Category Archives: Politics

Timber processor alarmed over ‘massive amount’ of softwood exported to China

A large truck carrying neatly piled wood logs enters a large yard with thousands of large wooden logs.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-09-02/softwood-resource-exported-to-china-amid-log-supply-insecurity/12617994

Here we are. Sawmillers who have spent generations being on the Government payroll are now complaining about having to exist in a global competitive market.

With the sale of Government pine plantations, the new plantation owners are free to sell their logs to whoever they like, including customers who are prepared to pay more than domestic customers/sawmillers.

Imagine that! Competition and free trade in the forest industry. Who would have guessed?

This is a classic forest industry sob story, about poor hard-done-by sawmillers who can’t compete in a global marketplace.

The softwood industry is no longer part of the Welfare Forestry System in Australia, except in Western Australia and New South Wales, where Governments have yet to privatise their plantation estates.

I just love the pity-me language:

Our forefathers planted the trees — they were planted with a plan to create jobs into the future. It wasn’t about growing wood for Asia.”

A classic example of Trees-as-Welfare, not Trees-as-Commerce. The idea of growing trees to make a profit is anathema to these poor folk.

These sawmillers are demanding welfare not trees!

They are unwittingly demanding the destruction of their very own businesses and industry.

Clearly the Green Triangle Forest Industry Hub (GTFIH) is not the cohesive single-minded group that their website wants us to believe:

http://gtfih.com.au/

Tensions between growers and processors are running high!

The GTFIH has a plan to plant 50,000 ha of new plantation over the next 10 years. That definitely won’t happen with stories like this in the media.

Who would want to plant trees knowing you cannot trade in an open competitive market? Nobody that’s who!!

Unfortunately the article does not talk about prices and markets, or any idea of the growers side of the story.

And as for an industry Code of Conduct, that would be the final nail in the coffin for the already struggling forest industry in Australia.

What other primary producers in Australia face a more hostile political environment than tree growers? I can’t think of any! Happy to have your comments!

Anyone growing trees for wood production in Australia, whether plantation or native forest, should be very worried right now. Your investment is about to be destroyed by your politicians.

What a total mess the industry is!!

“Let’s fast track that plan!”

FastTrack

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/special-reports/more-trees-will-grow-jobs-economy/news-story/8b4fd3b46144584213fd106525ee0d6e

That’s forest industry speak for “hand over the taxpayers money now” and more political protection and subsidies please.

This is a typical piece of forest industry windy hyperbole; full of bluster, promise, and foreboding. I’ve been reading this kind of rubbish all my long forestry career.

The forest industry cannot convince Australian farmers to include commercial treegrowing in their business models.

Why?

Because the forest industry in Australia has zero commercial credibility!

So who then is the audience for this article?

None other than Governments and politicians of course.

This article is not written for the farming community.

As usual the forest industry talks about growing demand and supply shortages but fails to talk about markets, costs, prices and profits.

Forest policy in Australia has always been about loggers, sawmillers and processors – regional jobs.

Forest policy in Australia has never, ever been about profitable tree growers.

This article talks about regional jobs and communities, and deliberately avoids any mention of profitable tree growers.

Saving regional jobs – ie. Welfare forestry – is a major focus of the forest industry.

But welfare forestry is a dead end; a road to failure.

The only truism in this article is “we need to grow the plantation estate significantly and strategically”.

If forestry markets are so positive as this article wants us to believe, then why isn’t the marketplace responding and farmers planting trees? Surely that is the way markets work is it not? More demand triggers higher prices triggers more supply etc, etc.. Classic economics!!

But Australia does not have a forestry market. There is no relationship in Australia between wood supply, demand, price, cost and profit. None!

And that is the result of deliberate industry and Government policy.

The end result is that the forest industry has no commercial credibility and farmers don’t plant trees.

And the forest industry has no clue whatsoever how to fix this problem except write blustering rubbish like this.

Timber supply chain constraints in the Australian plantation sector

pine2

https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House/Standing_Committee_on_Agriculture_and_Water_Resources/Timbersupply

On 26 September 2019, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources received a referral from Assistant Minister Duniam for an inquiry into timber supply chain constraints in the Australian plantation sector.

The Committee invites submissions addressing any or all of the terms of reference for the inquiry.

Submissions are requested by Monday, 17 August 2020.

The Committee is dominated by conservative Government members so the chances of anything useful coming from the inquiry are very limited.

Nevertheless here is my submission

Submission

Yet another inquiry into the forest industry in Australia!!!

I think it would be useful for the Committee to do a quick review/summary of every other forest industry inquiry/report. There have been hundreds over the past 50 years, with most of their recommendations having never been implemented.

