No Minister! How WA’s $151m Subsidy Dodges Forest Support

Green ideology has blinded Jackie Jarvis

Sun 07 Jan 24


Green ideology has blinded the WA Forestry Minister Jackie Jarvis from doing her main job – promoting the development of a sustainable local timber industry.

The minister’s odd mixture of statements suggests her focus is on preventing wood supply and suffocating any hope of transition for the remaining timber businesses.

In a bizarre twist, Jarvis has secured a massive subsidy of $151 million to thin the forests because she doesn’t want to commit to using the wood.

Environmental groups are very wary of ecological thinning, even though it was championed by former Greens WA leader Chrissy Sharp.

They reluctantly support thinning on the proviso that none of the wood is used.

Obediently, Jarvis has repeatedly stated that she will not guarantee wood supply to any business, including furniture, decking, flooring and firewood.

Western Australia was once home to a sustainable timber industry with high local processing and manufacturing levels.

Logs from the forest were fully used in a range of grades, providing high-quality furniture, joinery, flooring, structural timber, sleepers, firewood and charcoal. Even the bark and sawdust were used for landscaping and animal bedding, such as on chicken farms.

All this was swept away by a government ready to listen to the noise created by the greens rather than sound science, research and independent certification bodies.

The only exceptions allowed were wood from mine site clearing (the absurdity of mining considered more sustainable than forestry demonstrates the government’s hypocrisy) and ecological thinning (nominally to protect the forest from climate change).

The new plan is to thin up to 8000 hectares of forest and salvage wood from mine clearing.

This is likely to produce up to 600,000 tonnes of wood each year. The simplest and most cost-effective way is by setting up commercial arrangements to harvest and use the wood.

It would minimise any government financial contribution and place the minister in some difficulty as she must adhere to two mantras:

  • Ecological thinning is essential to save the forest.
  • Commercial forestry is terrible and must not be allowed back in the forest.

Fortunately, the WA Treasury has an embarrassment of riches at present, and Jarvis has secured $151 million of taxpayer funds to subsidise the ecological thinning program without making any promise to supply the timber industry.

To achieve the mantras, the second easiest way to thin the forest is to fall or poison the unwanted trees and leave them in the forest.

But this would create a massive fire hazard and doubtless outcry about the waste, thus making it politically unpalatable.

Instead, the minister has devised the most expensive way to do the thinning task.

Trees will be felled, logs cut and removed from the forest into large government stockpiles.

Stacks containing around 40,000 tonnes are already sequestered around the southwest.

This will be a massive logistical exercise involving double handing, contractors on expensive hourly rates and allowing sawlogs to deteriorate into firewood just so the minister can avoid the odium of supplying the timber industry on a sustainable basis.

Based on the minimal data available (there is an embargo on making this information available, and no cost-benefit analysis has been published), the minister’s harvesting system will cost between $5000 and $10,000 per hectare thinned.

This is a triumph for politics over commonsense.

A perfectly viable alternative has been put to the government but rejected as it didn’t fit into the narrow parameters of the Collie Future Fund.

The Southwest Timber Hub, a group comprising industry and government, put together a proposal for an integrated wood processing facility that could use all the wood from ecological thinning and pay for it.

The central part of this initiative was to establish a veneering plant using small regrowth logs to manufacture high-quality engineered wood products using the proven technology developed by 3RT.

This would allow the industry transition to meet two outcomes at a fraction of the cost proposed by the minister.

If the Jarvis program continues to thin the planned 80,000 ha of regrowth forest identified, it will cost up to $800 million.

Surely, it would be better to put this money into social programs or public housing, allowing the timber industry to thin the forest commercially at no cost to taxpayers.

The minister’s mantra is hard to fathom. She has been heard complaining that the native forest industry is not economical, yet she is happy to spend like a drunken sailor.

Transitioning from the logging industry to one based on promoting forest health should not mean the timber industry is shut out. Taxpayers and small businesses are the losers of this hardline approach.

  • The Sustainable Forest Industry Roundtable is a collective of persons interested in timber, the sustainable management of forests and plantations, and using wood as a renewable, low-carbon resource. SFIR promotes the development of local processing and wood manufacturing, supporting industries as a valuable part of a sustainable future.


  • Gavin Butcher

    Gavin Butcher is a former director at the WA Forest Products Commission. With a career in plantation and native forest management spanning more than 25 years, he is a specialist in the strategic, analytical and financial fields of forestry management. Mr Butcher holds a Bachelor of Science in Forestry and has lectured at Edith Cowan University.


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