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The View from Australia - More Consistent Regulation would Improve Forestry's International Competitiveness

I've commented previously on the need for industry leaders in Australia to focus efforts on advocating for greater harmonisation around inter-jurisdictional regulation. But what does this mean in practice?

In Australia we have three levels of government, and often competing objectives within agencies in one particular jurisdiction. This means there is considerable variability across the country in terms of regulatory expectations, across a range of disciplines. For a company operating at the national level, this presents a complex web of compliance requirements which has the potential to add significant cost to doing business, because it is difficult to identify a catch-all compliance solution.

The issue is not limited to the forestry sector. Long service leave, workers compensation and payroll tax all operate with slight differences amongst states in Australia.

In other instances, even though regulation might be almost exactly the same between jurisdictions, efforts to achieve a national, fully harmonised outcome, are stymied by state parochialism. Consider, for example, the efforts to create a harmonised platform for safety legislation. Despite the obvious advantages, and the relative technical ease with which this could be achieved, it is still someway off and could possibly fail, because of individual state agendas.

More specifically on the forestry and land management front, each state in Australia has a quite different approach to regulation of forestry operations. Variations depend on whether the forest is privately held or part of the state government infrastructure, whether the forest is native or plantation, whether or not local government is involved, and the priorities and competence of the relevant state and local government environmental authorities.

For example, in New South Wales, private forestry is regulated by two separate agencies, depending on whether it is native or plantation forestry. In Western Australia and Victoria, state level regulatory requirements are managed through the local government framework, with right of use issues dealt with under the interpretative powers of small, often under-resourced, compliance teams which are much more prone to political interference and influence.

Tasmania has probably the most efficient regulatory regime for forestry operations – in fact it is world-class. The same regime applies regardless of tenure or forest type. However, it is unfairly tainted by the broader political and social issues around forest management in that state.

Regulatory inefficiency in the forestry sector in Australia creates significant business cost, particularly for companies operating at a national scale. Although there is no simple, easy or short-term fix, the issue needs to be addressed to improve our competitiveness. There is a role for industry leaders to work together to advocate for change. In the meantime individual businesses should continually look at ways that they can improve their efficiency within the current rule sets.