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Publications archive - International Activities and Commitments

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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Australia's report to the UNCSD - 1995

Implementation of Agenda 21
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1995
ISBN 0 6444 3152 0

Forests

Chapter 11 of Agenda 21

Introduction

Australia is strongly committed to the protection and use of its forest resources based on the principles of ecologically sustainable development. As part of this commitment Australia supports the 'Non-legally binding authoritative statement of principles for a global consensus on the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests' together with relevant chapters of Agenda 21.

Since the conclusion of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in June 1992 there have been a number of major achievements relating to ecologically sustainable forest development in Australia. Many of these are encapsulated in the National Forest Policy Statement (NFPS) which was agreed in December 1992.

The NFPS sets out an agreed national approach to the conservation and sustainable management of Australia's forests. It represents the culmination of a number of major national studies conducted over the preceding 2-3 years. A range of initiatives associated with the policy are being implemented and are described under the relevant headings in this report.

A prime objective of the NFPS is to bring together the forest-related interests and responsibilities of the Federal, State and Territory Governments. Under Australian Constitution arrangements, land management, including management of forests is primarily the responsibility of the State and Territory Governments. Accordingly, the States and Territories have enacted legislation that allocates forest land tenures and specifies the administrative framework and policies within which public and private forests are managed. The Commonwealth (Federal) Government's responsibilities in relation to forests include export controls related to international trade in unprocessed wood products and responsibility for ensuring that Australia meets its obligations concerning international forest-related agreements to which it is a party. Coordination of national approaches to environmental protection and industry development issues is also an important element of the Federal Government's activities in respect of forests.

The following provides an outline of major achievements, intended action and implementation issues under the headings proposed for country reports to the third session of the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD). Additional and more detailed information on these and other issues is provided in the attached table. This also provides more detail on relevant forest initiatives by individual States and Territories in Australia.

Promotion and implementation of the conservation, management and overall aspects of sustainable development of forests

Development of a comprehensive policy framework

Australia's approaches to ecologically sustainable development (ESD) are set out in Australia's National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development.

The National Forest Policy Statement (NFPS) sets out the Governments' approach to ESD for forests. In doing so it relates to other ESD strategies, and to other policy initiatives. These initiatives include:

National forest policy statement

The NFPS was signed by Federal, State and Territory Governments, with the exception of the State of Tasmania, in December 1992. Discussions are under way between the Federal and Tasmanian Governments with a view to Tasmania signing the NFPS in the near future.

The NFPS provides a vision for the ecologically sustainable management of Australia's forests. It recognises the unique character of Australian forests and the need for a holistic approach to managing forests for all their values and uses so as to optimise benefits to the community. The policy includes a range of initiatives many of which are discussed under the various headings throughout this report. A summary of the NFPS is attached. There are major challenges in meeting many of the objectives of the NFPS given the timeframe and the resources required to undertake the task. The implementation rate to date has been slower than anticipated. The Federal Government provided funding of $18 million to assist in the implementation of the NFPS.

The NFPS contains a mix of general policy positions and specific actions to be undertaken by signatory governments. Two Commonwealth-State/Territory ministerial councils - on forestry and on the environment - are responsible for overseeing the implementation of the NFPS, and undertaking a number of tasks aimed at securing a national approach to forest conservation and sustainable management. The councils have formed a joint sub-committee of government representatives and two technical working groups for these purposes.

Regional Forest Assessments and Agreements

The National Forest Policy Statement (NFPS) provides for regional Commonwealth-State Government agreements to formalise forest management arrangements which enable the obligations of both governments to be met. Agreements are to be based on joint comprehensive regional assessments of forest values (including assessments of environmental and heritage values), and economic and social assessments. The agreements may also involve 'accreditation' of State processes under the InterGovernmental Agreement on the Environment, which provides a formal recognition of one government's assessment or decision-making processes by another.

In February 1995, the Commonwealth released its position paper outlining its forest-related obligations and the process for developing regional forest agreements. This paper was prepared in consultation with State Governments, NGOs, and industry.

