This speech was delivered on 20 June 2013 in the NSW Upper House. You can read the original contribution online here.

NATIVE FOREST WOODCHIP INDUSTRY

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE [4.11 p.m.]: Forestry in New South Wales has been under pressure for some time. Unsustainable wood supply agreements have led to the clear-felling of forests and frequent breaches of threatened species licences and consistent financial losses have rightly led to calls for an urgent review of Forests NSW, now known as the Forestry Corporation. Boral is one of the main players in this industry. It has operations across the State including, until this week, export woodchipping of native forests on the North Coast.
Woodchipping native forests is an idea whose time has well and truly passed. It has been one of this State’s most damaging industries. It has been responsible for the clear-felling of native forests to produce only minimal profits to the company involved, despite ever-larger taxpayer subsidies of logging operations.

As well as substantial reductions in demand, there has been a global move towards preference for wood products that come with ecological accreditation, which has had an ongoing impact on the woodchipping industry. Boral has struggled with low demand and low prices for a long time now. As a last ditch resort it applied to the Forest Stewardship Council for “controlled wood” certification of its products. Many consider it unlikely that fair audits of its operations would allow the awarding of such a certification, but we know that yesterday Boral made an announcement via a media release on its website that said:

      Boral will exit the residue and woodchip export business and sell the associated processing plant and equipment based at Tea Gardens and at the Port of Newcastle, in NSW.

Environmentalists, conservationists and forestry activists across this State have celebrated that announcement. Boral also said as part of its explanation:

        Boral Timber will exit the residue and woodchip export business at the end of June 2013 due to a substantial fall in demand driven principally by deterioration in price competitiveness due to the high Australian dollar.

Boral forgot to mention that an ongoing fact of the market is that mixed woodchip from unsustainably harvested forests obtains a very low price on the international market because that market is rejecting the kind of mixed, non-sustainable and ecologically damaging woodchip product that is produced from New South Wales native forests. While the outcome of Boral’s application to the Forest Stewardship Council is not yet known, we can suspect that Boral believes it has minimal chance of gaining certification because it has made a decision to sell its export arm and end woodchipping on the North Coast. That shows that Boral does not consider that its operations would meet even the relatively modest requirements for controlled wood certification in the Forest Stewardship Council accreditation scheme.

Forestry activists and organisations such as the North Coast Environment Centre have played an important role in exposing the damaging practices of Boral and other logging companies in our North Coast forests. They also have exposed how little attention the Office of Environment and Heritage or Forestry NSW has paid to persistent breaches of licensing and logging conditions. That has included logging that damages some of our most iconic and vulnerable species such as the koala. Environment groups continue to closely monitor the actions of these companies and expose repeated breaches of threatened species licences and other environmental protections.

The native forestry sector in New South Wales receives an extraordinary amount of taxpayer money, and continues to operate at a loss. The proper response to such a situation is not to expand its operations with more taxpayer money or to let it move into national parks and other protected reserves. The proper response is to immediately take steps to minimise the negative ecological, environmental and financial impacts of this sector. Rather than heeding the Shooters and Fishers Party call to open national parks to logging in order to prop up this failing industry, the Government should read the writing on the wall. Conservationists have long argued that woodchipping operations are financially and ecologically unviable as an ongoing industry. Now, by their actions, logging companies including Boral, which is one of the biggest in this State, are saying the same thing. The truth is that our precious native forests will always be worth more in economic, environmental and social terms if they are left standing rather than being clear-felled for woodchips.