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$100M Australian Forest and Wood Innovations program launched

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Murray Watt

The future of sustainable forestry has received a significant boost yesterday with the official launch of the Albanese Government’s $100 million Australian Forest and Wood Innovations (AFWI) program. Source: Timberbiz

AFWI is a collaboration between the Albanese Government and the University of Tasmania, committed to advancing research and innovation in Australian forest and wood products.

The University of the Sunshine Coast and University of Melbourne will be invited to form AFWI research centres, joining a third research centre being established at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) in Launceston.

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Murray Watt, said the University of Tasmania AFWI Headquarters in Launceston would support a local AFWI research centre, with further centres planned for the University of the Sunshine Coast and the University of Melbourne.

“Establishing AFWI was an election commitment which we are proud to deliver and forms part of our record $300 million investment in the Australian forestry and forest product sector,” Minister Watt said.

“This program will support sustainable forestry, while also helping to deliver a future made in Australia.

“It’s an exciting time for forestry research as we work towards unlocking the full potential of wood as the ultimate renewable material and growing our forests and forestry industry.

“The three research centres will undertake research to enhance our production forests and the wood products sourced from them – managing and sustainably expanding our Australian forestry resources, transforming wood residues into renewable products and energy solutions – all while helping to address the threat of climate change.

“AFWI will draw on the best researchers and facilities across the nation to ensure Australia’s forest and wood products industries remain on the front foot, supporting applied research, development and innovation.

“We saw demand for forest products significantly increase during the Covid-19 pandemic — increasing production in our sustainably managed plantation estate and product recovery from our sawmills and wood and fibre processing plants will see us better positioned to meet demand into the future.”

The AFWI Board is chaired by Mr Bob Gordon and includes nine other members with industry and forestry research experience, an understanding of workers’ needs, First Nations perspectives and from the Commonwealth.

They include Diana Gibbs, Christine Briggs, Heidi Dungey, Brian Farmer, Michael O’Connor, Rachael Cavanagh, Andrew Leighton, Julianne O’Reilly-Wapstra and Andrew Wilson.

AFWI will create opportunities for innovation and support the development of researchers to support the sectors’ future, building on the work the existing regional National Institute for Forest Products Innovation centres have already delivered.

Minister Watt said AFWI would also shortly be announcing the opening of the first of four, $5 million annual national open calls for forestry research projects. The annual national open calls will be open to applications from all Australian-based researchers supporting the forest industry, and not be limited to the research centres established by AFWI.

“The Albanese Government is getting on with the job of protecting important industries and regional jobs by delivering on election commitments,” Minister Watt said.

“AWFI is a key part of this ensuring forestry research and innovation can continue to meet wood and fibre needs into the future.”

The University of Tasmania’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Rufus Black, said the university was excited to bring world leading research to answer questions that will help accelerate the role of forestry and wood products in meeting the challenge of climate change and building a circular economy.

“AFWI will provide the skills and knowledge to support sustainable production of wood products, protect biodiversity and multiple forest values, and ensure the national sector is at the forefront of innovation and climate action,” Professor Black said.

“We are the number one university in the world for climate action according to the Times Higher Education impact rankings and we are committing to supporting the transition to a low-emissions global economy we need to make – wood must play a big part in that future.”

UniSC Professor Mark Brown said the successful bid by the Forest Research Institute to be part of AFWI would allow it to extend its leadership, skills and expertise in this space.

The Forest Research Institute is a collaboration between eight Queensland and New South Wales universities, and three state government agencies from Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory.

It has active partnerships with industries across regional Australia and research sites across tropical and subtropical forests and plantations.

“We look forward to working with the other AWFI regional research centres to make the national institute a success and welcome the strong innovation and collaboration that we will be able facilitate across the sector,” said Professor Brown, who will head the new centre at UniSC.

He said the planned key focus areas for the Queensland-based centre would be to sustain, manage and rehabilitate Australia’s forests and find innovative solutions for the forest and wood products industry.

“This includes growing more trees sustainably in forestry areas and developing innovative timber products using carbon-friendly building systems,” Professor Brown said.

Much of the research will apply First Nations knowledge and expertise on current and future sustainable land management challenges.

“Invasive weeds, pests, diseases, extreme weather and climate change are some of the issues for Australia’s diverse forest ecosystems that impact the important role they play in storing carbon, protecting soil and water and providing wood products,” Professor Brown said.

“With increasing need to get sustainable multi-use outcomes from forest and land management, effectively engaging the wealth of Indigenous knowledge and skills through the AFWI investment will be critical to get the best social, environmental, and economic impacts for the sector into the future.”

Potential projects include new and innovative ways to incorporate timber production with other land uses, with a particular emphasis on agriculture, grazing, water management and mine site rehabilitation.

Strategies to increase carbon storage, restoring degraded land, tree breeding and genetics, fire management and mitigation, as well as management of forest health, pests and disease in a changing climate are other likely research areas.

UniSC Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Helen Bartlett, welcomed UniSC’s recognition as a leader in forestry research and collaboration through its selection to play a key role in AWFI.

“This is an important initiative by the Federal Government for the future of Australia’s forests,” she said.

“The aims of AFWI align with one of UniSC’s highest priorities – ensuring the sustainability of our natural world, with a focus on balancing environment and economic outcomes through forestry research that drives knowledge and impact.”

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