The Federal and Queensland Governments are currently undertaking the necessary assessments to feed into a regional forest agreement for Queensland's south east region.

In December 1994, the Prime Minister announced the phase-out by the year 2000 of exports of woodchips from native forests that are not covered by, or where there has not been significant progress made toward, a regional forest agreement incorporating a comprehensive, adequate and representative forest reserve system.

A five year regional forest agreement program is being developed which is intended to result in a national forest reserve system which adequately protects old growth, wilderness and other high conservation value forests, and to ensure that a high value added wood products industry can operate sustainably outside these areas. The principal aims are to provide secure protection for environmental and heritage values and to enhance job security and encourage long term investment in domestic processing by reducing uncertainty and giving industry greater security in resource access.

It is Federal Government policy to protect areas likely to have very high conservation value until their values are properly assessed through the regional forest agreement process. In the interim, the Federal Government is working closely with the States to verify conservation and other values in forest areas identified as being of high conservation value. Alternative areas for logging are also being investigated, to minimise any disruption in wood supply to industry.

Strategy to protect old growth and wilderness

In the NFPS, governments agreed to implement a specific strategy to identify and protect old growth and wilderness forest values. Under the strategy, governments are to:

The development of the CAR reserve system is to build on the existing nature conservation reserve system. To implement the strategy, a number of old growth surveys and vegetation studies have been jointly funded by the Federal and State Governments. In 1993 the State of Victoria was provided with funds to carry out old growth and national estate studies in the Central Highlands and East Gippsland, and old growth studies in the North East region of the State. In addition, jointly funded vegetation studies are also currently proceeding in Queensland. Information from these studies will feed into Federal/State assessments.

Development of national reserve criteria

Under the NFPS, the Federal and State Governments are cooperating to develop national criteria on which to base a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system to protect the conservation values of forests. An intergovernmental technical working group is currently developing draft criteria for the consideration of the Commonwealth and State/Territory Governments.

Development of national environmental standards for forest management

Most States already have comprehensive codes of forest practice in place. In order to build on these codes, the NFPS provides for the development of consistent nation-wide baseline environmental standards for forest use and management. Goals and guidelines addressing these standards are currently being developed by a Commonwealth-State/Territory technical working group. The goals and guidelines focus on key elements of the forest environment, including water quality, flora and fauna, and soils. Following a consultative phase, the goals and guidelines are to be submitted for government consideration and incorporation in legally-enforceable codes of practice.

Environmental impact assessment

Both the Commonwealth and the States and Territories have legislative provision for assessing the environmental impact of forestry project proposals. Proposals requiring a decision of the Federal Government are assessed in accordance with the Administrative Procedures of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974. These projects are generally associated with the export of unprocessed wood, or foreign investment in resource-related utilisation or the establishment of plantations. These assessments complement those conducted by State Governments under individual State procedures for wider aspects of forestry operations.

Endangered species legislation

In 1992 the Federal Parliament passed the Endangered Species Protection Act. This came into effect on 30 April 1993 and provides a national system for scientific listing of endangered and vulnerable species and endangered ecological communities, for proactive recovery plans and for the control of key threats such as foxes, rabbits, feral cats and goats. Some States and Territories have legislation for the protection of endangered flora and fauna that complements this Federal Act.

World heritage areas

Australia is recognised internationally as a major supporter of the World Heritage Convention. Australia already has a number of World Heritage areas containing significant forest, including the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the Wet Tropics of Queensland, Fraser Island, the Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves (Australia), and Kakadu National Park. There is no commercial logging in any of these areas.

Promotion and implementation of the sustainable use of forests and related economic development

Australia's National Forest Policy Statement commits governments to the development of an internationally competitive and ecologically sustainable wood production and wood products industry in Australia. It aims to foster this through efficient industries based on maximising value adding opportunities and efficient use of wood resources.