The Committee could seek to answer the question why have so few previous recommendations been implemented?

Terms of Reference

To inquire and report on:

  • the nature of wood supply from Australia’s plantation sector including:
    • Projected timber volumes available over the next 30 years and the potential grades of logs available.

The question needs to be asked, does current and projected wood supply from Australia’s plantation sector meet current and future needs? Answer. NO!

The next question needs to be asked, if growing timber in Australia is profitable why doesn’t everyone (farmers) know about it? If it is not profitable, then what is the point of this inquiry?

Another relevant question is, what’s wrong with imported timber? If New Zealand farmers can grow timber cheaper than Australia then good luck to them I say! We do not need to be self sufficient in wood products just for the sake of self sufficiency!

 

  • The plantation wood supply available for domestic softwood processors including:
    • Current and future demand for logs for domestic processors; and
    • Any shortfall in current processing industry demand for logs.

This TOR definitely smacks of protectionism and market manipulation. Do you want farmers to invest in trees? If so then get rid of this protectionist bullshit. Domestic processors must compete in open competitive transparent markets, otherwise the domestic processors become increasingly high cost and uncompetitive, which has negative impacts throughout the supply chain from growers to retailers and consumers.

 

  • The competitiveness of log pricing between domestic and export market.

Who in Australia knows what the domestic and export log prices are, let alone whether they are competitive? I’m a forester with 40 years in the industry and I have never ever known!! What does that tell the Committee?

A former Director of Forestry Tasmania once said:

The lack of price transparency for forest products, particularly from hardwood forests/plantations [in Australia], represents an impediment to the uptake of farm forestry. Unlike other commodities, price information for forest products is not published through the newspaper or accessible online. Better price transparency is required to encourage smallscale investment in trees.

Curiously Forestry Tasmania has never ever supported price transparency.

New Zealand has a REAL forest industry with excellent log price transparency. Australia has a completely dysfunctional forest industry.

 

  • The term of log supply contracts needed to support the processing sectors.

This TOR, like the second TOR above, is all about destroying the forest industry through market manipulation and protectionist policies. Local processors must compete in open competitive transparent markets. It is NOT the job of dairy farmers to subsidise cheese makers NOR is it the job of tree growers to subsidise local industry.

 

  • Opportunities to increase Australia’s wood supply, including identifying and addressing barriers to plantation establishment.

There are abundant opportunities to increase Australia’s wood supply, but they are vastly outnumbered by the barriers to plantation establishment. Many previous forest industry reports have addressed these issues, with all those previous reports now collecting dust on library shelves around Australia.

I have to ask why we need yet another report when the answers are already known! The forest industry in Australia is completely dysfunctional. Does it behave like a commercial business desperately wanting a future? No it does not!

 

  • The role that state governments could have in assisting in addressing any problems identified by the work of this committee.

All State Governments that engage in public native forestry (WA, Vic, NSW and Qld) are all engaged in industry-destroying Welfare Forestry. Welfare Forestry is all about subsiding processors and “saving jobs”. It has nothing at all to do with real commercial forestry.

The forestry industry in Australia has no future whilst Welfare Forestry continues to undermine the industry.

State Governments should be encouraging profitable tree growing, but all of them refuse to do this.

 

  • Make any recommendations around any code of conduct or management mode that could assist in addressing any problems identified by the work of this committee.

Please read all previous reports and inquiries and implement the recommendations!

But as just one example, New Zealand has a single set of environmental regulations that apply to all primary producers. The regulations do not discriminate against the forest industry. Similarly to overcome differences between local Council regulations, the NZ forest industry implemented a single set of plantation management guidelines that work across the entire country. Contrast this with Australia where the industry faces a mountain of diverse changing regulations across the country.

How can Australia hope to compete with NZ? We can’t! It is not possible!

 

Blackwood

Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) is Australia’s premium appearance grade timber. It can be grown successful in plantations, as NZ farmers are doing, and potentially it has a very high market value. But most blackwood comes from Tasmania where the State government and the forest industry work to undermine the market and supply the market with cheap taxpayer subsidised blackwood. Transparent competitive markets for blackwood do not exist because neither the Government nor industry want transparent competitive markets.

Attempting to establish a Tasmanian Blackwood Growers Cooperative is therefore impossible due to Government and industry policy.

Conclusion

I’m a forester with 40+ years experience in the industry. And for all that time, after hundreds of forest industry plans/strategies/inquiries and reports the industry in Australia remains moribund and dysfunctional.

