Address for the official launch of the Australian Forest and Wood Innovations Program, Launceston

LAUNCESTON, TASMANIA
TUESDAY, 12 MARCH 2024

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I think today is the beginning of what will be a really important moment for the forestry industry right across our country, but particularly for research happening here in Tasmania, where the forestry industry, we know, is so important.

And I really want to congratulate everyone who's been involved in getting us to this day. I wasn't aware until listening to Julianne, how long this project has been discussed and mooted and worked on. But I'm really pleased that as a result of an election commitment at the last federal election, it now comes to fruition right here in Launceston. So, as I say, I really want to congratulate everyone from the university and its other university partners, the board, local industry and unions, for really getting behind what I think will be a really important research centre for this critical industry going forward.

Hopefully, you've seen in the time that I've been in this role - which is coming up to two years - that our Government, the Albanese Government, is incredibly committed to the forestry industry going forward. And it's not just words. We're actually backing it up with all up about $300 million in investment from the federal level in different aspects of this industry to ensure that it remains sustainable, to ensure that it grows, and to ensure that it becomes more innovative into the future.

Some of those commitments are things like supporting the development of new plantations, which we know are going to be important going forward. But also, what we're doing is investing in sawmills and other manufacturing facilities, to modernise them, and ensure that they have the technology that they're going to need to compete in the future. And in fact, not far from here, at the Western Junction Mill last year, I announced the grants and Western Junction Mill was one of the beneficiaries of those grants to improve its technology. We’re also investing in the skills of the workers in this industry to make sure that they can adapt to the modernisation that we're seeing go on in this industry and take advantage of those higher skilled, higher paid jobs that we know are going to be available in this industry going forward.

But, of course, today is a good example that - as well as all of those things - we're investing in research to take this industry forward even more. And the reason we're doing that, I guess there's a few reasons; I think everyone in this room understands the economic importance of the forestry industry, particularly to regional Australia, where so many of the jobs and communities that the industry supports are based. The social benefits that arise from that employment and of course the environmental benefits that are arising, and that I think we're starting to understand better now around the carbon sequestration role that the forestry industry plays as well. And all of those things are reasons why one of our Government's priorities is to build what we call a Future Made in Australia. I was talking to Rufus on the way in, that this centre that we're all now in the process of building isn't just about doing research, it's about building our country's sovereign capability. We all learned through COVID some of the risks that are inherent in supply chains falling over, in not having the kind of manufacturing that our country needs. And forestry is a really important manufacturing industry and a critical part of that Future Made in Australia agenda for our Government.

So, as I say, that's why we're prepared to put our money where our mouth is with a $100 million investment to get this centre up and running in partnership with the University of Tasmania. But of course, while rightly this centre will be based here in Launceston, it will have very strong connections to universities and researchers in other parts of the country. And I was pleased that we were able to recently announce the two research partners that will be set up to work with this centre at the University of the Sunshine Coast and the University of Melbourne. But beyond that, we expect that other researchers and other universities will be able to partner here as well, through national (open)-call research commissions, one of which we expect to announce shortly.
The last thing I was going to say is that we all understand that while the forestry industry has a very proud history in Tasmania and in our country overall and a very strong present, what we want to do as a government is make sure that it has a very strong, viable and sustainable future. And that's why we need to invest more in research for this industry. And I'm really looking forward to seeing some of the world-leading research that will come out of this facility and through its partner organisations. Looking at things like how we can increase product recovery and make more efficient use of the logs that we harvest, how we can grow more plantation estates more sustainably, more viably into the future. How, as I say, we can ensure that workers in the sector have the skills necessary to retain their jobs and earn more, and also, how we can involve First Nations communities in the forestry industry more than we have in the past.

So I'm really confident that with this investment from our Government and the partnership with the University of Tasmania and other universities.

It's going to be a really exciting future that we're going to see come out of this centre. I'm really looking forward to seeing the research, looking forward to meeting some of the researchers who will be doing that.

And again, can I thank all of you for your contribution to this really important industry.

Thank you.