PM tells a home-grown truth

Wood Naturally Better Logo colour 27 May 2013_1.jpg The following is an Opinion Piece written by Mr Ross Hampton, CEO, Australian Forests Products Association following Prime Minister Tony Abbott's presentation to 600 Australians packed into the Great Hall of Parliament House. It is a very succinct summary of the value of the industry

Some media outlets, presumably seeking to use a broad brush, described the event as a gathering of ‘loggers’. While it is true some of our world class sustainable logging companies were represented, the vast majority in the room were those who take logs and transform them into the things which we love to use in our homes and businesses. Seated in the Great Hall that night were producers of paper, cardboard and tissue, fine timber furniture makers, truss and frame manufacturers, sawmillers, and flooring firms.
The forest and forest products sector is a value chain. It is our 7th largest manufacturing sector and directly employs about 80 000 people - mostly in the regions. Like others areas of our economy it has been tenaciously dealing with a high dollar, sluggish economy and high input costs. It really doesn’t deserve shorthand descriptions which reduce the whole sector to a single function. But trying to coax some in the media to lift their eyes from the resource end of the equation feels, at times, like trying to wrestle a favourite rattle from the grip of a toddler.
Likewise it feels like a long and uphill battle to persuade some commentators that we do actually need to have a local forestry industry if we are to walk on timber floors, read newspapers and magazines (the iPad hasn’t killed print), build our houses, and admire beautiful furniture and so on and so on.
Do they really want us to become an import only country? Can they seriously advocate we replace our home-grown products with timber and paper from nations which; let’s be frank, will rarely have forest and processing operations as sustainably managed as our own? Can that truly be the long term game for anyone who cares about our global environment and national prosperity?
The truth is Australia's forest product industries deliver enormous community and economic benefits and leave a very small footprint.
Did you know that if the MCG represented our forest area, so much of it is protected that the Australian industry is confined to an area the size of the left forward pocket! And, of course, only very small parts of that area are harvested in any year – about the size of the small circle where the umpire bounces the ball. That tiny area is, of course, split into hundreds of coupes across the country. These areas are managed to maintain environmental values and ensure they are regrown with the local native tree species. Quite at odds, isn't it, with the image often presented by those who prefer not to have a forest industry?
It is a mistake to view our working, ‘multi-use’ forests as cathedrals, literally set in stone. In those relatively small areas in which logging is allowed, our goal is well managed forests which are felled and carefully regenerated. And in this country we do that very well. I could take you to countless locations right across the country which were cut a generation ago and where you would now marvel at ‘pristine’ wilderness. And those working forests are also great for the environment. A forest stores carbon as the trees grow. The timber products then store carbon as more trees grow sucking in yet more CO2 from the atmosphere. That’s not just my view – that’s the word from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Like all industrial sectors, ours has moved a long way over the years. Our operations are cleaner and more sustainable; from the timber cutters right through to the paper making lines.
Wood is quite frankly a miracle product. It is recyclable, renewable and carbon friendly. In a carbon constrained global economy the world is turning to wood, in all its guises, as never before.
If we operate carefully and sustainably that should mean many more jobs and assured growth for our regional communities.
We are a great industry and have a great contribution to make to Australia's future prosperity.