Christmas seems to have come early for the timber industry. State and federal governments are throwing money at all sorts of wood processing schemes, looking for innovation, efficiency and diversification.
These are lovely buzzwords but mean nothing if there is no wood for the industry.
The WA state government is endeavouring to wash its hands of the crucifixion of the native forest industry by handing out millions in grants, including some $15 million to a range of companies with a 50%-plus dependence on native timber supplies.
Recent grant announcements include many companies wanting to remain in the industry but adapt to the ‘new’ forest management for health.
The problem is these handouts could be a total waste – there might be no wood available.
The WA government steadfastly refuses to make any commitment to future timber supply. Despite proposing up to 8000 ha of eco-thinning there has been no information about what will be produced, if anything, from this untested activity.
The minister Jackie Jarvis, who is meant to be representing the forest industry, refuses to divulge any information. Why then is the government handing out grants to companies who don’t know if there will be any wood and even then, whether they will get a contract?
This is a game of blindman’s bluff, the industry is blindfolded not knowing what, when or how the future will unfold, but that it is bound to run into something hard.
The federal government is faring no better. It recently announced more than $10 million in grants for WA pine timber businesses to improve their efficiency. Good news? Once again this could be a waste of taxpayers’ money.
The WA government’s budget paper No. 3 admits to a contingent liability of a shortfall in pine timber supplies – that is it may not have enough wood to supply contractual volumes.
Why is the federal government doling out millions to companies which may run out of wood?
The federal department says the companies demonstrated they had access to long term supplies!
It seems someone is being a bit cute here. From 2013 to 2022 the WA Forest Products Commission annual reports have stated as a contingent liability they there may not be enough wood to meet contracts.
With this mess being in the pipeline for at least 10 years you would think that there would be some clarity to ensure that future supplies were understood. Unfortunately, for 10 years the same non-committal statement has been published in the FPC annual reports:
The Commission has identified a possible shortfall in pine resources available to meet future contractual commitments. As at the date of the financial statements, there is a high degree of uncertainty regarding the likelihood, timing and amount of any potential shortfall and the commission is therefore unable to determine a reliable estimate of the amount of any potential obligation that may arise in the future.
But, alas, it seems nothing has been done. The FPC has annually said they are undertaking inventories and feasibility studies, but no results have been published.
In 2013, the FPC admitted “Without new plantings on additional land the scale of the softwood industry will be substantially reduced over time”.
In 2012, the pine plantations stood at 83,359 ha. Today, based on the FPC’s most recent publication, the area has fallen to 76,265 ha.
The decline in the softwood plantation estate was meant to have been stopped by the government with the announcement of $350 million investment. However, the question remains whether it’s now too late to save the local softwood industry.
Local housing may become dependent on imported timber.
This lack of action by government since 2013 and the lack of information about the pine timber shortfall also means the federal government could be wasting money in providing grants if there is no wood.
It might be time to invest in a plastic Christmas tree.