There have been very significant changes in the Australian forestry industry in recent years. An increasing proportion of Australia's timber production is coming from plantations of exotic pines and a number of new investments have occurred in large softwood processing units, as well as panel board plants based on the plantation resource. At the same time the hardwood industry based on native forests has taken steps to improve its efficiency of resource use and has increasingly directed its output into value adding end uses. Recent research has demonstrated the potential to significantly increase the productivity of selected areas of regrowth forests managed primarily for wood production.

Increased certainty for forest industry investments

The NFPS recognises the importance of providing certainty and security of access to resources for industry to make value adding forest investments. The completion of comprehensive regional assessments will form the basis for regional forest agreements which make clear those forest resources that will be available for wood production, and/or for conservation and other uses or combination of uses. In addition, Governments have agreed that, where necessary for firm and specific value adding projects to proceed, they will provide specific legislation or an intergovernmental project agreement verifying access to forest resources on an ecologically sustainable basis. This legislation will be complemented by State-enterprise contractual agreements to define sustainable resource availability. Two States have instituted measures to give this security of access and the regional forest agreements envisaged under the NFPS will also provide greater certainty.

Inquiry into value adding in australia's forest industries

The Australian Industry Commission conducted an Inquiry into 'Adding Further Value to Australia's Forest Products' which reported in September 1993. The Commission's report outlined market conditions facing Australia's forest product industries, factors affecting future industry development, the competitiveness of Australia's forest product industries and major actions governments can take to increase competitiveness.

The report identified a number of key actions that governments could take to enhance value adding in the forest industries, including improved resource security, increased efficiency of public and private wood production, improved project and environmental approval processes, improved efficiency of government business enterprises, increased workforce skills, removal of inefficient regulation, and promotion of access to export markets.

Plantations

In recent years, plantations have been established at the rate of around 25 000 hectares per year. Increasing effort has been directed to the establishment of native hardwood plantations, notably in New South Wales, Western Australia, and Tasmania. New South Wales has implemented a joint venture hardwood plantation program with the aim of establishing over 15 000 hectares of plantation by 1998.

One State has introduced legislation to remove planning obstacles to plantation establishment, and others have adopted less formal means to achieve the same result. There has been a considerable increase in the establishment of short rotation eucalypt plantations for pulpwood production. These plantations are being established on farmland and, in addition to providing a valuable resource, will assist in the amelioration of land degradation problems caused by past agricultural clearing of native forests. In addition to plantations, farmers are increasingly utilising other forms of agroforestry such as shelter belts and woodlots.

The NFPS has reinforced this activity, recognising that plantations provide a wide range of commercial, environmental and aesthetic benefits to the community. The National Forest Policy Statement contains a number of initiatives to increase commercial plantation development on cleared agricultural land and, where possible, integrate plantation enterprises with other agricultural land uses; improve the productivity of plantation areas; and encourage expansion of Australia's plantation base.

A Farm Forestry Program was included as an NFPS initiative, and funding of $4 million for 27 projects under this Program was announced in July 1993. Most of these projects involved the establishment of networks of farm forestry demonstrations and related extension and training activities. Others involve the development of training for extension advisers; research to improve the genetic stock of Eucalyptus globulus and Eucalyptus nitens (key native plantation species); investigation of ways to increase joint venture arrangements and commercial links between landholders, investors and the wood processing industry; and further development of an economic model of plantations.

The Community Rainforest Reforestation Program (CRRP) in North Queensland was developed as part of responses to the cessation of logging following listing of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area. It aims to develop plantations of high quality cabinet timbers for future high value added products.

Both the Federal and Queensland Governments are providing funding totalling $4.2 million for the CRRP. An additional element of the project is the training of young unemployed people in Landcare and environmental projects through a separate labour market program known as the Landcare and Environment Action Program. To date this program has established around 750 hectares of demonstrations and plantings involving around 250 farmers and 250 trainees.

Forest ecotourism program

Over recent years the use of forests for recreational and tourism purposes has increased rapidly in Australia, including a considerable increase in activities of the tourism industry. All management agencies have experienced difficulties in making adequate provision for this demand.