New Zealand has a real forest industry, one of the most successful in the world. But we choose not to learn from their example. Up until 1990 the NZ forest industry was run by the Government, including public native forestry, plantations and sawmills. In the early 1990s the New Zealand Government decided to get out of the forest industry entirely. Public native forestry was shut down, and plantations and sawmills were sold. Since then the NZ industry has gone from strength to strength, and is now one of New Zealands major industries; fully private, commercial and profitable!! Do they still have challenges and opportunities? Absolutely! But they are committed and capable of resolving every one!!

The NZ forest industry is now 30 years ahead of the Australian forest industry and pulling further ahead of us every day. Will Australia even have a forest industry in another 30 years time? Not if we keep going the way we are!

Good luck with your Committee and its report and recommendations.

 

Sincerely,

 

Dr Gordon Bradbury

Hobart

Tasmania

Hydrowood Timber Price Update

The forest industry, including timber traders, are notoriously secretive about timber prices, including Hydrowood.

So I stumbled upon some updated prices for Tasmania’s premium timbers from Hydrowood.

https://www.hydrowood.com.au/

They are an eye opener to say the least.

I did a review of Hydrowood blackwood prices back in 2016:

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2016/08/03/hydrowood-blackwood-prices-at-uptons/

There is little information on the updated prices, but what they do show is worth a story.

Hydro2020

Prices for select blackwood and myrtle have increased by 28% over the last 4 years to $6,160 per cubic metre, whilst prices for plain sassafras have increased by 35%!

Hydrowood select blackwood and Myrtle is still significantly cheaper than Tasmanian oak at Bunnings Hardware. Premium timbers at heavily discounted prices!

But then we get to the gold!

Prices for Huon pine and fiddleback blackwood have increased by 158% to a massive $26,700 per cubic metre.

The Hydrowood price list in 2016 showed a flat uniform price-by-volume regardless of timber size. There are indications that Hydrowood has moved away from this to better reflect cost and recovery.

So what does this mean for current and prospective timber growers?

It means giving away public assets to create welfare jobs while undermining the forest industry is not a good strategy.

It means selling Tasmania’s premium timbers at heavily discounted prices sends the wrong message to the community and the marketplace.

Does the forest industry want a future? Apparently not!!

Dysfunctional timber markets is just one of the many issues that the new Tasmanian Forest Products Association has to deal with.

In the mean time we can definitely grow premium plain-grain select blackwood in plantations, in the hope that one day all this great bloody mess will be sorted out!

And this great quote from a former Director of Forestry Tasmania:

The lack of price transparency for forest products, particularly from hardwood forests/plantations [in Australia], represents an impediment to the uptake of farm forestry. Unlike other commodities, price information for forest products is not published through the newspaper or accessible online. Better price transparency is required to encourage smallscale investment in trees.

Do I need say anymore?

Tasmanian Forest Products Association

Hayes

Bryan Hayes, Forico CEO

The forest industry remains quite for months and then BANG! News stories everywhere!!

This article appeared in the media the other day:

https://www.theadvocate.com.au/story/6767207/new-forestry-body-to-represent-industry-plagued-by-conflict-and-old-issues/?fbclid=IwAR1nZ_BpPTnxqz7EalGl-006syfKk1J3EQ-g6OzAG8ebcwg6km0tvL26n-g

The article formally announced the death of the Forest Industries Association of Tasmanian (FIAT) and the formation of yet another forest industry representative body, the Tasmanian Forest Products Association (TFPA). Tasmania is now back to having two forest industry representative bodies, the other being the taxpayer-funded Tasmanian Forest and Forest Products Network (TFFPN).

https://www.tffpn.com.au/

The TFPA as yet has no website. Hopefully soon!

I’m not sure where the TFGA sits in all this confusion:

https://tfga.com.au/farming-enterprises/forestry

Do they represent forest growers? Its hard to understand!

If Tasmanians are confused this is perfectly understandable. The forest industry in Tasmania remains deeply conflicted and divided.

The main theme of the article is to give Tasmanians very rare insight into the history of the forest industry; the truth being that for the past 20-30 years the forest industry has been very deeply divided!!

Driven by ego, power and greed; and as the article says “doing things the same way over and over is not a good strategy”. Who would guess?

Tasmanians have never had this insight into the inner workings and conflict within the forest industry. This is indeed a rare moment in Tasmanian history.

Few people in Tasmania were aware of this. Most Tasmanians thought the issue was “The Greenies”, when in fact the story was more complex.

“We want to depoliticise the conversation, we want to speak with an apolitical voice … take in the balance of social, economic and environmental concerns.”

