Chapter 2 History of Forestry in Australia
This report focuses primarily on the future of the Australian forestry
industry. The terms of reference specifically direct the Committee to consider
the ‘current and future prospects’ of the industry. However, it is necessary to
briefly set out national forestry policy history, so that the Committee’s
findings and recommendations have a proper context. Two major periods of policy
development will be discussed: the 1960s ‘Softwood Agreements’, and the period
since the National Forest Policy Statement in 1992.
As the discussions below demonstrate, forestry policy is a shared
policy, between all levels of government. However, as also demonstrated below,
this is no impediment to good national outcomes. In each case, all levels of
government have been involved to some degree, and a cooperative approach has
given Australia coherent national policy that is sensitive to the differences
between regions around the country.
Softwood Agreements in the 1960s
As noted by numerous submissions to the inquiry, the plantation estate
in Australia expanded significantly in the 1960s, as a result of concerted
efforts by the Australian Government and State and Territory Governments. As
explained by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in its
Max Jacobs, Director-General of the Forestry and Timber
Bureau, argued in 1964 that Australia should become self-sufficient in wood.
The Australian Government supported the States in strategies to establish more
plantations to cover the expected shortages, and find pulpwood markets for the
otherwise unsaleable trees so that native forests could be regenerated as
future tree crops...This was facilitated through the Softwood Forestry
Agreements Act 1967 and subsequent acts (1972, 1976, and 1978), and
self-sufficiency became implicitly, if not explicitly, a ‘national’ policy.
From the 1960s to the 1980s the rate of plantation
establishment increased to an average of around 25,000 hectares per year...Over
90% of the plantations established in this period are exotic pines managed on [30
– 35 year rotations] primarily for sawlog production.
This extensive plantation resource has contributed significantly to
Australia’s timber and wood-product output. As pointed out by numerous submissions
to the inquiry, the establishment of these plantations was assisted by loans
from the Australian Government to State and Territory governments.
Whilst this policy resulted in a considerable plantation expansion, it was
largely through government managed areas. As outlined below, policy in the past
two decades has strongly emphasised private establishment and ownership of
The National Forest Policy Statement of 1992
In 1992, the Australian Government, along with five State and two Territory
Governments, agreed to the National Forest Policy Statement (the 1992
Statement). In 1995 the Tasmanian Government also agreed to the Statement,
thereby securing the agreement of all State and Territory Governments.
The 1992 Statement recognises the ‘specific interests and
responsibilities’ had by each of the three levels of government in Australia.
Whilst these different interests and responsibilities mean that no single
government has sole power to make decisions about forestry, the statement ‘describes
a process of consultation and cooperation designed to protect Australia’s
natural and cultural heritage in the context of conservation and development
Under the 1992 Statement, the Governments express a shared vision for
the management of Australia’s forests. This vision includes an increase of
forested land, the management of private forests in close cooperation with
public forests, a ‘range of sustainable forest-based industries, founded on
excellence and innovation’, the efficient, environmentally sensitive and
sustainable use of forests and their resources, and the participation of the
Australian community in ‘decision-making processes relating to forest use and
The 1992 Statement has a number of principal objectives, which include:
- maintenance of an
extensive and permanent native forest estate in Australia;
- protection of nature
conservation values in forests;
- sustainable economic
use of native forests and plantations, for wood production;
- maintenance of the
existing private native forest cover;
- facilitation of the
ecologically sustainable management of private native forests for nature
conservation, catchment protection, wood production or other economic pursuits;
- increased commercial
plantation development on cleared agricultural land including integration with
other agricultural land uses;
- improved productivity
of existing plantations; and
- expansion of
plantation base by industrial growers and public forestry agencies to satisfy
The statement also discusses specific policy initiatives directed at
achieving these objectives. The following section details the foundation
provided by the 1992 Statement, and two major mechanisms that sought to bring
about the objectives of the statement: in relation to native forests, the
Regional Forest Agreements (RFA) process; and in relation to plantations, the Plantations
for Australia: the 2020 Vision (the 2020 Vision) initiative.
Native forests in the 1992 Statement
In finding a balance between the various objectives relating to native
forests, the 1992 Statement identifies a ‘single, comprehensive regional
assessment process...[providing] the basis for enabling the Commonwealth and
the States to reach a single agreement relating to their obligations for forests
in a region.’
Regional Forest Agreements
In practice, the process for assessing forests and agreeing to regional
forest plans was through the RFA process. As noted by the Department of
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) in its submission to the inquiry,
the RFA process was developed as the ‘mechanism to achieve several key goals of
the National Forest Policy Statement’. RFAs have been agreed for
ten regions, where ‘commercial wood production is a major native forest use.’
As noted by the DAFF submission, the RFAs have three key objectives:
- to protect
environmental values and a world class system of national parks and other
- to manage all native
forests in an ecologically sustainable way; and
- to encourage job
creation and growth in forest based industries, including wood products,
tourism and minerals.
Firstly, governments created regional scoping agreements, ‘to identify
government obligations, regional objectives and interests, and broad forest
uses, as well as the nature and scope of the forest assessment.’