The National Forest Policy Statement responded to these developments through a Forest Ecotourism Program to encourage and facilitate ecologically sustainable forest tourism development and operations. Funding of $1.9 million was provided over four years to 199596 for projects aimed at developing forest ecotourism opportunities; increasing the number of informed tourist operators; managing natural resource areas to sustain and enhance tourism experiences; and improving the understanding of ecotourism requirements.

Improved public sector efficiency

In recent years there have been widespread changes in State forest management agencies. These changes have been aimed both at enhancing the commercial operations of forest services and clarifying reporting and accounting frameworks, and reflecting improvements in environmental management.

While individual States have approached the changes to their forest management agencies differently, major themes have been the commercialisation or privatisation of State owned plantation management activities; the establishment of independent advisory boards in respect of forest agencies and/or forest policies; and the adoption of more market oriented wood pricing and allocation policies.

The role of major groups and social aspects of forests

National forest policy advisory forum and other public participation mechanisms

In recognition of the importance of communication between governments, industry, unions and conservation organisations, the NFPS provides for the establishment of a policy advisory forum with balanced representation to provide advice to the Federal Government on specific forest product industry and conservation issues. The membership of the body is currently being considered by relevant Ministers and appointment of members is expected in coming months. Several Commonwealth Ministers have also established informal advisory fora to address a range of forest-related issues.

All States have various mechanisms for incorporating public participation at various levels in forest management, from development of high level policies to on the ground management. It is normal practice to publish draft management plans to allow a period of public comment before finalising plans in the light of comment received.

Native Title legislation

In June 1992, the High Court of Australia gave formal recognition to the native title held over the continent by Australia's indigenous inhabitants at the time of European settlement. Native title in various forms exists in many areas where it has not been extinguished by a deliberate act of the Crown. In response, the Federal Government enacted the Native Title Act 1993 which provides for the recognition and protection of native title rights and interests, and provides mechanisms for dealing with the identification and recognition of native title.

Community tree planting

Both the Federal and State Governments have schemes to encourage and support community tree planting. These schemes are designed to provide a range of benefits including improving nature conservation values, reducing soil and water salinity, soil erosion, water eutrophication and turbidity. The National Landcare Program has supported the mobilisation of local communities through the formation of community-based Landcare groups and assisting their activities. The Landcare movement has received international attention for its success in mobilising local communities to develop responses to local environmental management problems.

Tree and other vegetation plantings are an important element of the activities of many of these groups who receive support through the nature conservation components of the National Landcare Program (Save the Bush and One Billion Trees programs). The latter program aims to have one billion trees planted and growing by the year 2000.

Institutional strengthening and capacity building

Forests and wood products research and development corporation

The Federal Government, in partnership with the forest and wood products industry, established a Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation in December 1993. The aim of the Corporation is to enhance the development of the forest industries in Australia through better focused forest production and processing research and development. It does not undertake research itself but funds activities by other bodies.

The activities of the Corporation are funded jointly by an industry levy on the domestic production of wood and the Federal Government. The Government provides $1 for every $2 from the domestic industry up to a maximum of 0.25% of the Gross Value of Production of the forest and wood products industry. Key areas of research for the Corporation are resources and harvesting, process and product development, markets, and workplace management.

Human resources

The Forest Industries are covered by several unions, the major union being the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU). Consistent with national moves away from a centralised wage fixing system a number of new enterprise agreements have been agreed between forest industry companies and CFMEU members. Another relevant initiative is the establishment of a training corporation to provide additional training in priority skill competencies for forest industry workers.

The NFPS established a Labour Productivity Improvement Program with the aims of improving productivity, job satisfaction and security of employment for workers in the forest industries. The program has funded projects directed towards improving language and literacy, and occupational health and safety in the workplace.

