Grievance Debate - Timber Industry

Wednesday May 12, 2021

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (15:50): I rise to talk about timber exports. This is a perennial issue that seems to cycle through from time to time, but it is a very serious issue. I guess it has been started again by photographs sent through to me by members of my community who are quite disappointed at the amount of raw product—log—being exported from the Port of Portland.

When you look at photographs from two weeks ago, the number of logs, the pile of saw chip, is quite staggering. I guess that has been reinforced by the Australasian publication Timberbiz. One of its articles of 10 May 2021 entitled, 'Softwood exports triple in March', states:

Australia's softwood log exports almost tripled in March, lifting to a four-month high of 183 km3, with prices stable, but below their peaks of just a few months earlier. With Australia's logs unable to access the mainland Chinese market, shipments are increasing to India and Korea in particular.

We face this situation in Australia where we have a housing boom occurring. A number of builders are contacting me saying that they cannot get enough structural timber for the projects they have on their books, yet we have a booming market of raw product leaving our state, and in particular heading overseas as a raw product.

It is a shame, and we have got to come together as a state and as a federal government and sit down with these companies. One approach is to say, 'Well, these forest estates are privately owned. They are companies,’ normally superannuation trusts from overseas, and 'they've got a right to do with that asset as they please'. However, on the other hand we have a responsibility to the people of our state to maximise that resource, to provide jobs and to provide the finished product, and of course the benefits to the state that go with that, including an increase of GST (because it is manufactured here), as well as the jobs, the wages, and, of course, the taxes that would be collected from those wages.

An approach I would like to see taken is a code of conduct for the industry where domestic manufacturing is the first priority, and for our Premier, and even our Prime Minister, to sit down with these superannuation funds to see what can be done to maximise that product being developed and finished in Australia—Australian logs for Australian jobs.

My good friend the member for Frome just yesterday was asking questions about the ForestrySA estate. That is a state-owned asset, and I would be horrified to see a local saw manufacturer or timber operation—Morgan's at Jamestown—losing that resource and for it to be exported in an unfinished state overseas to some of these ports I have been talking about. To a small community, that would be 70 to 75 jobs. More than that, the finished product is a product we need in Australia.

What is happening is that we are exporting the jobs overseas. The raw product leaves the ports of Australia, but then we need to import the structural timber back in, the timber that you would see in your house. Those hundreds and thousands of jobs—tens of thousands of jobs when you add in allied industries—are all overseas. We need some leadership in this area and, particularly from the point of view of ForestrySA, which is state owned, those jobs need to be for South Australians.