Secondly, a national set of criteria for conservation were agreed – for
a ‘Comprehensive, Representative and Adequate Reserve’ system.
Thirdly, a ‘comprehensive regional assessment’ was undertaken in each
region, which ‘evaluated the economic, social, environmental and heritage
values of forest regions and involved the full range of stakeholder and
Finally, negotiations were held between the Australian Government and
the State Government for each forest region. The final result of these
negotiations – an RFA – included an agreed reserve system, as well as providing
a wood supply for industry certainty.
Between 1996 and 2001, ten RFAs were agreed: three in New South Wales,
five in Victoria, one in the South-West of Western Australia, and one covering
all of Tasmania. A comprehensive regional assessment was completed for
South-Eastern Queensland, but an RFA was not agreed.
According to the State of the Forests Report 2008,
Queensland has a ‘statewide forests process’ for the
long-term assessment and planning of the public forest estate that will result
in a significant expansion of conservation areas. The process involves key
stakeholders and the community and is intended to result in forest agreements
aimed at providing certainty to the forest industry, protecting environmental
values and ensuring ecologically sustainable management of forests.
RFAs have been recognised in Commonwealth law, through the Regional
Forest Agreements Act 2002 (the RFA Act). Under that Act, certain
legislation does not apply to RFA wood or RFA forestry operations (including
the Export Control Act 1982 and Part 3 of the Environment Protection
and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.) The RFA Act also
provides for compensation where the Commonwealth is in breach of an RFA.
The RFA agreements include provision for regular review, every five
years. Under a review:
an independent reviewer assesses the Australian and State
Governments’ (the parties) implementation of the milestones, obligations and
commitments as outlined in the RFAs and provides information against agreed
state sustainability indicators.
Figure 2.1 The RFA process
of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry website – www.daff.gov.au
In Victoria, for example, the five RFAs were reviewed and reported on
simultaneously, in a single report. This report covered two periods: from the
signing of the RFAs until 30 June 2004 (a period of between four and seven
years), and from 1 July 2004 until 30 June 2009. This means that, in effect,
ten five-year reviews were published in a single report (completed in May
As noted by the DAFF submission, all RFAs have been reviewed at least
once. Further reviews of various RFAs will be due in 2011, 2012 and 2014.
DAFF further notes that all RFAs will reach their fifteen-year mark between
2012 and 2015. As RFAs have a twenty-year duration, governments will be
‘considering their approach to the extensions of the RFAs’
over the coming years.
It is important to note that some evidence to the Committee criticised
both the creation and implementation of RFAs. This evidence will be discussed
in detail in Chapter 4, along with further consideration of the RFA process,
including the options for their renewal.
Plantations in the 1992 Statement
As noted above, the 1992 Statement’s ‘vision’ includes an increase in
the total area of forest in Australia. One of the national goals identified was
to ‘expand Australia’s commercial plantations of softwoods and hardwoods so as
to provide an additional, economically viable, reliable and
high-quality wood resource for industry.’ As also noted above,
there are three main objectives relating to plantations. These objectives were
to be met through a number of approaches.
The mechanisms for increasing plantations relied on tax arrangements,
planning rules, access to information, pricing policies, export controls and
research and development. Without reproducing the
details contained in the 1992 Statement, a range of policies for both the Australian
and State and Territory governments was agreed, according to their different
powers and responsibilities. Further detail about the specific mechanisms used
to encourage plantation establishment are discussed in Chapter 5.
In 1997, Plantations for Australia: Vision 2020 was launched by
the Australian Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. The vision was the
result of work commissioned by the Standing Committee on Forestry, which sat
below the Ministerial Council on Forestry, Fisheries and Aquaculture (a COAG
body). Through this process,
the vision had the input and agreement of Federal, State and Territory
Governments, as well as representatives of the forestry industry.
Whilst the 1992 Statement made no commitment to the development of a
separate plantations agreement, the 2020 Vision itself notes that the
plantations initiative follows from the earlier agreement: ‘The Plantations
2020 Visions was developed in the policy environment established by the
Commonwealth and State Governments in the National Forest Policy Statement
(1992).’ Numerous submitters to
the inquiry note the strong connection between the two agreements.
The 2020 Vision is described as a ‘strategic partnership between the
Australian, State and Territory Governments and the plantation timber growing
and processing industry.’ The Vision’s central
target is to treble the area of commercial tree crops between 1997 and 2020 –
from approximately 1.1 million hectares to 3 million hectares.
Under the original vision, this measurement was to include farm forestry.
Figures from Australia’s Plantations 2010 Inventory Update
indicate that in 2009 there were approximately 2.02 million hectares of
plantations in Australia. Figures from 2011 show this total declining slightly
in 2010. Most of the growth in
plantation coverage has been in hardwood plantings, which have grown from 29%
of total plantations in 1999 to 49% of total plantations in 2009.
As the vision document states, the plantation area is only one ‘measure
of success’. Other considerations include the quality, product mix, location
and effective management of the plantation resource.
