Political tree-change in Australian sector

The Australian forestry and forest products sector has been a-buzz following the very explicit support offered by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Senator Richard Colbeck in their speeches to the industry gala dinner last week.

It is a long time indeed since our sector has been subject to such a high level of overt political interest and support at the Federal Government level. The announcement both of the establishment of a Forest Industry Advisory Council (to be co-chaired by eminent Australian forester Rob De Fegeley) and consideration for substantial matched support for industry innovation is most welcome as the sector responds to the significant structural change that has occurred over the past 3 years.

Of interest is that much of the focus continues to be around native forestry in Tasmania, with the Coalition in both Canberra and Hobart pushing hard to rescind the Tasmanian Forest Agreement as Tasmania heads to a state poll.

Unfortunately this issue, while of current political importance, is a distraction from the positive opportunities across the rest of the sector nationally. In particular, Senator Colbeck's tacit recognition of the Federal Government's role in supporting forest products research, innovation and growth is critical in the context of Australia's declining forestry research capability. Importantly Senator Colbeck also noted the need for the industry to step up to the challenge with funding, clear priorities and a coherent strategy that the Government can support with respect to forest products innovation.

The quality background work on this issue that has been developed and promoted by Forest and Wood Products Australia and the reinvigorated Australian Forest Products Association will be essential in converting the positive political good will into a renewed focus on research and innovation in Australian forestry that can in turn be shaped into real new opportunities for growth.