Bushfire Roundtable on Forestry

On Thursday 6 February, Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries, Senator the Hon. Jonathon Duniam met with leaders from across Australia’s forestry industries to discuss the impact of the bushfires, the plans for response and recovery, and gaps where support is needed.

The impact of the fires has been significant, with damage to our forests and forestry industry workers, businesses, and communities. The fires remain ongoing, and will continue to burn for some time, with the full impact of the fires on our timber resources unlikely to be known for many months.

Assistant Minister Duniam and Mr Tony Pasin MP, Member for Barker, reinforced the government’s commitment to Australia’s $23.9 billion forestry industries, working with this sustainable and renewable industry to support its recovery.

The Roundtable provided an opportunity for government and industry to share information on the impact of the bushfires and commence discussions on how best to support recovery and build resilience.

Updates were provided on the damage and known impacts, including lost or damaged timber resources, mills, properties, critical machinery and jobs. A large proportion of the forestry workforce in fire affected areas have been fighting the fires, clearing roads and helping with the management of fires.

Major-General Andrew Hocking, from the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, provided an update on the current recovery measures available for fire affect regions. Industry welcomed the increased emergency support.

Industry leaders discussed the immediate recovery and salvage work that has commenced in some areas and in accordance with existing sustainable timber release plans, strategies around forest management across the landscape, collaboration to address future fire and other environmental risks, and wood fibre gaps in the future.

Issues raised included ongoing assessment work, approvals for salvage logging, haulage distances, access to seedlings to start replanting, repair and replacement of infrastructure and equipment, future wood supply including private and farm tree resources, domestic processing priorities, stimulating new plantation investment by reducing regulatory burden (e.g. 600mm water rule under the Emissions Reduction Fund), and building confidence in the industry following fires.

Industry leaders highlighted that learnings from events such as the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 and the Tasmanian fires of 2018–19 are critical to industry recovery. They re-iterated that despite the widespread impact, the industry had already mobilised to resume harvesting and keep mills running to support jobs and communities, while delivering a continued supply of Australia’s renewable timber and paper products.

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment will work with industry, the states and the National Bushfire Recovery Agency to progress options to further support the recovery of Australia's forestry industries in the fire-affected areas.

Assistant Minister Duniam congratulated the forestry industries on its resilience and commitment to affected communities, and committed to working with them as concrete actions became clear. It was agreed that further discussions and collaboration on the development of a national wood fibre plan to deal with these issues are needed to deliver a successful fire recovery for the forestry industries.

Assistant Minister Duniam committed to these actions as a matter of urgency.