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Labor Enviro action group report pushes for public plantations

Felicity Wade

More than 300 Labor branches have backed a push by the party’s environmental arm for the Albanese government to fund an expanded, publicly owned plantation industry to ensure the country gets the timber it needs and end native forest logging. Source: The Guardian

A report by the Labor Environment Action Network (Lean), the ALP’s largest internal lobby group, calls for the party’s national conference next month to support an industry policy focused on restoring native forests. It says they have greater value if treated as a carbon and biodiversity sink than if logged to produce mainly low-value products such as woodchips, pallets and power poles.

Released on Wednesday, the report recommends the government salvage and expand Australia’s struggling plantation sector by creating a state-owned national plantation estate to “increase our domestic timber independence”.

Nearly 90% of Australian timber comes from plantations, and just 12% from native forests, but next to no tree farms have been planted since 2010 and total plantation area is in decline. Government modelling suggests at least 400,000 hectares of new plantations will be needed over the next decade to meet demand.

Felicity Wade, Lean’s co-convener, said the evidence suggested expanding plantations could create 1,800 regional jobs, compared with 1,100 employed in the native forest industry nationally. She said 316 party branches across 100 electorates supported stopping native forest logging on economic and environmental grounds and focusing on developing a plan to build a “vibrant 21st century plantation-based timber industry”.

“We have some of the most carbon and biodiversity-rich forests on the planet and we’re mining them. What a waste,” Ms Wade said.

“Lean believes we need publicly owned plantation establishment, done smart. We need to plan what species need to be planted and where, with a plan for which manufacturing facility will take the wood and how it will get to market. We need to recognise the increased fire risks and diminishing water associated with climate change.

“This kind of planning is non-existent. The government needs to step in.”

The Lean report will be at the heart of a fight to change the forestry position in Labor’s national platform. A draft national platform seen by Guardian Australia made no mention of reducing native forest logging and land-clearing – a long-time Lean goal.

Labor is divided on the issue.

The Western Australian and Victorian governments have promised to end native forest logging at the end of this year, and the federal ALP MP Josh Burns has urged action “to save our precious natural environment and native wildlife”.

But the new New South Wales Labor government supports ongoing native forest logging while also promising to create a great koala national park, and the Tasmanian Labor opposition has accused the pro-forestry Liberal state government of not doing enough to support the industry.

The Queensland Labor government allows large-scale land-clearing, mostly for agricultural expansion. The Australian Forest Products Association, led by the former Labor cabinet minister Joel Fitzgibbon, says local forestry practices are the most sustainable in the world.

The Lean report cites last year’s state of the environment report, which found Australia had one of the highest rates of species decline in the world, with habitat loss due to logging and clearing a key driver.

Lean says the government should substantially boost funding for forest protection and carbon storage at home and in south-east Asia, suggesting 25-30% of Australia’s international climate finance funding be dedicated to preventing deforestation in the region.

Its report also calls for:

  • Increased public funding for forest protection and restoration, recognising that scientists have estimated $1.69bn a year is needed to arrest species loss.
  • Training and support for existing native forest industry workers and Indigenous custodians to work in new conservation and plantation roles.
  • A government-owned national natural capital corporation to manage the national plantation estate and help farmers take part in carbon and biodiversity markets.
  • A nationwide restoration program focused on 252 ecosystems identified as having less than 30% of vegetation remaining. It says this would require 13,000 workers for 30 years.
  • Investment in a national landcover database and vegetation mapping, based on the system used in Queensland, which has reported higher levels of land-clearing than reflected in national accounts.

Labor’s national conference is in Brisbane on 17-19 August.

You can download the report here.