Forests the ‘first focus’

Federal Member for Barker Tony Pasin has added to industry calls for an expansion to the Green Triangle’s forestry estate, while revealing there were two key barriers stopping it from happening.

Speaking to The SE Voice on a tour of Timberlink Tarpeena’s soon-to-be unveiled $90m modernisation upgrade, Mr Pasin said the region’s first focus needed to be about planting more trees. However, he said the two frustrations at the moment in the Green Triangle were South Australia’s water licensing rules for forestry and encouraging more investment in forestry.

Mr Pasin said the Federal Government was working to ensure it could provide carbon credits – buyable and sellable funds for carbon offsetting from the Clean Energy Regulator – to plantation timber estates to incentivise investment. “Ultimately we want to see more trees in the ground, but the right trees, at the right scale, in the right places for the right outcome, which is Aussie jobs,” Mr Pasin said.

“My view is that it needs to be within 100km of processing, like this one at Tarpeena – that’s why we have got the hub. These trees need to be planted in this area.”

Under South Australia’s current water licensing rules for the Limestone Coast, trees cannot be replanted on plantation land that has been harvested. As a result, the region’s forestry is shrinking. The SE Voice understands the Limestone Coast’s water licensing rules are soon to be reviewed, with industry hopeful the rules can be changed to incentivise an increase to the forestry estate.

Alongside Mr Pasin touring Timberlink’s Tarpeena mill was Senator Jonathon Duniam, the Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries. Mr Duniam told The SE Voice that, while the Federal Government had limited capacity to direct the states and territories to manage their water resources, it would continue to work with the SA government to see if they can help the industry grow.

With the introduction of the Federal Government’s HomeBuilder grant, local and domestic demand for timber products has sky-rocketed. Senator Duniam said this increase in demand showed the need to grow the number of trees in the ground so that we can continue to support sector growth.

“There are some examples from other jurisdictions we can look to about how they manage water rights when it comes to the forestry industry,” Senator Duniam said. “Finding ways to make these rules deliver the outcomes we want for the environment, but also to deliver growth in the industry, is something we will work with the State Government on into the future.”

Both Senator Duniam and the Member for Barker’s comments come after the 2021 ‘Aussie logs for Aussie jobs’ federal inquiry, of which Mr Pasin was a supplementary member. The inquiry noted a key barrier to addressing the supply shortfall is the absence of new plantations being established. Investigating supply constraints in the Australian plantation sector, the inquiry’s committee also recommended the Clean Energy Regulator consider the options for inclusion of the carbon abatement embodied in wood products.

Furthermore, it identified Australia was currently a net importer of timber. In 2018-19 the value of imports ($5.9b) exceeded exports ($3.9b) by $2b. Speaking to The SE Voice more recently, Mr Pasin said the right purpose for Australian plantations would be to ultimately have their products processed and used in Australia.

“We want to provide the value-added opportunity in our own community,” he said. “It is shocking to think that we have a $2b trade deficit for timber. “For a country the size of ours with all the natural resources that we have it’s just ridiculous to think we’re doing that.”

When asked whether Australia would aspire to ensure forest products were used domestically before being considered for export, Mr Pasin – who coined the phrase ‘Aussie logs for Aussie jobs’ said he had been a strong campaigner for the cause. “It’s not a new concept,” he said. In addition, Mr Pasin was asked if Australia had aspirations of being more self-dependent, off the back of lessons learnt during the coronavirus pandemic, responding the situation had taught Australia how important domestic supply chains were.

“To be reliant on overseas production systems to build things as critically important as homes is a sovereign weakness in my view,” he said. “The idea we could not grow and mill our own timber is a concern and we’re seeing it right now with shortages around the country. “If there is the silver lining on the dark, COVID cloud, that silver lining is the nation has woken up to the trajectory that it was on – by seeing too much of our critical production systems being exported overseas.

“The risk is if we do not grow the estate then our mills will not remain internationally competitive, which will mean the prospect of sawn timber becomes more attractive. “The minute you’re no longer globally competitive you open the door to export and to be frank we already have far too much sawn timber coming to Australia from overseas and it’s measured by a $2b trade deficit.”

Mr Pasin said this emphasised the importance of mill upgrades like Timberlink Tarpeena’s for the industry’s future. Previous comments from industry indicate the main issue affecting South Australia’s timber supply chain is not access to log.

“The issue is that we just simply do not have any more capacity to process more structural timber because the two mills (Timberlink at Tarpeena and OneFortyOne at the Jubilee Highway Sawmill) are operating at capacity,” South Australian Forest Products Association chief executive Nathan Paine previously told The SE Voice.

Mr Paine added, at the time, the current juncture gave Australia a window into what the future would look like unless it addressed the big issue in the room – getting more trees in the ground.

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