THE State government needs to step back from the Western Australian sandalwood industry and let the industry manage and worry about its own future, according to the Australian Sandalwood Network (ASN).
The State government released the WA Sandalwood Taskforce report for public consultation which concluded last month.
The taskforce, chaired by Melissa Hartmann of the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, was established by the State government in late 2019 and included representatives from State government agencies and from Aboriginal groups and businesses with an interest in the wild sandalwood industry.
The report produced by the WA Sandalwood Taskforce outlined eight recommendations to government that it said "would support increased economic opportunities for Aboriginal communities using WA's wild sandalwood resource".
The report said for some Aboriginal communities, particularly those from the Central Deserts region, the local economic and social situation was dire.
"The desert sandalwood industry founders and Aboriginal leaders and elders are calling for an industry overhaul and a bold set of clear recommendations around access to and sustainable harvesting and management of the wild sandalwood resource," the report said.
ASN president Bruce Storer said the network had made a joint industry submission plus an individual submission which included that involving the indigenous landholders in the industry was a positive but there was a massive "conflict of interest" on the part of the government that meant it should reduce its involvement in the sector, not enhance it.
Mr Storer said "the State government and the Forest Products Commission (FPC) have a conflict of interest" in the industry.
"That's very front and centre in the report," Mr Storer said.
"We have been lobbying for years that they shouldn't be the rule maker and the profit taker.
"They need to transition away from the cultivation of sandalwood but they are not doing that.
"In the report it said that they were worried about price fluctuation - the only reason they are worried is because they were going to lose revenue."
Mr Storer said the "FPC needs to step back and reduce its harvesting on Crown land".
"One could argue that it's not their land and they are stealing from traditional owners and the community," he said.
"It is also a very complicated system with three ministers involved in various aspects."
Mr Storer said there "seemed to be an over-supply of wild harvested sandalwood but the FPC doesn't seem to be concerned".
State Forestry Minister Dave Kelly said a significant portion of the State's wild sandalwood resources were found on land that fell under native title and the government was "committed to implementing actions that will support Aboriginal economic development and greater Aboriginal involvement in the native sandalwood industry".
"WA has one of the world's largest wild resources of sandalwood which is highly sought after for the oils contained in the heartwood," Mr Kelly said.
The report said the wild sandalwood industry was based on two main markets - domestically sandalwood oil was produced for use in perfumery, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals while export sandalwood was processed into a powdered wood blend designed for the agarbatti (incense stick) market.
These markets combined generate almost $40 million annually for the WA economy.
Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan said "Dutjahn Sandalwood Oils is an example of a regionally-based Western Australian business with significant Aboriginal ownership that is making an impact on the world stage".
"The company, which distils sandalwood oil at its Kalgoorlie facility, exports sandalwood oil to global perfume houses and was last year awarded a prestigious United Nations Equator Prize," Ms MacTiernan said.
The eight recommendations in the report include a list of things that the government could do to ensure a successful industry, as well as "that the Flora Taking (Sandalwood) Licence application processes be streamlined to reduce impediments to Aboriginal participation, requirements for appropriate sustainability management plans be clarified and renewals and land access consent approvals be simplified for agreed types of applications".
It also recommended that "the amount of the annual quota allocated to Crown land and private land licences be increased from 10 per cent (250 tonnes) to 20pc (500t) to cater for an increase in Aboriginal groups seeking Crown land licences or successful Aboriginal applicants and operators seeking expanded sustainable harvest amounts."
- The report can be found at wa.gov.au/government/ announcements/sandalwood- taskforce-report