Blueprint Drowning in Its Own Think Tank on Forest Harvesting

Opinion: Blue Sky Thinking Gone Mad - Carbon Markets More Profitable Without Hardwoods

Tue 09 May 23


‘Branching Out’, the latest report on NSW native forestry by the BluePrint Institute, was launched on April 26 and released to the media with the sub-editorial line ‘Report Outlines Economic Benefit of Ending Native Forest Logging’.

The Blueprint Institute is an Australian think tank that “curates real conversations about issues facing the next generation through evidence-based research consistent with market principles and informed by rigorous economic analysis.”

CEO David Cross said BluePrint was the only ‘think tank’ in Australia with a liberal philosophical stance. This stance remained undefined. However, it was defined by a University of Sydney Professor on the panel who had no sympathy with the Liberal Party philosophy. 

A copy of the report is available from Analysis & Policy Observatory
The report has two key points
  • The first is the annual reports of Forestry Corporation of NSW reveal the hardwood division does not make a profit and, therefore, should be closed given the number of people engaged in the division. That closure is warranted as more money can be made from carbon sequestration. 
  • The second point was that the ‘new’ and the way of the future carbon markets made it more profitable not to harvest hardwood.

The simplicity of this approach is astounding, especially from an institute that presents itself as a smart, intellectually-based powerful think tank of the millennium future.

Scrutiny of the ‘new way of the future’ carbon markets is growing. Footage courtesy of @FinancialTimes

The simplicity of the approach was compounded by the former NSW Minister for Planning and the Environment, also on the panel, stating early in the commentary that forestry was a very complex issue – which it is.

The word ‘deconstruct’ was used twice in the commentary about the report. It was stated that we all lived in a ‘deconstructing’ world. The comment was also made that forestry was one of the ‘masculine extractive industries’ that had to have its myths and legends altered to save the environment. 

This set the tenor for the discussion.

The report can be easily challenged once the implied clichés of ‘brave new world’ and ‘change for change’s sake is the way forward’ running though the commentary about the report are set aside.

The employment figures for the NSW native forest industry were set at just under 600. Yet, when privately asked if the 2023 Ernest and Young Report had been seen, the economist for the group replied they had seen it … “but the report was unbelievable’.

In February 2023, Wood Central broke the release of the Ernst + Young report looking at the Great Koala National Park.
The engineers of the report are silent on any of this.

The BluePrint Institute CEO said that the working models were not in the report. So the question is – why wasn’t there an explanation of the modeling?

The report is silent on the economic and environmental impacts of product substitution. If Australia has no native hardwood industry, then hardwood products from overseas will be imported.

Domestically, with the closure of native forestry in Western Australia and Victoria, the Australian substitution product will likely come from NSW or Tasmania. 

BluePrint Institute CEO Cross says the next report on native forestry will focus on Tasmania. 

So where do we find an alternate supply for Australia’s hardwood timber? 

Currently, it is Southeast Asia.  What is the environmental and carbon cost of obtaining timber from unregulated countries with deforestation-engaging industries?

Footage courtesy of @BBCEarth

None of the environmental high priests will answer this. It is as if Australia is in its environmental silo called “Planet Australia.”

The Australian native forest industry has supplied railway sleepers and utility poles, apart from construction and high-quality products that the building industry needs.  

The railway sleepers and utility poles will need to be made from concrete or other manufactured components.  What is the carbon cost of such products? How does this carbon cost compare to replacement products that capture carbon? 

The report’s authors are silent. 

The only commentary made is of carbon in a financial context. Not an environmentally sustainable approach that compares natural carbon capture products with manufactured items.

The report shows no full comparative carbon cycle analysis was taken.

The institute lauds native forest plantations as the future. A great idea, originally promoted in the 1970s by the Australian Liberal Party. 

It did not fly then for the same reason it is not an option in 2023. 

The first question that needs to be answered is where is the land available that will suit the growing conditions for Australian native forests? The answer is that suitable land is already growing native forests or is in agricultural use. 

Surely promoters of the report don’t think that the solution is to clear-fell current native forests to establish hardwood plantations which will have a 40-60 growth cycle before harvest.  

No-one in support of native forests suggests this, but it seems the environmental warriors under 40 years of age, using their logic, do!

The private sector is not going to lock up agricultural land for 60 years with no return. The income tax system of Australia does not contemplate sixty-year cropping as it operates on an annual calendar. 

Footage courtesy of @TedX

Without an annual income, a tree grower cannot gain annual deductions for expenses. You can in New Zealand. but not Australia. The report is silent on any of this. But to be fair, all other reports on closing native forestry have also ignored these issues.

The chairman of the BluePrint Institute is a former chair of Macquarie Bank. We wonder if a report with such omissions would have passed muster at the ‘millionaire’s factory’. 

At the risk of being labelled cynical, it was acknowledged at the launch that the CEO of the Blueprint Institute was the former chief of staff to the former Minister for the Environment who, as noted, was on the panel at the launch. 

Post the BluePrint Institute launch, comments were that reports such as this using the carbon economic future to recommend deconstruction of an industry for environmental benefit is the new way to pre-selection of a safe parliamentary seat. 

In the past, an aspiring Liberal MP would bang the drum of small business, but nowadays, it’s different.  This might explain why the report has such a narrow approach. 

Frankly, the report should have ‘draft’ stamped on it.

A revealing comment made from the former Minister for the Environment and Planning, when asked if he thought the environmental movement operated on ‘fads’, replied with an emphatic ‘yes’.  He said he saw that the environment not as a series of silos but one all-encompassing subject. 

This is where the BluePrint Institute’s report ‘Branching Out’ truly fails.  It fails to survey the full picture to reach its conclusions.  The impression left was that the report is merely a desk audit and not one of its authors, certainly not the CEO, had ever walked into a working native forest or a sawmill or a utility company. 



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