With housing and home renovations likely to be front and centre of future stimulus measures, NSW Labor has demanded the Berejiklian Government urgently appoint a Forest Recovery Commissioner to help the industry meet looming demand for timber.
The call comes amid reports that forward orders for timber products are being cancelled, adding to the financial pressure on timber mills and their workers in communities affected by bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shadow Minister for Natural Resources Paul Scully said the residential construction sector and timber-dependent communities need certainty from the State Government to recover.
“The timber industry has been devastated. I have heard reports of forward orders for timber products being cancelled because of the downturn in residential construction, which is further hitting mills and their workers. The industry needs support, guidance and a clear workforce plan going forward. This will require a co-ordinating authority like a Forest Recovery Commissioner to lead the way,” Mr Scully explained
“The timber industry workers and employers stood shoulder-to-shoulder with firefighters in the fight against the bushfires, helping defend lives and property. The industry deserves some certainty about its future.
“The residential construction sector also needs clarity. It needs to know it will be able to source the required timber products locally. We don’t want these federal government grants being spent on overseas products.
“Gladys Berejiklian must wake up and realise this problem won’t fix itself. These industries and regional communities need government support and strong leadership to make a full recovery.”
Mr Scully said the Government has previously heeded Labor’s calls about the timber industry, including the recent announcement it will re-establish plantation areas and guarantee re-planting to timber-dependent communities across the state, including Tumut, Bathurst, Bombala and Grafton.
The Government also abandoned the sell-off of Forestry Corporation and agreed to contribute to the costs of rebuilding fencing where private property adjoins Forestry Corporation estates. These actions were outlined by Labor in February during a Shadow Cabinet meeting at Tumut.
Mr Scully added the remaining measures in Labor’s comprehensive Forestry Recovery Plan also need to be adopted, including:
- Appointing a Forest Recovery Commissioner and timber industry recovery taskforce to guide the implementation of a recovery plan following the recent bushfires and COVID-19 pandemic;
- Establishing a workforce plan for timber mill workers as the industry runs to lower capacity as is expected to start over the next 12 months;
- Repairing damaged roads, fire trails, bridges, power and communications infrastructure in forestry estates and;
- Eradicating weeds and pests, especially blackberries which are a substantial contributor to high fuel loads.
More than 50,000 hectares or around 25 per cent of the state’s pine plantations were burnt during the recent bushfire crisis, and a third of softwood and 15 per cent of hardwood plantations on the state’s north coast were also damaged.
The timber industry is salvaging burnt timber before it’s attacked by insects and becomes unusable.
Mr Scully said: “This is a race against time as once this salvage activity hits a wall future timber supply could be up to a decade away while plantation seedlings grow into harvestable timber.
“This supply problem will have an impact on the available timber for house frames, floorboards, decking, fences, bridges, power poles and other products.
“The Government does not appear to have a plan for the timber industry and its dependent communities between the period burnt timber salvaging ends and when the harvesting of new plantations begins.
“I renew my call for a Forest Recovery Commissioner to help guide the timber and forestry industry’s sustainable recovery across New South Wales and to support local jobs in timber dependent communities and across the residential construction sector.”