RFAs crucial to long-term prospects
The recent Federal Court decision to uphold the validity of Regional Forest Agreements sent a strong signal that the RFAs strike the right balance between environmental, social and economic management of Australia’s forests.
“The Australian forest industries welcome this vindication of our sustainable, renewable industry which relies on the latest available science to ensure our precious native forest resource is sustainably managed to ensure it is available to all Australians in perpetuity,” said Ross Hampton, CEO of the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA).
“The facts are that Australia’s RFA framework rightly demands the highest environmental standards and is complemented by rigorous state-level environmental laws, on par with the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. This decision by WKH )HGHUDO &RXUW KDV FRQ¿UPHG that.”
While the judge hearing the case deferred a decision on some operational aspects separate to the substantive point of whether RFAs were invalid because of GHOD\V LQ WKH ¿YH \HDUO\ UHYLHZV – which would have national implications – Mr Hampton said he hoped the matter would be promptly resolved to provide certainty to industry and allow VicForests to get on with caring for our forests.
He said it was vital that the Federal and Victorian Governments prioritised the 20-year extension of the Victorian RFAs, particularly the Central Highlands and East Gippsland RFAs.
Victoria’s forestry industries generate $7.3 billion of economic activity annually and directly employ around 20,000 people across Victoria and indirectly support another 40,000 to 50,000 jobs. Many of these jobs are located in rural and regional Victoria.
RFAs seek to balance competing economic, social and environmental demands on forests by setting obligations and commitments for forest management that deliver:
certainty of resource access and supply to industry – building LQYHVWPHQW FRQ¿GHQFH ecologically sustainable forest management – ensuring forests are appropriately managed and regenerated
an expanded and permanent forest conservation estate – to provide for the protection of Australia’s unique forest biodiversity.
The Commonwealth and four State Governments progressively signed the 10 RFAs between 1997 and 2001. There are 10 RFAs in four states covering commercial native forestry UHJLRQV ± ¿YH LQ 9LFWRULD WKUHH LQ New South Wales and one each in Western Australia and Tasmania. The Australian and Queensland governments completed a Comprehensive Regional Assessment for South-East Queensland but did not sign an RFA.
The 20-year RFA agreements around Australia have been independently assessed time and time again as exceeding the environmental requirements of the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, while providing a level of resource security for industry.
The Australian Government is on record as strongly supporting Australia’s forest industry and is FRPPLWWHG WR IXO¿OOLQJ LWV HOHFtion commitment to rolling 20 year extensions to all 10 RFAs across Australia.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said Australia “should be a forest industry international powerhouse”.
He told an industry dinner last year ... “We have the trees, we have the great industry, we have the science. What we have to do, is get on with it. We’re committed to developing this industry as a growth engine for regional Australia.” ³:KHQ EXVLQHVVHV DUH FRQ¿dent, when they know the government backs them, they invest and they hire,” the Prime Minister said.
“Our achievement in Tasmania (in 2017) is now being considered by the other states with RFAs due to expire between now and 2022. Together with the states, we are looking to continue to balance environmental, social and economic values to guarantee the future of the forest industry in the long term,” said Senator Anne Ruston, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources.
Map of Regional Forest Agreement and related regions n Australia. Department of Agriculture & Water Resources. ++ The Regional Forest Agreement for North East New South Wales comprises two sub regions: Upper North East and Lower North East.