The nub of the strategy is ‘to facilitate an environment that will
attract the private investment necessary to develop a significant plantation
resource’. Creating this environment relied on sixteen ‘actions’ including
promoting ‘the development of appropriate structures to encourage investment in
the plantation sector.’
As noted by DAFF witnesses, since the adoption of the Vision 2020
document, significant progress has been made towards the target of trebling
plantations in Australia. At the same time, DAFF acknowledged questions about
whether ‘the mix of products that have gone in aligns with the aspirational
targets as they were considered at the time’. These matters will be
discussed further in Chapter 5.
Tasmanian Statement of Principles
As pointed out by many submissions to the inquiry, the forestry industry
in Tasmania is currently undergoing some substantial changes. This is largely
due to the announcement of a ‘Statement of Principles to Lead to an Agreement’,
which was signed on 14 October 2010. The central aim of the process – beginning
with the Statement of Principles – is to ‘To resolve the conflict over forests
in Tasmania, protect native forests, and develop a strong sustainable timber
There are a number of parties to the Statement of Principles:
- Timber Communities
- The Construction,
Forestry, Mining and Energy Union;
- The National
Association of Forest Industries;
- The Forest Industries
Association of Tasmania;
- The Australian Forest
- The Tasmanian Forest
- Environment Tasmania
- The Wilderness
Conservation Foundation; and
- Tasmanian Country
It is important to note that neither
the Tasmanian Government nor the Australian Government were parties to the
The Statement of Principles includes eighteen general principles,
including the ‘handing back’ of some native forest harvesting entitlements, the
protection of some High Conservation Value public forests, and ‘transition the
commodity (non specialty) forest industry out of public native forests into
suitable plantations through a negotiated plan and timeline’.
The concept of High Conservation Value forests is discussed further in Chapter
The Statement of Principles is clearly the very first part of a complex
process which will involve both the Tasmanian and Australian Governments, as
well as local communities, environmental groups and the forestry industry.
To date, there has been a further agreement reached between the
Tasmanian Government and the Australian Government, which was announced on 7
August 2011. Both Governments have committed funding for various purposes under
the agreement, and have designated three ‘streams of activity’ for implementing
- Stream One: Support
for Workers, Contractors and Communities;
- Stream Two:
Protecting High Conservation Forests and Ensuring Sustainable Wood Supply; and
- Stream Three:
Funding of up to $276 million will be provided to implement the
agreement, most of which will come from the Commonwealth, with the Tasmanian
Government providing $15 million.
A further element of the Tasmanian process will assess and verify claims
about sustainable timber requirements, available native forest and plantation
volumes, and High Conservation Value forests. The Independent Verification
Group, which will ‘design and implement a verification process’ to do this
work, will give both the Tasmanian and Australian Governments certainty that
the Statement of Principles can be implemented.
The Chair of the Group, Professor Jonathan West, has reported back to the
Australian and Tasmanian Governments about developing the verification process.
He advised that the Reference Group of Signatories to the Statement of
Principles had unanimously agreed to the design of the verification process,
and that they would accept the results of the process.
Throughout evidence to the Committee, the National Forest Policy
Statement in 1992 is frequently the central point of reference for the recent
history of the forestry industry. The two major policies to come out of that
Statement – the RFA process and the Vision 2020 agreement – have had a lasting
impact on the industry.
The RFA process, whilst not perfect, is a valuable process for
governments to develop local and regional agreement on the use of public native
forests. In particular, it has given Australia a way of balancing many
different demands on native forests. It has supported a viable forestry
industry, it has enabled communities to participate in decisions about resource
allocation in their own region, it has protected important forests for
conservation, and it has strengthened the environmental credentials of the
Australian forestry industry. Across these areas, it has provided certainty.
The RFA process has also provided a base for the interpretation of ‘high
conservation value’ forests.
In relation to the process itself, it has brought consultation and
scientific assessments into regional agreements. In addition, it has enabled
the Australian Government to combine regional planning with a national
strategy, to improve the coherence of native forest use across Australia.
The Committee is strongly supportive of the new direction in the
Tasmanian forestry industry, and is pleased to see that progress is being made
on other parts of the Statement of Principles. In particular, the Committee is
keen to see the establishment of the Independent Verification Group, discussed
above. The Committee looks forward to seeing the Tasmanian process fully
implemented, with funding flowing to the three streams outlined above. This new
direction will certainly provide considerable environmental benefits, including
the protection of additional forests with important values for conservation.
Many submissions to the inquiry make reference to the current policy
changes in Tasmania, and one suggests that a similar process could be
undertaken in other forestry regions of Australia.
The Committee does not believe that this is a viable option. The process in
Tasmania is the result of a very particular set of circumstances, driven by a
group of organisations that were keen to develop a new vision for Tasmanian
forestry. Whilst the Committee fully supports this process, it is not feasible
for the Australian Government to step back from forestry policy in other
regions in the hope that a similar process will spontaneously commence. The
Australian Government must continue to drive a national policy that is
implemented at a regional level. The best way to do this is through the RFA
process, which will be discussed in detail in Chapter 4.