SUBJECTS: Labor’s forestry announcement, Forestry hubs, Research and Development.
MIKE KELLY: Well it’s great to be here today in beautiful Tumut and particularly I want to thank Warren Green and the team at AKD for having us here today at this magnificent industrial enterprise, one of the prime employers in our region doing fantastic stuff supplying Australian markets with the timber products they need for housing and also landscaping and I’m really delighted to have with me here today our Shadow Minister for Forestry, Agriculture and Fisheries, but we’re also accompanied along with Joel Fitzgibbon by Ross Hampton from Australian Forestry Products Association, we have Diana Gibbs also working with the local Soft Woods Working Group on the key modelling and economics and business cases for the expansion of this brilliant industry, and Peter Crowe of course who is a legend in the timber industry and Soft Woods Working Groups organisation, and then the future planning for what can be a magnificent industry for this country. He’s had decades of experience in developing this industry including in sophisticated genetics for our timber so it’s been fantastic to have Peter working with us on our forestry policy. This is an industry that has enormous potential in this region, it’s one of the prime regions in Australia for forestry. Forestry can deliver great things for our future in terms of helping to sequester carbon but also delivering products that will help us decarbonise the economy in things like construction. So the potential here is enormous, we know that there will be lots of jobs if we get these settings right, but there are a lot of impediments to that development and I’m really pleased that Joel Fitzgibbon is here today to talk about how we might remove those impediments. So thank you so much for coming Joel, you’ve been a great Shadow Minister, advocating brilliantly for our farmers and our forestry and our fisheries and you know, you’ll be able to do special things for this country should a Labor government be elected so thanks for being here mate.
JOEL FITZGIBBON: Thanks very much Mike. It is very true that you can’t have a strong national economy if you don’t have strong regional economies and in places like this part of the world you can’t have strong regional economies without a strong timber industry. And we’re putting the word forestry back into the ministerial title, focusing on investment in jobs in the forest and forest products industry. Meaningful, well-paid jobs in this region and right across the country and I thank Mike Kelly for his advocacy. He’s been on the job for many years now ensuring that the Labor Party is focused on this industry. I also want to thank our guests today and the Soft Wood Working Group and of course the Australian Forest Products Association and the union, all of whom have worked with us to determine the best way forward in the forest and forest products industry and the best way of growing sustainable, meaningful, well-paid jobs in this industry. We’re going to do a few things. We’re going to have a national forestry summit to ensure we have a national strategy for the industry right across this country. Second, we’re going to remove this ridiculous so-called water rule to ensure that we’ve got the right trees planted in the right place at scale. Currently, you can only participate in the carbon farming initiative if you’re growing trees where trees don’t grow. That is a silly proposition and removing that rule will make an enormous difference to the industry in this part of the world. Second, we’re going to give this region a timber hub, a forestry hub, to coordinate our plans here. If we’re going to have additional supply, which is our key aim to grow the industry and jobs in the industry, we’ve got to have the infrastructure in place to accommodate that extra demand, we’ve got to have the work place in place to accommodate that extra demand. We’re also going to focus more on research so this can be the most modern industry it can possibly be. Kim Carr was here a few weeks ago talking about the processing side and our policies to further incentivise investment in the processing side of the sector so it’s good news for the region. We’re announcing things today that the current government is not prepared to do, it is not prepared to remove the water rule, a real mystery to us and it has not been prepared to give this region the forestry hub it deserves. Indeed, this region is far more advanced in the development of a plan than any other I’ve seen across the country. It makes sense for us to be investing early here as Mike Kelly has argued to ensure that we’ve got the plan in place to accommodate that additional supply which will be driven by our decision to remove the water rule.
MIKE KELLY: I’d like to make one point too that the Coalition Government has really snubbed this region. We’ve got not a timber hub but a timber snub. We were lead to believe there was going to be some real action on a timber hub here and it’s not happening. So I really welcome the Labor Government’s commitment if we are elected to actually making that timber hub concept real. There’s so much we’ll be able to do with it, things like getting coordination into setting up a timber hub co-op to allow our farmers to diversify their income by signing more marginal parts of their properties to development of plantation resource, so we will make that timber hub concept real and Joel’s fully committed to that so I’m really grateful for that and it is in stark contrast to the complete con job that the Coalition have been trying to sell on timber hubs without providing any substance for this region. So I’m really grateful that we’re actually stepping forward on that.
PETER CROWE: Well let me say to you this morning that the Soft Woods Working Group is delighted to see Joel and Mike here today. We’re delighted with the announcement that the Opposition will provide us with a forestry hub and not only that, fund it, actually fund it. It’s all well and good to talk about hubs but as they say in the classics, a hub ain’t a hub without any money. So we’re delighted that Joel’s committed to that and that’s $1million. Soft Woods Working Group is ready to hit the ground running. We’ve been in action for 30 plus years, we have an impeccable record in developing regionally based plans for plantation development and industry development as well as infrastructure development, all supported by very positive business cases. So, Joel you’ve come to the right place this morning. We’re ready to go and I’d just like to hand over to my colleague Diana who will explain to you all here this morning just how important in economic terms the industry is to this region, to the state and to the nation Diana.
DIANA GIBBS: Yes as Peter said, this industry is huge in this region, in fact I’d like to think it’s the best regional economic development project ever. It’s created nearly 5000 jobs supported directly or indirectly by the industry, $1billion of value added product and $200 billion of the gross value of output. This industry here in Tumut is bigger than the tourist industry of the Snowy Mountains. We talk about infrastructure to support industry. Government is very keen on providing infrastructure. In our view, putting more trees in the ground is just as much infrastructure as our roads and bridges. Without the resource the industry can’t function. So again, Peter and I on behalf of softwood working group are delighted to see some support coming for this industry.
