16 November 2020
Independent Senator Rex Patrick has called on both Federal and State Governments to assist the State’s forestry industry to reduce dependency on China and diversify to other markets, including and especially to local Australian value-add industries.
”I’ve been working for some time with local SA sawmills which haven’t been able to obtain fibre to process because timber suppliers, including ForestrySA, were obsessed with exporting logs to China”, said Senator Patrick. “What’s happening now with China imposing punitive bans on our timber exports could actually be hugely beneficial to Australia if we play our cards right.”
“Current trade disruptions with China, be they related to meat, barley, lobster or timber, are not isolated incidents, rather they are a deliberate pattern of punitive measures with the Chinese Communist government putting politics ahead of fair trade. Governments need to recognise that and adjust trade and industry policies accordingly.”
“Trade diversification is the key but this shouldn’t mean just to other foreign markets, Australian Governments must encourage diversification to Australian local markets as well,” Senator Patrick said.
“There’s a great opportunity for local sawmills to expand using South Australian forestry product, value adding and employing Aussies.”
Earlier this year Mount Gambier-based Roundwood Solutions managing director Steve Telford told media that softwood resource was being shipped to China despite log supply insecurity facing smaller operators. “Our forefathers planted the trees — they were planted with a plan to create jobs into the future. It wasn't about growing wood for Asia. We could 100 per cent use the logs going out of the Port of Portland —both pulp and sawlogs could be utilised"
“Local sawmill proprietors have told me the same thing”, said Senator Patrick. “I’m calling on Governments to assist the forestry industry transition to back to a greater focus on local supply”.
Both State and Federal Governments have for too long been comfortable encouraging timber exports so that China can create jobs and make money from value-add. It’s time they supported new Aussie jobs and local economic activity.
“We should be thinking along the same lines with commodities such as iron ore and lithium. Why export iron ore when we can export steel and create local jobs in doing so? Why export lithium when we can export batteries at much greater prices?” asked Senator Patrick.
“The Australian Government needs to abandon its ‘competitive advantage’ extremism and start recognising the playing field is not even. Governments impose necessary requirements on Aussie businesses such as minimum wages, superannuation, minimum safety standards and environmental standards and then they suggest that countries without these requirements are much more efficient and cost effective than us.”
“Things have to change and these improper trade actions by China, coupled with lessons from COVID-19, should provide the Australian Government with a catalyst to focus more on local value-add and all the benefits that flow from it.”