Timber’s heavy-hitters from across NSW and Australia could be found in Tumut last Friday, with the NSW government’s Forest Industries Taskforce meeting to discuss the current state and future potential of the industry.
Earlier this year the state-owned Forestry Corporation purchased 7000 hectares of new plantation land, and Minister for Forestry Paul Toole said, after the meetings on Friday, that further expansion “makes sense.”
“One of the things that’s come out of the discussions is opportunities for future plantations,” he said.
“I think at the end of the day we do need to look at expanding, and this is a great opportunity – this area is already known for its plantations, there’s a strong timber industry here, and I think we can look at this area.
“The community already accepts it, it’s an industry that’s well known here, and it makes sense to expand it.”
Australia currently imports $2 billion more in timber than we export each year, and the Softwoods Working Group (SWG) along with other industry experts say that further expansion of plantations are necessary for the industry’s survival against a global market.
They also argued at the Taskforce meetings that Tumut is well placed to lead growth of Australia’s timber industry, with a variety of mills, infrastructure, and finely-tuned local expertise already in place, that currently sees the South-West Slopes produce over a billion dollars worth of forest products a year.
SWG have been working on several significant reports which were presented at the Taskforce meetings: on road infrastructure, the impact of forestry on the local community, and the potential for expansion.
They are not able to release the full reports as yet, but SWG Chairman Peter Crowe said that the reports would show the impact of timber on Tumut has been even greater than what people think.
“Our preliminary work shows that around 50 per cent of jobs, direct and indirect, in Tumut and Tumbarumba, rely on the forest industries.
“Fifty per cent. That means one in every two people in Tumut – or members of the workforce at least – have their job because of forestry.
“That’s going down to butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, but there would be less of them if it wasn’t for the big forestry engine driving it all.”
Mr Crowe said that investments in South-West Slopes plantations, which was a priority discussion point at the meetings, would be transformative for Tumut.
“When we have the plantations that creates fresh jobs, altogether new jobs, and as that workforce expands, they need more people to service them – electricians, school teachers, doctors and nurses, all that kind of stuff is needed, because the population is increasing.
“We’ve been reporting all these preliminary results, and we’ve also had an opportunity to present this information to the Minister (Paul Toole), so we’ve had a pretty good hearing and I think we’ve had a very enthusiastic response.”
Member for Wagga Daryl Maguire characterised further expansion around Tumut and Tumbarumba as “absolutely necessary.”
“Firstly, what is necessary is to replant the areas that have been harvested,” he said.
“Then it’s to replant the areas that have been burned and lost to bushfire – enormous amounts of pine have been lost.
“Thirdly it’s to encourage private sector investment. I think our government needs to be very creative about how we go about investing, and getting investors, and providing reasonable returns, so that superannuation companies and others can invest, and know they’ll get returns.
“I think there needs to be some innovation there.
“Then of course, low productive land is another option that can be explored.
“I think over time the goal of increased plantings can be achieved.
“There’s still a deficiency in the supply, and we need to fill that gap.”