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Friday Analysis: Fed’s $86M plan is a conversation starter

Tasmanian forest

The Federal Government’s $86m plan for forestry announced this week must be generally applauded, but as the old saying goes, the devil will be in the detail.

The $86 million for a cash-grant scheme is designed to help foresters and farmers in 11 declared regional forest hubs – including the whole of Tasmania – establish new softwood and hardwood plantations.

The Federal Government funding would make up 40% of the total, and it “expects” the states and territories to provide the remaining 60%.

Foresters and farmers can apply for the government grants, which must be equally matched by private investment, to plant either softwood or hardwood forests.

Should all of the states and territories agree with the funding proposal, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the target was for 150 million trees to be planted by the end of 2027.

But, behind the scenes, there is some disquiet, queries are being quietly raised.

What was initially interesting was the lack of enthusiasm from the States.

In Tasmania, which is tipped to be a major beneficiary of the scheme, it has been reported that the Premier Peter Gutwein was not even invited to the announcement, and there has been no comment from Resources Minister Guy Barnett.

It is also believed that Sustainable Timbers Tasmania chairman Rob de Fégely, who was in Tasmania on Monday, was either not made aware of the announcement or was not invited.

In New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria the political silence has been deafening.

In SA Labor’s spokesperson for forestry, Claire Scriven, said the party welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement but was not making any commitments yet.

State Liberal MP and Primary Industries Minister David Basham made similar remarks.

To be fair, the silence from the States is because they have not formally been made aware of the details.

It is also understood there is much to be sorted out in those detail.

For example, it has been suggested, but not confirmed at this stage, that participants who take part in the program may not then be eligible for benefits from the Emissions Reduction Fund.

For example, is there land available? Given cattle and sheep prices recently are farmers prepared to tie down profitable acreage to trees that won’t produce a return for years to come?

At best, the conversation is about to begin.