The new WA Forestry Minister Jackie Jarvis has been left a mess to clean up by her predecessor Dave Kelly.
Unfortunately, she has at most a few short months to sort it out before the remaining industry collapses from government neglect.
Ms Jarvis has just met with the Sustainable Forest Industries Roundtable (SFIR) to answer questions to help guide the small businesses wanting to continue to use sustainable and locally sourced native timber in the wake of the McGowan ‘logging ban’. SFIR represent a range of users of timber from furniture manufacturers, firewood and landscape supplies, heritage buildings and traditional sawn timber uses.
Despite Ms Jarvis’ 2½ years of experience as a forestry commissioner, she had no answers for the timber businesses struggling to understand the tovernment’s plan. In the 18 months since it announced the logging ban, the government has failed to prepare a pathway to the future for the remaining industry players.
Jackie Jarvis, as minister for both small business and forestry, was left floundering to answer basic questions like what timber will be supplied and when will contracts be settled; she tried to throw it back on the representatives on how much timber they wanted.
One would have thought that the Forest Products Commission, as required by its Act, would have furnished the minister with the necessary data on the future timber supply and demand. Without a properly planned and communicated strategy for timber resource supply, no small business can develop a ‘plan for the future’. And without a business plan, no bank will lend money to the state’s small businesses.
If this continues everything will stop.
Alas, the minister was left a roadmap to a dead-end by the hapless former minister who seemed intent on exiting viable businesses rather than rebuilding a smaller sustainable industry. The SFIR gave the minister a range of ideas upon which to stabilise the sector, but she only now has less than 11 months to act before the music stops.
Why is this important? Didn’t Premier McGowan pronounce the end of native forest logging in 2023? Well, actually, no. We know politicians can be a bit slippery when looking for the sound bite. The ‘end of native forest logging’ could actually result in 600,000 to 800,000 tonnes of native timber being produced by a combination of forest clearing for bauxite mining and ‘eco-thinning’ as indicated in, but not committed by, the draft forest plan. This represents a great opportunity for Ms Jarvis to rebuild a new timber industry based on regrowth.
Twenty years after the end of old growth logging this lastest sharp turn to the left could provide a genuine ‘win-win’.
Once again, the problem is the lack of any detail from government. Businesses wanting to map out their future have no information … neither the draft forest plan nor the minister able to provide detail on the size or quality of logs to be available. Logs could be so small that they are entirely unsuitable for furniture, flooring or even firewood.
If the minister is agile enough to skirt the immobility of public sector inertia to create an environment with appropriate planning and security for new investment, then a new smaller industry could emerge fully using this resource. If not, this wood could all go to waste or just be exported to support overseas businesses such as those making woodchips or burning small material to produce bioenergy.
The clock has been ticking since the Premier’s details-free announcement. As a result of this lack of direction experienced people and businesses are leaving the industry in droves. This a clear result of the scorched earth policy under its previous minister where there was no strategy for using the wood that will continue to be harvested.
If the people drain continues a future sustainable timber industry in WA will lack experienced operators. It is already proving difficult for the government to meet current timber supply contracts due to a lack of truck drivers and harvesting machine operators. One sawmiller received no wood in January, and some firewood retailers are again tearing their hair out due to poor supply.
Now is the time for injecting some hope into the remaining industry players. Wood is a sustainable, natural product and minister Jarvis should stand up for its use as she was happy to do so when she was employed as a forestry commissioner.
So far the government has used the forest plan as a fig leaf to hide its own lack of industry planning. However, as has happened with the ‘logging ban’, forest plans are shaped by policy decisions. If the government had the foresight to announce a commitment to a level of wood production and usable log specifications from mine sites and ecological thinning, these critical parameters would be rubber stamped into a new forest plan.
The SFIR suggested a number of actions that could be taken by the Minister. Actions that should be supported include:
• Reserving all native timber for local processing and use ahead of exports and industrial processors.
• Publish and stick to a timeline for the wood sale process, and start it now.
• Define the levels of future production to give harvesting contractors confidence they will have future work. This should include committed minimum areas for eco-thinning
• Provide wood to industry now from eco-thinning to industry for trials.
• Provide a resource guarantee for sawmilling so that wood be supplied for heritage buildings like the Fremantle Arts Centre.
First and foremost, the Minister needs to insist that a roadmap for the industry is developed through consultation and then published. An industry adjustment strategy should be included, funded and securely in place to enable the wood produced from the forest plan to be used by WA small businesses.
The new minister needs to show real leadership – to show that sustainable use of natural resources has meaning and isn’t just another empty statement.
Editor’s note: Prior to entering politics, Jackie Jarvis started her career in the finance industry before moving to Margaret River in 1998 and establishing a commercial vineyard and livestock farming enterprise with her husband. They launched the Jarvis Estate wine brand in 2002.
As a farmer and regional businesswoman, Ms Jarvis has a long career advocating for communities in the bush through her work as CEO of the WA Rural, Regional and Remote Women’s Network, as well as Commissioner for the Forest Products Commission.