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ALP’s forestry policy and a forestry summit for a national plan

Forestry’s potential huge role in fighting climate change, tougher anti-dumping laws, expanding exports, improving vocational education and access to investment opportunities are key elements of the ALP’s forestry policy. A focal point will be the holding of a national forestry summit with the aim to develop a national strategic forestry plan. Source: Philip Hopkins for Timberbiz

An overview of Labor policy was released last week by the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Joel Fitzgibbon.

The plan includes support for the Regional Forest Agreements and establishing more plantations and $13 million for 13 regional forestry hubs, including the four that have signed contracts (see stories above).

Mr Fitzgibbon said it was time to bring together federal and state government leaders and key stakeholders for a national forestry summit. The issues for the summit include the potential effects of climate change on commercial forestry, a review of current climate change mitigation settings to enable forestry to fully participate in the carbon economy, opportunities to expand wood fibre and advanced material sectors, the industry’s social licence, and the role of bio-energy and biomass in Australia’s renewable mix.

With bio-energy and bio-mass in mind, Mr Fitzgibbon said Labor would improve the effectiveness of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

“Labor established these agencies and together they have helped drive rapid growth in renewable energy and energy efficiency technology development in Australia,” he said. The policy states that wood products can replace materials that are more carbon intensive in industries such as construction.

Mr Fitzgibbon said a Labor government would develop procurement policies that support Australian forestry. Through its ‘Local Projects, Local Jobs Policy’, Labor would require government departments to consider local business and work with local firms to ensure they can benefit from government contracts.

“In addition, Labor will ensure that more public and large private projects will be required … to give Australian firms a chance to win work on major projects,” he said.

Mr Fitzgerald said procurement policies involved more than comparing purchase prices. Labor’s policy would emphasise financial and non-financial aspects of procurement, including commitment to local or regional markets and a more competitive supplier base. This included buying 100 per cent recycled Australian-made copy paper, he said.

The Forest Industry Advisory Council will be reformed, including broadening its membership to include union and worker representation. Mr Fitzgibbon will become the chair of the council, which will also have two deputy chairs. The council will act as a forum where the Minister and different forestry sectors will consult and co-operate.

Mr Fitzgibbon said Labor would toughen the anti-dumping laws. Action would include tripling penalties for circumventing trade remedies, adding 30 staff to the Anti-Dumping Commission, allowing affected businesses to nominate the form of duty that should be applied, and restricting the time available for cited dumpers to review ADC decisions.

“Products like plywood and engineered wood too often have to compete against imports which do not conform to Australian standards,” he said. “Apart from eroding the competitiveness of Australian industry, dodgy imported wood products risk the lives of workers and the community.”

Labor policy aims to improve trading opportunities for the wood and paper products sectors. Forestry and its workforce will be represented in the ‘Accredited Trade Advisors” program that will lobby for local interests in any trade deal.

“Overcoming non-tariff barriers is one of the most significant ways that market access and trade for Australian exporters of forestry products can be increased,” he said. A cross-agency team from the Department of Trade, Austrade and the Departments of Industry and Agriculture will tackle non-tariff barriers.

Labor’s national commission that will review all aspects of post-secondary education will include the needs of the forestry industry and its workforce, particularly in the TAFE sector. “There is evidence of current and emerging skills in the forest and forest products sector. There is an opportunity to improve the quality of jobs in this sector through skills recognition, career paths and silviculture environmental management qualifications,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

Challenges included an ageing workforce leaving the industry, a down turn in new recruits and negative perceptions of careers in forestry. Labor will provide up to $4 million over three years to identify skill shortages in forestry.

Mr Fitzgibbon said manufacturers in the forest supply chain would be able to access finance

Through Labor’s $1billion Advanced Manufacturing Future Fund. This will provide concessional loans to manufacturers seeking to innovate, expand or diversify.

He said forestry would also benefit from Labor’s Australian Investment Guarantee. This will allow businesses to immediately deduct 20% of any new eligible asset worth more than $20,000, with the balance depreciated in line with normal depreciation schedules from the first year.