Huge challenges for NSW native forest industry dominate the landscape as March election looms

AS we head to the March 2023 NSW state election, the challenge for the hardwood industry is to concisely outline its case for continuing native forestry on Crown estates.

Thu 19 Jan 23


The native forest industry is the target and the environmental NGOs will not rest until they have the same result in NSW as was achieved with Labor governments in Victoria and Western Australia.

In the case of Victoria and WA, closure came in the second term after the pre-election.

The ALP case is always the leakage of green preferences in key seats and seats likely to be held or taken by the Greens in inner-city Sydney.

Disaffected conservative voters have thrown support behind the Teals – the emerging independent party at the federal election in 2022 – based on their view that the conservative parties have stopped listening to their constituents and do not reflect the community values of today.

Maree McCaskill… the argument about transitioning away from native forests to plantations is a great example of the disconnected.

Interestingly, the Teals failed to consolidate on the federal gains made in the Victorian state election. On analysis, the Teal primary vote is low but benefits from high preference flows. In NSW there are already Teal candidates targeting key Liberal held seats but the campaign at ground level is again different to the federal election.

The challenge for the conservative government is to keep the very public factional fighting to a minimum – whether it is costume party uniforms or gender quotas.

The public perception of a tired coalition government fighting for a fourth term compared with a fresh-faced opposition which has rarely put a foot wrong due to internal party discipline will be a deciding factor. That said, some of the long-term ALP members of parliament have either lost pre-selection or have been removed from the ticket … so the face of the ALP has changed. 

Forestry is a small target for either party compared with health and education. Thus, it can be easily traded between left and right factions and any Liberal and National Party deals. The debate is about emotion not science or facts and the priority will be the city seats.

The ALP has had a focus on jobs and on-shore manufacturing and now it would appear that can be sacrificed if a key seat can be held or gained.

The other dimension to this NSW election is the seats held by the Shooters Fishers and Farmers in the western division are now independent due to a split before Christmas 2022 in the party over the tenure of the current leader Robert Borzak. Many in rural NSW who perhaps might have changed allegiance at this election, driven by the failure of the Nationals to support people and industries hit by natural disasters, will have second thoughts as the talent pool within the SFF implodes.

The environmental NGOs are masters of the emotional campaign and have consolidated their funds by trading off saving species in “peril” such as koalas, gliders and key parrot species. Their skill is to simply follow a message that almost everything in the forest is destined for extinction and unless drastic action is taken all is lost.

The average member of the community – even in rural NSW – has no idea or understanding the complexities of harvesting in native forests and will never read about it to find out. They will accept the messaging as truth because a ‘scientifically qualified person’ says so.

The pubic still don’t understand the issues around climate change – both the debate and the science – so do not connect construction in timber with the issues of carbon, pollution, global warming and so on.

The argument about transitioning away from native forests to plantations is a great example of the disconnected. Very few in the general public or political class has asked the question – where is the replacement land going to come from to provide the 1 million ha operated by state forest agencies now. That land has to be largely in areas now occupied by state forests so those species can grow and thrive and it will take 40-60 years to transition. You can’t place it all in the western division among the cypress and red gums.

With most of the NSW electors unable to grasp forest practices, tag lines of transition to plantations and save our threatened species is very palatable.

The only consolation is that there a far more pressing issues than forestry to grasp by an ALP government if elected in the first term.

The playbook so far is the second term. If that is the case then the industry has fewer than four years to develop and run a clear message.

Polling is not always right and industry pundits who predicted the end of the Andrews’ government in Victoria last November were dramatically proven wrong.

The polls were tight in NSW at the end of 2022, but most of the political commentators predict an ALP win and that will be a huge challenge for the native forest industry in the first term of government.


  • Maree McCaskill

    Maree McCaskill, is the CEO of Timber NSW. Maree has considerable experience in managing peak industry bodies and member organisations, representing members at state and federal levels.


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