The Australian forest industry fears the Albanese government’s new national environment standards could end native harvesting in two more states.
As revealed exclusively by Matthew Denholm in the Australian, Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek is drafting the new standards as part of a revamp of environmental law and has vowed to apply them to Regional Forest Agreements.
RFAs are federal-state deals that have effectively enjoyed an exemption from national environment laws on the basis that reserves and forest practice requirements are sufficient.
In effect they are long-term plans for the sustainable management and conservation of Australia’s native forests.
In total, there are 10 RFA’s in four states covering commercial native forestry regions – five in Victoria, three in New South Wales and one each in Western Australia and Tasmania.
The native timber industry – already facing bans in Victoria and Western Australia – is sweating on the detail, fearing new standards could “destroy” the remaining native forest management in NSW and Tasmania.
As reported by Wood Central, forest wars have emerged in both states, with environmental activists and industry clashing over forest access in Tasmania and NSW politicians pushing native foresters into cannabis plantations.
Whilst activists are “hopeful” that the laws will further protect endangered species and high-conservation forests, Australian Forest Products Association CEO Joel Fitzgibbon has warned against “misinformation from extreme activist groups”.
Mr Fitzgibbon, a former federal minister and colleague of Ms Plibersek, warns that curtailing native forestry will threaten the country’s “sovereign capability” to build homes and maintain a range of timber-based industries.
In February, Fitzgibbon, a former Agriculture and Forestry Minister, spoke of the importance of the “whole value chain to Australia’s economic independence.”
According to industry, Australia now imports more than $5 billion of timber yearly and needs more materials to build houses.
“Twenty-five per cent of our housing construction timber now comes from other countries,” Mr Fitzgibbon told The Australian.
“The big risk,” Mr Fitzgibbon says, “is much of that product will come from jurisdictions that don’t enforce the environmental and labour standards we do here in Australia.”
Wood Central understands that all timber sourced from Australian state forests is certified under voluntary third-party certification schemes (PEFC, FSC or both).
Third-party certification promotes responsible forest management, protects against deforestation and supports biodiversity.
PEFC (9%) and FSC (4%) collectively account for around 13% of the world’s total forest area, with a growing amount of timbers used in furniture and structural timbers coming from Russia and Belarus via Eurasian ports.
Last year the Green Building Council of Australia assessed the credibility of Australia’s FSC and PEFC schemes (known as Responsible Wood).
It determined that the standards were amongst the best in the world.
“The industry understands and appreciates the government’s political pressures, and we are working with it to help Australians better understand the increasing role the sector can play in meeting our climate change aspirations and our capacity to remain a country that makes things at home,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
Sources have told the Australian that drafts of the new standard were encouraging for conservationists.
Conservation groups are cautiously optimistic.
“It could make logging under the RFAs nigh impossible,” said Wilderness Society Tasmania forest campaigner Alice Hardinge.
Ms Plibersek said the government recognised the need for timber products and jobs but was determined to reform “broken” environmental laws.
“We know native forests are valuable for their carbon storage and native habitats including for endangered animals like koalas, Leadbeater’s possums and greater gliders,” Ms Plibersek told The Australian.
“We are committed to reforming Australia’s environmental laws,” Ms Plibersek said, “these laws are broken.”
“They don’t protect our environment, and they don’t work for business.”
Victoria’s exit from native forest logging in November has forced Tasmania to review its forest contract policies.
As reported by Wood Central, displaced Victorian contractors are now moving to Tasmania en-masse with fears that the interstate migration is undercutting local businesses.
In a media statement, Felix Ellis, Tasmania’s Resources Minister, requested that Sustainable Timb pause all tenders and review southern haulage contracts.
“I have asked Sustainable Timber Tasmania (STT) to provide urgent advice on how the Tasmanian Government can best support our forestry industry in the wake of (Victorian Premier) Dan Andrews’ decision to slam the door shut on their native forest sector.”
According to the Australian, log trucks have been spotted on the Spirit of Tasmania passenger ferries taking native forest logs from Tasmania to Victorian mills.
The Wilderness Society and the Bob Brown Foundation called on the Andrews government to ban imports of native timber from NSW and Tasmania.