7 September 2022

Statements By Senators

Tuesday of last week was National Forestry Day. As most people would know, forestry is an industry that I am not just very passionate about but that is very close to my heart, as are the communities that this industry supports right across Australia, particularly around the many regional communities in my home state of Victoria.

It is a great time to be talking about forestry, in the context of the Albanese Labor governments plan to tackle climate change and of the Jobs and Skills Summit from last week. I had the pleasure of returning to Australian Sustainable Hardwoods—or ASH, as it is commonly known—in Gippsland last month, accompanied by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Watt, and the local federal member for Gippsland, Darren Chester. ASH is Australia’s leading manufacture of timber products, and I have visited their impressive facility several times now. It was great to return with my good friend Senator Watt, as part of the government, and, of course, with Nationals MP Darren Chester.

Labor took a bold vision to the election. We have set ourselves the task of building a better future by bringing the country together. We know we need to invest in skills and to create good jobs, the very kind of jobs where you can support not just yourself but also your family and your community. ASH is a model employer. It sets an example for the kinds of businesses that we want to encourage in our economy and in regional communities. The company employs apprentices. It trains people right on the site and provides clear career pathways. All the managers at ASH have started on the shopfloor. They invest back into their business to create more opportunities: more opportunities for their workers and more opportunities for the local community. We heard about the growing number of women in their workforce, thanks to investments made in advanced manufacturing processes. It was great to meet with a number of the workers, particularly Kerry, one of the delegates on site and a long-standing employee of ASH.

They also have a very strong working relationship with the union—for the record, the CFMMEU. Their manufacturing division works very constructively with management, the workers and other members of the community. They work together to professionally address any issues on site, and both make an important effort to advance the forestry industry. They know that protecting and growing the industry is in the interests of the workers and of the business. ASH also supports the local community by providing funding for projects undertaken by groups like the local sporting clubs.

These practices of education, investment, cooperation and community engagement are exactly the kinds of practices that we were discussing just last week at the Jobs and Skills Summit. These are the principles that the Albanese government believes must underpin our economy. It is great to see this spirit of cooperation at individual businesses like ASH and, at a macro level, at the Jobs and Skills Summit. This is what it will take to tackle the big challenges that we are facing as a country, including addressing: labour shortages, wage stagnation, the rising cost of living and, of course, climate change.

Speaking of climate change, no discussion about our forestry industry would be complete without talking about the significant contribution it makes to reducing our carbon footprint. Tree plantations in Victoria store around 8.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, and this timber can be used instead of less sustainable products to manufacture products and buildings. Timber really is an ultimate renewable source. That’s what makes it even more infuriating when supposedly environmentally minded activists attack this industry. Antiforestry propaganda damages our ability to take meaningful action on climate change. Last year in this chamber I spoke about a paper that was published by the Centre of Policy Studies at Victoria University entitled Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050: What it means for the Australian economy, industries and regions. The paper showed that, in taking action to pursue net zero, our forestry industry would almost double in size. This clearly demonstrates that forestry is key to our low-emissions future. So not only are antiforestry activists disrupting the lives of our timber workers and hurting an industry that supports regional communities; they are making it more difficult for us to reach our climate goals. When Minister Watt, Darren Chester and I were being shown around ASH in Heyfield, we were looking at the kind of business that Australia’s future must be built on: a business providing good jobs, training and career pathways; a business that works collaboratively with the union movement; and also a business that, through its activities, is playing an important role in tackling climate change.

ASH is not only the only forestry related business that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting recently. I also spent some time at the Sorbent Paper Company mill in Box Hill, down the road from my electorate office. Sorbent has a really sophisticated operation, and it was great to get an understanding of how we produce a very sophisticated product, Australian toilet paper, our facial tissues and hand towels, which I’m sure all Australians were in desperate need of during the last couple of years because of the pandemic. I don’t think any of us in this place ever expected toilet paper to be such an important subject of public debate, but panic buying brought on by the pandemic ensured that toilet paper was all over the front pages and social media. It just shows us how important it is to have a very secure and sustainable supply chain in this country.

I enjoyed hearing from the Sorbent team about how they managed supply through this period, to keep a steady flow of stock to supermarkets and other retailers, and how they are continuing to innovate and produce Australian-made products. I want to thank Denise Campbell Burns, the National President of the CFMEU Manufacturing Division, for setting up this visit to the Sorbent facility. It was fantastic to meet many of the members and workers who were there, and who have kept this mill going for many, many years. Some of these workers have been there for decades actually, producing goods that Australians use every single day.

I think sometimes these sorts of jobs get lost in discussions about work, whether that’s in parliaments, the media or academia. We sometimes think of these long-term, secure jobs as things of the past, but these are job that we should all aim to build for the future. There’s no reason that well-paid, secure jobs with long-term career pathways have to be a thing of the past. ASH and Sorbent are already showing us that these jobs can and should exist in a modern Australia, good businesses and strong unions working together to create secure jobs.

I’m proud to be part of an Albanese Labor government that is committed to making sure that more of the jobs created in Australia look like these jobs. We’ll achieve this by resisting the politics of division. There are some that do want to pit businesses and unions against each other: big business against small business, workers against unions. But this is not the approach of this Labor government. Our approach was on display last week at the Jobs and Skills Summit. We have big challenges and big opportunities ahead of us to meet these challenges and seize on these opportunities so that we can all work together—governments, business, unions, civil society. And I’m encouraged by the spirit of cooperation that we have already seen around the country, whether it’s at businesses like ASH or Sorbent, at the 100 local jobs and skills summits held by the government right across Australia or, indeed, at the main event last week. I want to thank again Minister Watt, for visiting Gippsland; Darren Chester, for showing us around his great electorate; as well as the CFMEU Manufacturing Division and the Sorbent Paper Company for organising that visit in Box Hill some weeks ago.