Opinion: Greenies Refuse to See the Forestry for the Trees

Australian Forest Products Association Chair Joel Fitzgibbon reacts to the Federal Court RFA judgement.

Fri 12 Jan 24


In the wake of the Federal Court’s recent decision on native forestry, Lyndon Schneiders tells us the Albanese government has recognised the need for a new native forestry approach (“Lumbered with a native forestry deal that isn’t working”, 11/1).

So, too, has the forestry industry.

No sector can expect to do things the way they have always been done—at least not the forestry sector.

That’s why I accepted Agriculture Minister Murray Watt’s invitation to join union leader Michael O’Connor as co-chairs of his Strategic Forestry and Renewables Partnership.

The partnership – among other things – will provide advice on the best way to secure the forest resources we need while also enhancing conservation and carbon values in the native estate.

Sky News host Caleb Bond says the Clarence Valley logging industry is “raging against” a northern New South…

In August, Sky News host Caleb Bond said the Clarence Valley logging industry is “raging against” a northern New South Wales council over their plans to phase out logging on native forest public land – footage courtesy of @SkyNewsAustralia.

Anthony Albanese and his ministers understand that closing down our sustainable native forestry sector is a recipe for higher consumer prices and more timber imports from countries that do not enforce Australia’s high environmental standards and practices.

Responding to the Federal Court’s decision, NSW Premier Chris Minns also acknowledged both our domestic resource needs and growing import dependence.

Schneiders celebrates the unfortunate decisions in Victoria and Western Australia to shut down native forestry.

image 35
In November, Wood Central exclusively revealed that the Victorian ban on native forest harvesting has resulted in a surge in hardwood exports from Brazil.

Victoria is now importing its wood from Tasmania and Brazil, and in WA, the government departments are rushing to secure all the native products they can for their construction needs before the policy is implemented.

They need it for important infrastructure, including bridges and power poles.

Schneiders talks about the importance of our plantation estate. The industry values it, too. However, due to high land prices, the plantation estate is not keeping pace with demand.

But even if successful, hardwoods take between 40 to 80 years to grow. And in a welcome move, at COP28, the Australian government signed up to the Greening Construction Coalition to increase timber in the built environment due to its ability to decarbonise the hard-to-abate construction sector.

The fact is Australia – and the world – will need more timber products, not less. Australia now imports more than $6 billion worth of forest products. The window frames, floorboards, back decks and staircases in our homes are typically made from hardwoods, most of which comes from our native estate.

image 36
In October, ABARES reported that Australia’s forest plantation estate was at its lowest level in more than 20 years. (Photo Credit: HQPlantations in Queensland)

The industry has access to just 4 per cent of the native estate and takes around four in every ten thousand trees using sustainable practices. Every tree harvested is replaced with a younger tree, which in turn absorbs more carbon than the older tree it replaces. The carbon stored in the harvested tree is transferred permanently to the built environment.

Schneiders mischievously claims our native product goes to low-value products like “firewood, woodchips, landscaping and transportation pallets”.

That’s the pallets that deliver our food and drinks to the supermarkets and bottle shops.

But all of the products that Schneiders dismisses have value. Native hardwoods are manufactured into high-value products.

image 37
In November, Wood Central revealed that the peak body for glass, glazing and windows has grave concerns for the bushfire rating of timbers used in windows following the decision to close Victorian State Forests.

It makes no sense to do otherwise. But trees don’t grow in perfect shape, and there will always be offcuts. It’s a positive thing; we turn them into things that have value.

Schneiders was keen to repeat his assertion that the legal challenge was initiated by “community conservationists”.

But we all know that while their name is on the application, it’s the activist machine that runs these cases.

A machine typically funded by high-wealth individuals in search of relevance and represented in court by a partly government-funded Environmental Defenders Office. It’s like Legal Aid for Greenies.

In an attempt to put a positive spin on their loss, the activists made much of Her Honour’s conclusion that the future of native forestry was a matter for politicians, not the legal process. Yet our elected leaders in Canberra and Sydney have made their support for the sector clear.

Thirty years ago, the politicians created the Regional Forest Agreements to put an end to the “forestry wars” by striking the right balance between conservation and our resource needs.

The National Forestry Statement is due for a fine tune, no doubt, but that’s not what the activists want. They want to kill yet another of our important sovereign capabilities.

  • The article originally appeared as “commentary” in The Australian newspaper. Joel Fitzgibbon is the Chair of the Australian Forest Products Association and is the former Federal Agriculture Minister – who had responsibility for forestry.


  • Joel Fitzgibbon

    Joel Fitzgibbon is the Chair of Australian Forest Products Association - the peak body for the country's forest products industry. A former Minister and Shadow Minister for Agriculture (which included the Forestry portfolio), he was the inaugural co-chair of the federal parliament’s Friends of Forest Industries Group.


Related Articles