I think it’s terrific that the Australian government is going to help South East Asia fight deforestation with a $200 million grant. I applaud the government for taking a global view of forest protection.

But while I applaud what the government is planning, it shouldn’t divert attention from the fact that there is a hell of a lot more to be done in Australia and it goes well beyond the process of greenhouse gas capture.

I wouldn’t want this to be seen as a statement that everything is fine in Australia. We’ve got a lot of problems in our own backyard. That’s not only forestry. It’s revegetation, salinity, soil erosion, biodiversity and conservation, to name just a few.

So how could Australia spend it? There’s a lot to do to rapidly slow the ongoing process of land-clearing. It’s quite remiss to be focussing on South East Asia in this case when we still have major deforestation issues in Australia.

There’s work to be done in improving fire management, because fire is a big source of greenhouse gases. There’s a lot to be done in establishing proper plantation developments. In places like Tasmania, that means not clearing native forests for plantations. It means planting plantations where it is sensible to do so, such as on already cleared farmland, and in a way that brings on board farmers and other people.

In this day and age, it is totally unacceptable to clear native forests to plant plantation timber. That’s a medieval practice. But it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Harvesting native forests can work, but there’s a lot of improvement yet to be made in how we do it. Needless to say, substantial investment there would make a huge difference.

I think $200m could be a major contributor to the restructuring (of the forest industry toward sustainability) that’s needed in Tasmania. There’s a whole set of issues in Tasmania that have been there for a long time. Forestry is one of the biggest industries in Tasmania, it’s one of the biggest employers, but there are deep-seated problems when you have to clear native forests to plant plantations. Money is going to be needed to do that in a state like Tasmania which is so heavily underpinned and funded by forestry interests.

To me, this shouldn’t be a case of either/or. We need both national and international investment. While I applaud the government for helping South East Asia, it would be fantastic do some more serious investment in Australia’s natural resources to make them much more ecologically sustainable, because right now they are not.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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