Statements By Senators

10 May 2023

Today I rise to talk about a report which was released by Net Zero Australia of its analysis, which recognises how forestry and agriculture can help Australia’s fight against climate change. It is great to see my good friend and co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Forestry and Forest Products here in the chamber today, Senator Duniam, who is a very great supporter of forestry, particularly in his home state of Tasmania.

I talk about this today because it’s important to raise this issue here in the Senate. Forestry does get a bad rap by some in this place, but, thankfully, there are a number of senators who do support the important role that forestry plays not just in terms of the environment but also in terms of jobs and the role it has in many regional communities. And as senators rightly remind me when we have these debates: Where are you going to get your timber for your furniture, for your floorboards, for your decking and other parts of the building?

Forestry is the economic bedrock for so many regional communities, as I have said countless times in this place. It employs around 80,000 Australians directly and another 100,000 indirectly and contributes $24 billion to the national economy every single year. Jobs in the forestry industry are good jobs. They provide security and decent wages, affording workers and their families the dignity and the respect that they deserve. I’ve had the pleasure to meet many great people in this industry who are so passionate about the work that they do in terms of timber and paper products. Shortly after his appointment as the minister for forestry, Senator Watt travelled down to my home state in Victoria to visit a great mill there, Australian Sustainable Hardwoods, in Heyfield in the Gippsland region, alongside the local MP Darren Chester.

Australian Sustainable Hardwoods is exactly the type of business that we should all be supporting. It supports a very large number of apprentices, and all the management team started out on the shop floor. It’s a great role model for many businesses in the sector. The business provides good jobs and has a respectful relationship, not just with the unions but also with the local communities, by sponsoring many local events, as we saw earlier this year with the Heyfield Timber Festival.

Unfortunately, there are some at that end of the chamber who like to undermine this great industry and the businesses and communities that rely on businesses like ASH. They want to destroy forestry, destroy these jobs, put many families on the brink and, sadly, destroy many regional communities whose economies are built around the industry. They claim that this destruction is necessary in order to save the planet. They say that, because of climate change, we need to kill off these jobs. But what they don’t realise and what they choose to ignore is that the forestry industry needs to be bigger, not smaller, if we are serious about reducing our emissions. This has been confirmed in numerous reports and studies—most recently, in the Net Zero Australia report that I mentioned at the start of my speech. The Net Zero Australia report highlights the important role that the industry plays in fighting against climate change. It makes clear that we need to focus more on planting trees, on creating forests, to meet our emissions goals if we are to get there by 2050. To quote the report: ‘Land use, land-use change and forestry account for a net sink of carbon dioxide.’ This highlights the climate benefits of expanding the forest state.

The Net Zero Australia report adds to what we already know: as trees grow, they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert this into carbon to make wood. This is obviously beneficial to our efforts to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in our environment, and that is why we refer to timber as the most sustainable product that we can use, especially when we are building things like homes or other constructions. We desperately need to have a long supply of timber products in this country. Using timber products stores the carbon, and, in sustainably managed forests like Australia’s, a new tree is planted for every tree that is chopped down.

We need to build an estimated one million homes over the next five years. A strong forestry sector is essential to ensuring these homes are built sustainably and, more broadly, moving us to a much lower carbon economy. Let’s consider what would happen if the industry were to be shut down, like those across the chamber are seeking to do.