25 October 2022


This evening it gives me great pleasure to be speaking about the much-anticipated UN climate change conference being held in Egypt, better known as COP27. We know that tackling climate change requires international cooperation. The Albanese Labor government’s commitment to reducing our carbon emissions gives us a legitimate seat at the table at these multinational and multilateral forums. We are fortunate to have some great Australian representatives at COP27, including the National Farmers’ Federation and the Australian Forest Products Association, who will promote climate-smart farming with forestry at the conference.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, has highlighted that many of our responses to climate change can be applied without competing for land, which is often a source of tension when we are talking about climate change solutions. The IPCC highlights that sustainable forest management is one of these solutions. This does not require new land use. We know that trees store carbon, and so the process of using timber products from sustainably managed forests for construction and other industries stores carbon both in our infrastructure and in the trees that we regrow after they are harvested.

The Australian forestry industry is a world leader in sustainable timber production, and this should be a wake-up call to some climate change activists that the forestry industry is an important part of, and an important ally to, our fight against climate change. Indeed, one of the most damning things that we could do is reduce forestry activity here in Australia. Rather than protect the environment, this would increase pollution and habitat loss as timber products would be sourced from far less sustainable forest industries in other countries.

The Forests and Climate Leaders’ Partnership, established recently at the United Nations General Assembly, also highlighted that, when we are looking at land use for climate change solutions, afforestation has to be part of that conversation. Afforestation is the process of growing a new forest on land that previously had no trees. This approach reflects both growing demand for timber products and the fact that as forests grow they naturally remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in their trees. The UN’s Forests and Climate Leaders’ Partnership clearly stated that, if the international community is going to meet its climate targets, there needs to be an expansion of the forest estate across the globe.

We cannot ignore this here in Australia. I’ve spoken in the Senate several times on this subject. I recently went out to Hayfield in Gippsland in my home state of Victoria to visit Australian Sustainable Hardwoods, better known as ASH, with our Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Murray Watt, and the local MP, Darren Chester. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting ASH many times. It is exactly the sort of regional business that we want to see succeed in the modern Australian economy, making a positive contribution in the fight against climate change; creating good, secure union jobs; training people on site; and giving back to the local community.

We could see these reports from the IPCC and the Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership as a clear signal that Australia is in a strong position to seize opportunities in forestry, and, in doing so, fight climate change and create well-paying jobs. I’m sure we will see this highlighted by the NFF and AFPA at COP 27.

Earlier in the week, the NFF CEO, Tony Mahar, said that adding trees at the right scale and location to primary farm enterprises can be a climate solution that ticks many boxes, and he is right. This has the potential to improve biodiversity and help solve Australia’s timber supply crisis. By ensuring that more of the timber we use comes from our own sustainable forestry industry, we can ensure that our homes and infrastructure are storing carbon and we can encourage the planting of more forests. Importantly, we’re also ensuring that this economic activity is supporting good Australian jobs.

I think it’s an important theme that’s emerging here from these international forums and reports. It’s what I’ve been hearing directly from both farmers and those in industry, and the many workers. Agriculture and forestry are essential to reducing our emissions, and these industries must be seen as allies, not adversaries, in our fight against climate change. For too long the politics of those on the left and those on the right have tried to argue that the interests of farmers and workers are not compatible when we try to take action on climate change. But these kinds of arguments just don’t stack up, and they place a very narrow view and political interests above the interests of working Australians and regional communities. Pitting workers, farmers and environmentalists against one another, and regional communities against cities, might get a few reactions on social media, dare I say it, or a lot of cheers at a party conference, but doesn’t actually achieve a lot at the end of the day.

The task of a responsible government is to bring Australians together to confront these challenges that we all face. Indeed, this is the approach of the Albanese Labor government. Unlike those opposite, and all those on the left, we are focused on bringing people together and solving problems—not blaming one group or blaming others for not achieving what they promised to do. We don’t forget the one billion trees that the coalition promised at the last election and the election before that. But they did not plant one single tree. We know that the approach Australians want is for their leaders to work together. After almost a decade of division by those opposite, the Australian people are tired of being told that the problems are just far too hard to solve. We know there is more division in the coalition party room than there is in our society.

The vast majority of Australians want us to stop playing politics and to start solving our climate change problems. That’s why it’s so encouraging to see representatives from the Australian agriculture and forestry sectors working together and putting forward innovative approaches on the world stage. These are approaches for reducing emissions while providing opportunities to many, many people. And we are here and listening to similar approaches from environmental groups. For instance: Landcare Australia is building capacity to support farmers to participate in the carbon market, with a view to aligning projects with the biodiversity market that the Albanese government announced plans to develop earlier this year.

We can see that Australians are ready to step up, to work together to tackle climate change and to seize on those opportunities. After almost a decade of wasted opportunities and failed energy policies, they finally have a government that will bring people together to solve these big problems. I want to wish all the Australian delegates at COP27 all the very best as they hold their heads up high, now that Australia has a government that takes climate change seriously and is committed to working with the international community to lower emissions.