Mr Hayes said the task ahead was enormous, particularly taking into account years of highly political activity within the industry and with professional protesters.

“There’s that old saying, herding cats …” he joked.

“But I hope it is able to act like a glue to bind the industry together.

“It’s going to be a long road.”

A long HARD road ahead!! Has anyone in the Tasmanian forest industry spoken with such candour before?

Not in my 40 year career as a forester!

Never mind!

The Tasmanian forest industry remains deeply conflicted and divided – between the taxpayer-sucking forest-destroying welfare forestry people, and those who believe that growing wood is a commercial activity.

My limited dealings with Mr Hayes have been very positive. Can he bring the peace and resolve to this long bitter divisive destructive period in Tasmanias history?

Time will tell.

Good luck Bryan herding those Feral Welfare Cats !!!

PS. Note to Bryan: You know I’m going to give you guys a hard time but you wouldn’t expect otherwise would you??

National Forest Strategy for Australia 1986

A trip down memory lane (another dead end street!)

NFSA1986

In purging my bookshelves recently I came across this publication. As I understand it this was the very first National Forest Industry Strategy/Plan for Australia.

It was 1986 and the forestry wars were well underway in many parts of the country. They still are!!!

It was 1986 and the forest industry was dominated by State Governments who ran the industry as a rural welfare program. They still do!! The privatisation of Government softwood plantations was still a few years away.

It was 1986 and the Hawke/Keating Government had been in Canberra for 3 years with an enormous reform agenda that would ultimately lead to the sale of Government plantations and the corporatisation of State Government businesses including forest agencies.

Significant change was coming to the forest industry, but from reading this strategy you wouldn’t know it.

The 1986 NFSA was a simple document running to a mere 17 pages (10 pages if Appendices are excluded).

The Strategy contains almost no background or supporting information, but despite this absence 34 recommendations are crammed into its few short pages.

There is no budget. There are no deadlines. There are no measureable, objective performance criteria. No one is held accountable or responsible.

There is a recommendation to review the Strategy every 5 years! That never happened despite the fact that the Hawke/Keating Government would be in power for another 10 years!

The Governments own reform agenda made much of the Strategy redundant.

Thirty four years have passed since this Strategy appeared. Much has changed in the forest industry in that time, and yet many things remain the same.

Dozens of other forest industry plans, strategies and reports have been written in the intervening 34 years. Most of them remain on library shelves collecting dust just like the 1986 Strategy.

The 1986 Forest Industry Strategy really did set the standard for forest industry dusty, dead end streets.

The forest industry in Australia remains in limbo land; unable to decide whether it is welfare or commercial.

My copy of this important historical document shall be returned to the bookshelf to collect dust for a few more decades.

Tasmania’s forest conflict has been quiet for years, but that could all be set to change in 2020

Wedgeforest

This article was in the news media recently:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-01-09/tasmania-to-refocus-on-forestry-in-2020/11844326

It says so much about how dysfunctional Tasmania has become.

I especially like the quote from Kate Crowley from the University of Tasmania:

“The sad thing is that it seems so old-fashioned and that we’ve moved past it, but maybe Tasmania’s never going to move past adversarial politics and maybe the forest peace process was always doomed because of that.”

I completely agree with this sentiment!

Tasmania is now utterly addicted to Wedge Politics. Our political system depends upon Wedge Politics for its survival!!

There is no other option in Tasmania but community division and conflict!!

But now in addition to public native forestry, we now have fish farms and tourism added as weapons to the arsenal of Wedge Politics in Tasmania. The tourism and fish farm industries have readily taken on the confrontational rhetoric of wedge politics; more than happy to divide and destroy the Tasmanian community.

Yes Ms Crowley! There will be no peace in Tasmania. Our politicians and business leaders are working to ensure that!!

“They should have been planting extra trees 15 years ago,” one frustrated sawmill owner said

sawmill3

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-09/why-the-victorian-government-is-taking-an-axe-to-timber-industry/11687952?fbclid=IwAR0J9KGJbcZCmbexgIqHsrj47aV44vpqJXPjWRmgW2KYhbnZve_hWgExAFI

This quote from a native forest sawmiller pretty much sums up for me why the forest industry in Australia is in such a crisis!

Sure, it’s historical.

It comes from having a forest industry that up until 20 years ago was almost 100% Government run.

Why would anyone other than Government, take responsibility for growing the industry?

That is what the sawmiller meant when he said “they”. Politicians plant trees! Sawmillers cut them down! A complete absence of personal responsibility!!

And that attitude is still the dominant attitude within the forest industry in Australia, even when most timber now grown and harvested in Australia is privately owned.