ROSS HAMPTON: AFPA, the peak national body representing the full value chain of the forestry industry is of course an apolitical body but we have a 10 point growth plan for the industry that would deliver 20,000 more jobs and $5 billion more economic activity and if parties are prepared to say yes to these points then we will turn up and support them. It’s very important to understand what’s going on here today. This is about these seedlings it’s all about planting more of these. We plant about $7 million a year now year in and year out every winter but we need to increase that. We need about another 4 million a year to go in around Australia. The great thing is that Australia’s political parties have acknowledged that we have a chronic shortage of timber and a growing problem in this country and we have a $2 billion trade deficit in timber products and now we are having to supply about a quarter of our house frames for example from overseas because we haven’t been planting enough trees to support our own domestic growth. We don’t think that is satisfactory. The good thing from our point of view as we get close to the election is that the Government and the opposition have both agreed that we need another 400,000 hectares around Australia over 10 years. They also believe as we do that we should do that in key regions and that’s why we are so pleased to be here today as Joel and Mike announce that this hub, this Tumut Tumbarumba regional area would get a $1million of support so parties believe that we need to do the next growth phase for forestry in regional areas so we give them full ticks for that. Here’s the problem though. We can’t just plant trees by hoping they get planted. The trees behind me are going into house frames. Half the weight of that tree is stored carbon. So it’s inexplicable to us that forestry has been left out of carbon payments up to this point and at this stage in the campaign, only Labor have agreed that in the future that forestry trees as oppose to just environmental planting will also be able to participate in Australia’s carbon markets. Those markets will be vital if we are to see the growth of our industry and we are going to get these trees in the ground, which will then deliver – they are not just trees just for picnics – they will deliver downstream jobs and growth for our regional communities.
JOURNALIST: Joel, I’m just wondering, with the water rule will this – I’ve talked to a lot of local stakeholders and I’ve heard there’s not enough land, we need more land for plantations. Will this water rule address that issue?
FITZGIBBON: We can’t make more land but we can make more land available and the market will determine where planting occurs ultimately but what we are trying to do is lower the investment hurdle and trying to make it more profitable to plant trees in the ground so we can grow jobs in the local region. The carbon payment you will receive by the removal of the water rule will make that investment more attractive, cause more trees to be planted and therefore more jobs in the region.
JOURNALIST: Do you think voters will be able to see the difference between the two policies?
FITZGIBBON: The water rule can be quite complex, but at the end of the day it’s a pretty simple proposition. At the moment to get the carbon income for plantings you can only grow trees where they are not good at growing. We’re going to change that and we going to allow people to grow trees in the right place and the right sort of trees at the right scale and that will improve the profitability of plantations and in turn will create jobs right throughout the value chain.
KELLY: I might add to that. The people of this region are well and truly aware of the importance of the timber industry and they are well and truly of the imperativeness of its growth. What we have seen under the Coalition Government is the stark decline in the availability of plantation timber in this country. That’s just unsustainable and it’s unacceptable. What Joel has done is his three point plan for removing the water rule problem and creating a timber hub here but importantly to get more plantation we need investment and to do that our carbon farming initiatives will make it possible for investors to earn money from plantations from day one, not just the 12 or 25 or 35 year mark. That is what will get investment money flowing into this industry to address the downturn in plantation resource. It will be thanks to Joel that we will fix that problem and people in this region will understand perfectly because their lives depend upon it.
FITZGIBBON: In the end it all comes down to this. The Labor Party has a plan to grow the forest industry and forest jobs here in the region. Our opposition Scott Morrison has no such plan. If you want to grow jobs in the region, work with me and Mike Kelly. We have a plan to grow jobs in the forestry sector. Scott Morrison has no such plan.
JOURNALIST: With the million dollars funding, is that just a one off $1million or is that spaced out over a certain amount of years?
FITZGIBBON: It’s an initial investment to run the pilot program and to further develop the very good work the soft wood working group has already done so you can be sure that a Shorten Labor Government will be standing with the group giving them the money they need in the future to further develop that plan so we can grow sustainable jobs here in the region.
CROWE: Well we have already talked about R&D and I was outlining to Joel this morning what some of R&D priorities might be. Certainly that’s in the areas of tree breeding, soil science, pest and disease management and we believe that we could for example breed varieties of pinus radiata that would be better performers and very tolerant of the sort of climate change we are currently facing with maybe lower rainfall in some of the regions or more irregular rainfall. That’s just one example. On the skills development front, our first task once we get going will be to do a full analysis of the skills that are needed in the industry to keep it performing at absolute top level. We want to be able to train younger people in skills like operating our highly sophisticated mechanical harvesting machines. Chainsaws are old hat. Leading edge technology is in our plantations out there every day. We need to keep it that way. As well as that we need to continue with high levels of environmental management in our plantation. We are already at top level. We need to keep our R&D running so we can stay at that level.
JOURNALIST: Peter I believe you made a submission to the government for this area to be given hub status. Do you know what the latest is with that submission?
CROWE: The latest situation is that Senator Colbeck announces last Wednesday night that we would be declared a hub but there has been no commitment from the government with funding it hence my comments earlier on. The difference is Joel says we will be a hub and it comes with money so we are delighted on the one hand and disappointed on the other.
FITZGIBBON: More importantly the Morrison Government declared it would prioritise four hubs across the country and did not include this region in those four so this region has been excluded under this proposal. We will put the money immediately in which is necessary to get the hub moving.