Australia’s current forest policy issues

To summarise: today, plantations supply 80 per cent of the Australian wood-processing industry’s raw material (Table 2). With full uptake of Australia’s plantation resources, processors can meet virtually all our wood needs without relying on native forests or imports. ‘Virtually’ is a key word used to cover at least 95 per cent of Australia’s wood needs; namely, all paper grades, wood-based panels and most sawn timber. In these commodity markets, hardwood and softwood plantation products substitute readily for native-forest products (Ajani 2004). Substitution is less perfect for the relatively small amount of high-appearance-hardwood sawn timber produced in Australia. Supply options for these products are discussed below.

Whilst plantations underpin the Australian wood-products industry’s enhanced productivity and have brought significant investment, income and employment to regional Australia, the ecological benefits arising from Australia’s shift to plantation-wood products lie largely unrealised. This is because governments facilitated new markets for native-forest wood — namely, woodchip exports — rather than securing significantly more conservation of biodiversity, protection of water catchments and mitigation of climate change.

Australia is poised for a second plantation-resources boom (Figure 1) as large areas of private-sector hardwood plantations come on stream. Most of the logs are destined for the export woodchip market and, as perfect substitutes, will compete against native-forest chip exports, now the dominant outlet for native-forest logging. The issues facing government policymakers in these deliberations narrow to three groupings.