The latest ‘announcement’ by Western Australia’s Minister for Forestry Jackie Jarvis shows just how lazy politicians are getting.
It’s a lot easier to go onto rewind mode than to do the hard yards of rebuilding a crushed timber industry. By repeating past press releases and tired talking points, Jarvis demonstrates she is devoid of the necessary focus on the future.
She has often been in the local media, handing out money to all sorts of non-forestry community groups and recreation activities – acting as if this were her real job.
Handing out free cash is easy, but it’s just part of the illusion that she seems to be doing something. What’s left of the timber industry is still waiting for a road map to give some hope for the future. Everything the Minister says seems to deny the possibility of such hope. You’d think she was the Minister (against) Forestry.
The hyperbole of announcements went beyond the normal; Jarvis is now claiming that planting pine trees today will somehow help the housing crisis. Doesn’t she know trees take around 30 years to mature and be useful for housing construction? Or does she just expect the homeless to sit and wait?
The real crisis is about to hit the timber industry. Now that there is no guarantee of one single log coming from the native forest, it’s not just the timber mills that will suffer.
The softwood sector relies on at least 70,000 cubic metres of karri veneer logs each year to balance the shortfall in pine sawlogs.
Yet the Minister seems willing to ignore the critical role the native forest has played in keeping hundreds of softwood workers in jobs when she refuses to make any plans for supplying wood.
The government’s ‘(un)just transition strategy’ is only a bucket of money to pay industries and employees to go away with a bit of pork barrelling in a few rural seats.
There is, in fact, no strategy for the industry to undergo transition, and the absence of any plan shows the Minister bereft of ideas with little if any, support from her agency, the Forest Products Commission.
She has claimed that ecological thinning is the way of the future, and even though the trials have been underway for more than two years, the FPC refuse to release any information that might be helpful to the industry.
The industry needs realistic options to help it start to consider how the future might look, but now, two years after the announced change, there has been no information … with less than 100 days to go until the new arrangements are in place.
David Utting, the convenor of the Sustainable Forest Industries Roundtable, is frustrated.
”We put positive suggestions to Minister Jarvis in January, including trials for customers with the wood from ecological thinning. Nothing has eventuated,” he said.
“We are no wiser as to the future than when this nightmare started two years ago.”
As the sand quickly tumbles through the hourglass, Jarvis remains silent.
The EPA report is yet to be finalised, with appeals still being considered, and there is doubt that the new Forest Plan will be ready to operate from January 1, 2024.
According to EPA proposals, ecological thinning won’t start until at least June next year because of the need for extensive consultation and a mini-environmental impact statement to be prepared on every area to be thinned.
Here’s another case of green tape used to stifle sustainable industries.
With the lack of direction and shadows darkening the path to the next Forest Plan, one must wonder whether there will be any processors still standing and able to use the wood to be produced.
The government claimed that ecological thinning is essential for managing forest health with the changing climate. But is this important enough for it to actually happen?
State Treasury has already rolled out massive subsidies (up to $36 million in 2023-24) for ecological thinning. So, there is little doubt the program is unsustainable and will eventually disappear.
With ministers like Jackie Jarvis and Dave Kelly saying they will stand up for the timber industry, you can be sure there will be plenty of talking but little action.