Here we are in the 21st century and no one in the forest industry in Australia takes any responsibility for ensuring the industry’s future.

And when I say forest industry here I mean anyone whose business relies on wood, from retailers, craftspeople and manufacturers all the way back to loggers and sawmillers.

It is the job of the marketplace to ensure the forest industry has a future, not politicians or taxpayers.

This means an end to Welfare Forestry and a focus on profitable tree growing.

It also means a complete change of attitude and thinking within the industry.

And it means building strong enduring relationships with rural communities.

So when do we begin?

The End of Welfare Forestry

Native forest

Last week the Victorian State Government announced that public native forestry would cease in 2030.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/nov/07/native-forest-logging-to-be-phased-out-by-2030-as-victoria-plans-timber-transition

https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/immediate-end-to-old-growth-logging-as-thousands-of-jobs-set-to-go-20191107-p5388w.html

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-07/regional-forestry-reax-to-end-of-native-logging-victoria-by-2030/11680544

https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/feds-fellers-furious-over-andrews-plan-to-halt-native-forest-logging-20191107-p538e8.html?fbclid=IwAR2AKHO9rL9su9gXOQQoDmx2dklqEKri37rV13oYROEGV90Qq8KKQotGkA4

Victoria, being a relatively progressive State, has been wrestling with the “forestry” issue for decades, with numerous Plans, Strategies, Reports, industry and community consultations, promises and backflips. This was just the latest manifestation:

https://www2.delwp.vic.gov.au/futureforests

The public native forest industry has been in decline for decades, but the industry wants to ensure that the end, when it comes, is as slow, painful and costly as possible.

Forest industry apologists bleat about how vital public native forestry is to the future of humanity!! Apparently the world will end if we stop chopping down public native forest.

Industry apologists also love talking about “balance”; that there is a balance between conservation and exploitation of our native forests. The industry has in the past attempted to impose a “balance” on our forests but without success.

Why?

Because public native forestry is 100% politics. To say there is a “balance” in public native forestry is to say there is a “balance” in politics! There is no such thing!

Does anyone believe 2030 will be the year welfare forestry ends?

Not likely. There are plenty of elections between now and then with plenty of changes of Government.

But this is definitely another nail in the coffin of the industry.

The only reason Victoria logs public native forest is to subsidise a few jobs. It is a very expensive wasteful employment program. That is all!

Private tree growers do NOT grow trees to subsidise jobs.

Public native (Welfare) forestry prevents a real forest industry from becoming established in Australia.

As a forester I look forward to the day Australia finally has a real forest industry.

Could forest policy in Tasmania get any worse?

pines

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-04/tasmanian-forest-logging-moratorium-end-looms/11379976?sf216949275=1&fbclid=IwAR1ZNEK86E5bz4Y7Aer6JaddK3-Dl9Okh06DtRnitt50LzmO7SaZ0G10lkU

This recent news article tells us that the next battle in the 30+ year Tasmanian forestry wars is due in April 2020. Players and stakeholders are already arming themselves and lining up on both sides of the frontline.

Given the belligerent nature of the Tasmanian State Liberal Government this will be another bitter fight with plenty of casualties.

In 2014 the newly elected Liberal State Government together with the special timbers industry deliberately reignited the forestry wars. Now it seems the Crown sawmillers are rejoining the wars, citing resource losses due to recent bushfires.

You see the so-called sustainable yield for Tasmania’s public native forest is based on the maximum possible production from the current State forest. There is no allowance in the sustainable yield for losses due to fire, storm or plague. Any such losses that are incurred must be made up for by logging outside State forest such as Conservation Reserves.

That is a perverse definition of sustainable.

A plea for peace? How can there be peace when there is no dialogue? How can there be peace when the last attempt at peace was deliberately scuttled by Tasmania’s political system?

Nevermind the fact that the forest industry wants the taxpayer to continue funding this ongoing plunder of Tasmania’s public native forests. How many teachers and nurses will we do without this year?

Tasmania’s public native forests long ago ceased contributing any economic value to the State economy. For the last 20+ years they have been a burden on taxpayers as is made perfectly clear in this article:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/29/tasmanian-forest-agreement-delivers-13bn-losses-in-giant-on-taxpayers

Tasmania’s public native forests are now just a political weapon to be used to embitter and divide the Tasmanian community. This article shows that perfectly!

And after 30 years Tasmanian’s just love playing the same old game!

The forestry wars will continue whilst Tasmania continues to waste scarce taxpayer’s money logging public native forest. That is the bottom line no one is prepared to acknowledge.