Forest policy caves in to woodchippers


By Vanessa Johannsen

The federal government's new Draft National Forest Policy shows yet again its spinelessness when faced with strong industry pressure.

The document was put together by federal and state bureaucrats, seeking a nationally agreed approach to native forests. It is open for public comment until September.

When releasing the draft, minister for the environment Ros Kelly said that it ensured the protection of "the best of our old growth and wilderness areas by 1995". But in the three years until 1995, just under 40 million more tonnes of wood will have been carved out of the forests. During this time, the reduction in quality of the pristine ecosystems currently designated as logging zones will be enormous.

One of the stated aims of the draft policy is to make the timber industry more efficient. One method espoused for doing this is to make the pricing systems for wood products more market based and to "ensure a fair [financial] return to the community". The policy is contradictory in that it actually considers extending export woodchip licences: woodchipping is a sector of the industry which brings little to the community. The massive profits from woodchipping go straight into the pockets of the large companies which export the chips.

If royalties were set to bring a fair return to the community, and if the taxpayer ceased to subsidise the industry through forest infrastructure, Australia's timber industry would be slaughtered by the competitive international market. The community currently subsidises the timber industry more than the government retrieves from it in royalties. Further, it is very difficult to compensate a community for the loss of the tiny percentage of Australia still covered by relatively undisturbed forest.

The alternatives to logging native forest are already there — they are called plantations. In Victoria alone, there are 200,000 hectares of plantations already growing, and 16,000 hectares are mature enough to harvest now. Vast plantations are owned by companies presently cutting in native forests, but they will not touch them until they are forced out of native forests.

The attempt being made at community consultation is farcical, considering that the community has been clearly saying for years that it rejects forest destruction, and particularly woodchipping.The government is yet again kowtowing to the timber industry and ignoring the long-term interests of the environment, jobs and the community.

The timber industry must make the transition to plantations before any more wilderness is wantonly destroyed.