Forest-related information networks

All States maintain a forest inventory service, but in the past have confined their activities to publicly owned forest. In 1989, the Federal, State and Territory Governments agreed to set up the National Forest Inventory (NFI) to collate regional information into a national picture, and further funding for the NFI was provided in 1992 under the NFPS. The NFI has provided funding to the States to enable gaps in resource information to be filled, especially information relating to the private forest resource and selected non- commercial forests. This new information has also greatly facilitated regional resource planning and cooperation in resource use. Mapping and further development of nationally consistent procedures for identifying old growth forests has continued as a priority activity and will be used as an input to comprehensive regional assessments of forest resources.

The NFI is complemented by the National Resource Information Centre (NRIC) and the Environmental Resources Information Network (ERIN) . The two groups provide access to, and in some cases maintain, complementary data from a wide range of sources. These data include climate, topography, vegetation, soils and geology, administrative boundaries, rare and endangered species and information from special studies such as the Resource Assessment Commission Inquiry into Forest and Timber Resources. All groups use complementary geographic information system (GIS) technology for storage, access and analysis of data and for presentation of information in ways that are suitable for a wide range of users. Internet connections enable access to information from these programs.

The first phase of a National Wilderness Inventory (NWI) is nearing completion for the whole of Australia. This program is administered by the Australian Heritage Commission.

State of the forests / State of the environment reporting

As part of the NFPS, forest management agencies will provide information from which to produce a national 'state of the forests' report every five years. The first such report is scheduled for preparation in 1995. The report will summarise available information, including sustainable yield, moves to achieve a comprehensive nature conservation network, and long term monitoring of the impacts of forest use to foster community understanding of forest management issues and participation in government decision-making processes.

The Commonwealth has recently initiated a system for reporting on the state of Australia's environment, to be consistent with the OECD framework for State of the Environment reporting. National reports will be published every four years, with the first report due in 1995. Several States and Territories also prepare State of the Environment Reports, and these provide relevant information on forests, usually at more frequent intervals.

International and regional cooperation and support

Policy on trade in tropical timber

The Australian Government announced a policy on trade in tropical timber on 25 June 1992 which outlined its approach to promoting the conservation and sustainable management of the world's tropical forests. Key aspects of the policy include a commitment to the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) objective that by the year 2000 all tropical timber traded should be derived from forests managed on a sustainable basis and the rejection of unilateral measures. The Policy also stresses the need for commercial forestry operations in tropical forests to be conducted in accordance with practices approved by ITTO and commits Australia to bilateral and multilateral cooperation in support of the stated goals.

Sustainable management of tropical forests

As a member of the International Tropical Timbers Organisation (ITTO), Australia has allocated $245 000 in 1994-95 to assist ITTO projects and to finance Australian participation, and attendance of developing country delegates to ITTO-related seminars and conferences. Australia also assisted representatives from the Asia-Pacific region to attend the Forests Stewardship Council founding assembly, held 10 October 1993 in Toronto, Canada.

As part of its support for cooperative and constructive approaches to achieving sustainable forest management, the Government supported a seminar on trade in sustainably produced tropical timber in April 1994. The seminar was organised by the Australian Timber Importers Federation and the World Wide Fund for Nature (Australia). It considered the difficulties and opportunities for achieving rainforest conservation and an ecologically sustainable tropical timber trade and brought together industry, conservation and development non-government organisations, consumers and government agencies.

Trade related measures

Australia continues to support trade liberalisation in favour of an open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system and sustainable development. Australia has been prominent in efforts to reform and revitalise the international trading system and to safeguard and increase access for all countries, including developing countries, to overseas markets. This has included active participation in the recently concluded Uruguay Round as well as promotion of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation process.

In recent years Australia has initiated a program of phased tariff reductions across a range of industries. Under the Government's program tariffs on forest products will fall progressively until 1 July 1996. At that time it is expected that tariffs on timber and timber products will have been reduced to 5% or less.

International development assistance

The ESD policy statement for Australia's development cooperation program 'Towards a Sustainable Future', acknowledges that the utilisation of forestry resources in developing countries should not occur at the expense of the local and indigenous communities. These resources should be used sustainably to ensure continuing economic and social benefits. For example, Australia will support activities which encourage local processing of forest products and value adding industries in line with ecologically sustainable development criteria.

