Forum explores a bluegum future

20 Dec, 2000 03:11 PM
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WITHIN six years, bluegum plantations could cover more than 200,000 hectares in WA, forcing more social change in rural areas. This was one of the issues that attracted more than 200 people to a bluegum plantation industry and community forum at Mt Barker recently. The forum was presented by Commercial Plantations WA, a branch of Australian Forest Growers, chaired by Great Southern Plantations executive director Helen Sewell and opened by WA Deputy Premier Hendy Cowan. Mr Cowan said WA could get a lot of positives out of the bluegum plantation industry. But, perhaps anticipating the tenor of the forum, Mr Cowan said no industry should ignore the community in which it was placed. "Many people see isolation by plantation as a downside of the industry," he said. "Aerial spraying may affect other nearby industries, such as horticulture and aquaculture, and people's health." He said the future required a means of maintaining input from the local community because, within six years, bluegum plantations should cover 200,000 hectares in WA. Federal Forestry Minister Wilson Tuckey described the Federal Government's commitment to research and value adding in the plantation industry. He said the rapidly expanding plantation industry in south-west WA could counter the worldwide shortage of quality paper, by WA having its own paper manufacturing industry. "We shouldn't remain as just exporters of woodchips," Mr Tuckey said. He saw considerable employment opportunities generated by the plantations benefiting local communities. Member for Eyre Julian Grill, Labor's resources development spokesman, said rural communities were losing population for a number of reasons, of which bluegum plantations were only one. The question of declining rural community population was one which tended to dominate discussion and Mr Grill's response to it was well received. Plantagenet shire president Kevin Forbes told the forum the shire's population had not declined through the growth of the plantation industry, but there had been population movement from areas such as Denbarker and Rocky Gully into the Mt Barker town site and some to Albany. The southern province of WA contains the largest bluegum resource in Australia, according to Gt Southern Development Commission chief executive Maynard Rye. A key speaker at the forum, Mr Maynard said total recent expenditure on a new woodchip mill north of Albany, developments at Albany port and the spur rail line totalled $50 million. "Significant increased economic benefit will flow from the region's first plantation bluegum harvesting and processing in a year's time," Mr Rye said. "In the first full year, 400,000 tonnes of woodchips will leave the port of Albany bound for Abaratsu in Japan. This is forecast to increase to a million tonnes by year 2007." He said forecasts could reach a sustainable annual production of 4mt from a bluegum estate of 200,000ha. However, Mr Rye said research by Australian National University's Dr U Bhati suggested Australian investment strategies based on an expectation of a sustainable strong demand from Japan were likely to be disappointing. He said Dr Bhati proposed that Australia, the world's second biggest exporter of woodchips behind the US, would do better to lift its overall competitiveness in terms of quality, price and aspects of supply and aim for bigger market share. Referring to a Timber 2002 study, Mr Rye said planning for providing higher levels of technically based training needed to be ongoing. He said the bluegum timber industry would create 2760 jobs of which 1087 were permanent. It would have an optimum export value of $2314m, attract additional population growth of 6000 people and a demand for an additional 2500 dwellings and provide further income for farmers. pUnder threat Commercial Plantations WA planning and policy co-ordinator George Bray said small local communities had to grasp opportunities and use them to provide amenities. Rapid change had placed small communities under threat. "It comes back to the community itself to take on ideas," he said. "Do small WA towns offer its citizens amenities that will keep them there?" He said the population was ageing and neighbouring communities needed to work together to achieve their objectives. The rigidity of the policy decisions of the WA Planning Commission drew criticism form the floor at the forum. Replying to it, Commission chairman Simon Holthouse, who has a farm at Harvey, said the commission tried to maintain consistency across the state when making decisions on subdivisions. He referred to the changes in population taking place in the countryside and the expectation that some elderly farmers be permitted to sublet part of the farm and to remain living there. He said this was not a simple solution for a community problem. Mr Holthouse said there was a need for land in WA to be protected for future agricultural and horticultural use and to ensure there was a way in which the local community obtained satisfactory long-term outcomes. Other forum speakers and their subjects were: Robert Hance, CEO Timbercorp - The role of private investment in plantation development. Robert Coffey, a director of North Forest Products - Emerging Australian supply of hardwood, pulpwood and chips. Tim Browning, general manager harvesting and special projects, Timbercorp - Commercial Plantations WA. Dr Kathryn Williams, Melbourne University - Managing social change in rural areas. Grant King, CEO South East Development Board, South Australia - Tourism and trees, a Mt Gambier experience. John Oldfield, plantation contractor - Opportunities for local communities. Ray Fremlin, Forest Products Commission technical adviser - Industry code of practice. Kevin Forbes, Plantagenet shire president - Fire control. Robert Arnott, Main Roads WA - Road funding. Denis Sewers, Albany Plantations Export Company - Managing local roads during harvesting. David Quill, harvesting consultant, Mt Gambier - Infield chipping and harvesting systems. A full or part record of the forum is available from Commercial Plantations WA, PO Box 5273, Albany 6330. The unedited record on CD is available at a cost of $8.80. Some speeches are available electronically and emailed. ÿ

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