This year ends with the smoke of bush fires choking Sydney and the southern parts of Queensland. There are also fires in regional Victoria.
We can only hope that the fact that they can’t see the top of the Harbour Bridge might cause our city-centric cousins and politicians to pause and consider how important ‘managing’ our bush landscapes is. How important our forest agency personnel, sawmill workers and contractors are. How vital our heavy machinery is to create fire breaks and roads to allow fires to be contained.
This very difficult summer is deep in our hearts, and our thoughts, support and compassion go out to the thousands in our industry involved in fighting these fires. My son is currently deployed on the NSW North Coast with our local Rural Fire Service, so we know as a family the concern you are feeling. My hope is that when the fires are under control, we might be able to have a more sensible conversation with our city-based communities and city-based politicians about native forestry in Australia.
My fear, however, is they still may not listen and will require an even greater wake-up call. Witness the madness of the political decision by the Victorian state Labor government. A few weeks ago, it announced the closure of all native forestry harvesting over the coming decade. When asked about the reduction in firefighting capacity, the Premier told parliament, ‘there will be money for bulldozers!’ One wonders who will operate the D9s. And in NSW there are already calls for a ‘moratorium’ (which would I imagine go on indefinitely) on forestry to give koalas more room to move as they flee from the fires in the, yes, national parks. These things would be very demoralising if it weren’t for one major positive – the unity of the whole industry.
Native forestry, plantations, softwood, hardwood, pulp and paper companies have all come together to support us at this time. The vast majority of our companies in Australia are members of AFPA and in the last few months all have stood shoulder to shoulder with those facing the pointy end of ridiculous and unscientific policy and politics.
This unity is worth remembering when other sectors face other issues in times to come.
In our political battles, and the fact that we can walk into a minister’s office with effectively a $24 billion industry and 80,000 jobs behind us, gives us real leverage.
We do end the year with some positive developments which I should mention. Our plantation growth strategy which has been running for six years now is coming to fruition. The Morrison government is continuing to deliver on the ‘one billion trees for jobs and growth’ plan. Regional forest industry hubs are coming into being in various parts of the country, each industry steering group provided with $1 million to invest in planning and education to ensure that plantation development occurs with widespread community support and with the infrastructure and roading needs for example pre-identified.
Forest industries also continue to have strong bi-partisan support in federal parliament. This is vital as it gives us the greatest chance of successful arguing for positive policies in both native forestry and our plantation based forest industries. The challenge clearly is to see this national compact replicated around the nation at a state level. The attitude of different state governments and oppositions is really quite inconsistent with their federal counterparts – and even at times with each other.
AFPA is almost 10 years old; it operates as a strong voice for the full value chain only because of the support of so many around Australia. Thank you one and all.
In 2020 you can be assured that the AFPA team, in partnership with our fellow industry associations, will be continuing to vigorously and passionately defend your businesses and sectors against bad reflex politics and we will keep pursuing better policy settings which will enable you to grow and prosper wherever you are in Australia. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.
[Upon burning 20% of Australia’s forests, the bushfires of 2019-20 forced mass evacuations, created severe air quality concerns and had a staggering economic impact. Analysts projected the total costs of the fires to be in the neighbourhood of $70 billion-plus, a figure that includes provisions for fighting the fires, reconstruction, loss of tourism and other variables].