for being here today, this is a really exciting announcement for a region like the north west of Tasmania, where we have some fantastic examples of really strong forestry industries here who are doing all they can to build their industries, sustainable industries support the local economy here, the towns the workers, and get a really good price for their product. I’ve visited a number of them, I was only at Britton Brothers the other day in Smithton looking at some of the new technology and capital works that they’re doing there to really put them in a great position going forward. And the announcements that Labor has made today will ensure that we have a strong sustainable forestry industry going forward and a strong sustainable workforce here in the north west of Tasmania. I think what we have here though is a very strong commitment from Labor, what we don’t have from the Government is any commitment about growing the industry at all. We know that removal of the water rule will create about $20,00, sorry 20,000 jobs nationally and that will have a huge impact for places like north west of Tasmania when Labor gets in to power and we remove that rule so thank you very much for that Joel.
FITZGIBBON: Ross would you like to make a comment?
ROSS HAMPTON, CEO AFPA: Yeah sure. Thanks very much. I think the first thing we need to say is that the National peak body for forest industries is completely apolitical so the reason I’m here today is to simply address how well Labor’s plan matches with the industry’s requests. So we’ve got a ten point plan that we’ve been talking to many politicians about on all sides for the last year or so and I’m happy to say today that a substantial amount of those requests have been met in this announcement. The key thing I think for Australians to understand is that we are, we are behind the eight ball when it comes to forest products in this country and we’re going backwards far too fast. We have a $2 billion trade deficit in forest products. In hardwood, we’re importing far too much from countries with very dubious forestry practices and we are also way behind the eight ball when it comes to plantations for example soft wood for our homes, most people don’t realise that about a quarter of our homes are being built with soft wood imported from countries far, far away, overseas, and this has to be addressed and we need a growth plan. I’m really pleased that the government and the Opposition Labor and the Coalition both agree that a target of about 400,000 additional hectares of plantations is the right target and its easily digestible by our communities and we can manage that with our farmers and we are delighted too that we have, it seems bipartisanship when it comes to our native forest estate that there is an agreement that there will be no more reduction in the very, very tiny amount of native forest area that’s still left for industry to work with in a sustainable way where we regenerate every single tree that is harvested, but we have to say that at this stage in the campaign Labor is ahead when it comes to measures that will allow us to sustainably and carefully increase our plantation estate. The one game in town for us in that regard, are carbon payments which farmers really need to enable them to bridge the gap between the planting and the tree harvest, it’s a fair bit of money and the carbon payments would allow them to do that while they supplement their major on-farm income and the barrier that has to be removed is this artificial regulation that says essentially, if you want to plant trees anywhere where there’s any rain, 600mm or 400mm, then you can’t participate in those carbon markets. There’s more to do, Joel, there’s more to do, we want to see some other elements addressed and we’ll be talking about those at our debate in Launceston but this is a very good start and I do hope that by the time we get to polling day, ah that all parties have decided to back in Australia’s sustainable forest industries, we are the ultimate renewable and we can create 20,000 more jobs and add $5billion to the economy with this growth plan.
SCOTT MCLEAN, STATE SECRETARY CFMMEU: Thanks very much so, in relation to the policy, I have read the policy a number of times this morning and from a worker point of view it provides some sustainability and certainly some surety into the future practically in relation to plantation and in relation to what’s left of the native forest that we actually harvest and use. It’s got an initiative in relation to workplace health and safety and that is very pleasing to see. There are a number of people who have been killed and injured in this industry over the years and one death or one injury is one too many so we continue to work – it will sit well for the future of timber communities their families and for timber workers so we are quite pleased with the policy as it stands.
JOURNALIST: Minister how can you ensure that scrapping the water rule won’t lock up prime agricultural land for use?
FITZGIBBON: There’s a very simple answer to that. The Minister for Agriculture will retain a veto. He has it now and he will have it under our policy. If the Agriculture Minister of the day is concerned about locking up prime agricultural land then they will have the power to veto it.
JOURNALIST: How will this change the perception of farm forestry in Tasmania following the managed investment schemes?
FITZGIBBON: It’s a ridiculous comparison to make. The managed investment schemes were a National Party initiative and of course they were a disaster both for the industry and for the investors. There’s no comparison to be made between a tax break for mum and dad investors and the proposal to remove the water rule. This is a sensible proposition. It’s a proposition that has the support of Senator Richard Colbeck, David Littleproud’s junior Minister. So we are all very, very confused as to why David Littleproud is so against this when a Minister who knows better in Richard Colbeck is so supportive of Labor’s policy.
JOURNALIST: So is Labor standing by the TFA?
FITZGIBBON: Labor supports the principles of the TFA and the environmental, the economic and social outcomes of course but the TFA is a matter for the parties of the TFA and we are focusing today on plantation and farm forestry because Scott made the point there is little security left in our native forests and we need to ensure our plantations are going forward rather than going backwards as is currently the case.
JOURNALIST: Will Labor guarantee it won’t lock up more forests?
FITZGIBBON: Labor has no plans to lock up any more forests.
JOURNALIST: Does this mean you’re abandoning supporting for more native forest reserves?
FITZGIBBON: Labor has an ongoing support for the environmental, social and economic outcomes that were agreed between the parties of the TFA. It’s very interesting that the industry, and I’m sure Ross will be prepared to support me on these comments. The industry is not seeking any additional access to native forests either. The industry is focussing on security of supply, about giving timber workers jobs here in Tasmania, about bringing investment forward and growing the sector right along the value chain. That’s what we are collectively here to talk about today and again, if you want a future for the forestry industry in Tasmania, vote Labor.
JOURNALIST: What do you think on David Littleproud’s biosecurity bill turning tourists away who bring in contaminated food?
FITZGIBBON: I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to look at what David Littleproud has said today.