Australia encourages developing countries to protect comprehensive areas of representative ecosystems within conservation reserves, particularly through the establishment of biosphere reserves. Also, Australia is committed to reducing tropical forest loss, and projects which involve primary tropical forest are examined to ensure the preservation of tropical rainforest wherever appropriate.

Channels of assistance

AIDAB uses a variety of aid channels which benefit tropical forests/forestry and conservation in recipient countries especially in the Asia-Pacific region. The most significant contributions are made through:

In addition to initiatives pursued under the bilateral programs, AIDAB is supporting international organisations such as the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the South Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP), the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) and non-governmental organisations that are actively promoting the conservation of species and ecosystems.

South Pacific Forum - code of conduct for logging

Australia shares concerns over current forest management and logging practices in South Pacific countries. At the 25th South Pacific Forum in August 1994 the Prime Ministers of Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu agreed to work towards a common code of conduct on logging of indigenous forests to which companies operating in their countries will adhere.

At a technical level, agreement has been reached on a draft code of conduct which spells out minimum standards for logging practices which would minimise adverse effects of logging in indigenous forests. It is to be further considered at regional meetings, with results to be reported to the next Forum meeting in mid- 1995.

Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research

Australia also supports a range of forestry research activities through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). ACIAR commissions forestry research projects to meet the priority needs of developing countries and promote close collaboration between Australian scientists and scientists in developing countries. In particular, ACIAR plays an important role in identifying and assisting the introduction, domestication and management of Australian species of trees and shrubs suited to the specific needs of developing countries.

ACIAR has also played a key role in the establishment of the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). Australia, together with Sweden, Switzerland and the USA, sponsored the establishment of the Centre. ACIAR acted as implementing agency for the Centre and contributes to its operating budget. ACIAR also assists the Australian Tree Seed Centre (part of the CSIRO Division of Forestry) to provide seed, information, and training to developing countries.

Forests issues relating to other Chapters of Agenda 21

National Greenhouse Response Strategy (Chapter 9: Protection of the Atmosphere)

The National Greenhouse Response Strategy was endorsed by the Australian Governments in December 1992. The strategy outlines a range of measures agreed by the Federal, State and Territory Governments in order to progress towards meeting the interim planning target to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions at 1988 levels by 2000 and reducing these emissions by 20% by 2005.

In respect of forests, the Strategy has objectives of conserving and enhancing the sink capacity of Australia's environment, and minimising greenhouse gas emissions from the natural environment caused by human activities. The Strategy recognises that the National Forest Policy Statement will give effect to ecologically sustainable management of native forests and plantations through:

Land degradation (Chapter 10: Land Resources and Chapter 14: Agriculture )

Land degradation is an issue of vital concern to Australia. There is a wide range of programs in place across all levels of governments aimed at promoting ecologically sustainable agriculture and, where economically and environmentally feasible, repairing land degradation resulting from past agricultural practices, most notably land clearing. There is a growing recognition and encouragement of the need to manage land resources on the basis of integrated catchment management and all States have programs in place which aim to achieve this.

Programs which specifically involve forestry and tree planting have been discussed above. These include the National Landcare Program (including the One Billion Trees and Save the Bush Programs), the Farm Forestry Program, and the New South Wales Total Catchment Management Program. Other relevant initiatives include the development of Australian Water Quality Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Waters developed in cooperation with the States and Territories, development of a National Water Quality Management Strategy, and development of a National Strategy for Rangeland Management.

Draft national strategy for the conservation of australia's biological diversity (Chapter 15: Biological Diversity)

Australia ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity in June 1993. The draft national strategy complements undertakings in the Convention by setting out in detail national goals and principles for the conservation of biological diversity. In respect of forests the draft strategy recognises the National Forest Policy Statement as a primary means by which biological diversity will be conserved in forest habitats.

Case study

Forest Use and Management Issues - (NGO Views)

Table

Progress on Forest Initiatives

For further information contact:

Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories
Department of Primary Industries and Energy