A GOVERNMENT subsidy to transport bushfire-salvaged timber off Kangaroo Island has been welcomed by state and national forest associations, but there are already concerns the majority of timber will head interstate and not to local builders.
The federal government, this morning, announced a $15.1 million program to support the transportation of bushfire-salvage softwood from KI to timber mills with immediate spare processing capacity.
It is estimated the program could provide enough timber for up to 10,000 new houses and support a building industry struggling with timber shortages.
Minister for Agriculture and Northern Australia David Littleproud said the program would provide vital assistance to businesses impacted by increased demand, global supply chain delays due to COVID-19 and lasting impacts from the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires.
"We stand ready to work with states and urge them to act swiftly to help us bring bushfire-affected construction timbers to mills with immediate capacity to produce structural timbers," he said.
"The program will target timber on Kangaroo Island that could provide enough timber for 10,000 new houses.
"It expands our successful $15 million Forestry Salvage Transport Measure, to allow for both intrastate and interstate transport of remaining bushfire-salvaged construction grade softwood to mills in any state with capacity to process it.
"It is a responsible approach that limits the potential to distort markets, supports regional jobs, and will help keep this critical industry moving."
South Australian Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development David Basham said his government had pledged up to $3 million to bring additional timber to the local housing industry and welcomed the $15.1m federal package.
"This will be a game changer for SA's housing construction industry and will significantly increase the amount of structural timber currently available," he said.
"The SA Government is ready to be the first state to sign up to accept the Commonwealth package. The booming local housing industry has been great news for our economy but the increased demand for timber has put real pressure on our supply chains.
Mr Basham said the transport subsidy would maximise the amount of sawmill quality log available to local processors.
He said the community needed Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers to open up access to its bushfire-affected pine plantations for harvesting and allow local sawmills to get busy.
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KIPT has more than 14,000 hectares of plantations, with 20pc of that softwood timber for construction.
Up to 95 per cent of was damaged in the 2019-20 KI fires, with the company announcing in August that it would remove the tree crop and adopt an agricultural strategy.
The plan came in response to the state government rejecting KIPT's Smith Bay port proposal, with the agricultural strategy requiring no new port infrastructure.
The company said it would still pursue any salvage harvest opportunities, particularly for softwood plantations.
In an announcement to the Australian Securities Exchange today, KIPT company secretary Victoria Allison said the new transport subsidy may be adequate enough to justify salvage harvesting of softwood.
"KIPT today notes a media release by David Basham regarding a $15m transport assistance program for transporting softwood from Kangaroo Island to mainland timber mills," she said.
"KIPT is yet to receive details but understands the grant is open to all growers on Kangaroo Island and may provide sufficient contribution to tree removal and site clean-up costs to justify salvage harvesting of softwood."
SA's Opposition spokesperson for Forestry Clare Scriven, however, was scathing of the transport plan, saying it was 18 months overdue and did not guarantee priority access to timber for the local building industry.
"Hundreds of businesses and projects in the South Australian construction industry have been placed at a standstill because they cannot access timber," she said.
"Meanwhile, KIPT has been calling for assistance to get fire-affected timber off the island before it rots for 18 months - calls that have gone unanswered by the Liberal Government.
"Today's Liberal Government announcement to get the timber off the island comes with no guarantees local construction businesses will receive priority access to the timber to get the industry back on track. "
Mr Basham said the current shortage of timber for the building industry could be traced back to Labor's time in power.
"Unfortunately the former Labor Government privatised the south east and mid north forests, removing the government's flexibility to support the timber industry by harvesting additional trees during times of supply shortage," he said.
Locals have again voiced their concerns about increased truck movements, with preliminary estimates suggesting it could take more than three years to ferry the timber off KI.
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While national and state forest products bodies have welcomed the $15.1m transport program, they have also voiced their concerns about the shrinkage of plantations and the logistical task of actually getting the timber off KI.
Australian Forest Products Association chief executive officer Ross Hampton said without the "sensible" $15.1m investment, up to 10,000 house frames worth of timber would have been lost due to the Smith Bay port proposal rejection.
"At a time when our builders and home owners are desperate for timber this would have been an extremely poor outcome," he said.
"It is a great thing that that timber will be put to good use, however it can't go unsaid that the KI trees will not be replanted which means we are losing another 18,000ha from our national plantation estate which continues to shrink - especially in SA.
"We desperately need to commence expanding the estate if we are to meet the housing needs of our children. Industry stands ready but we need the federal and state policies to be aligned to make it happen."
South Australian Forest Products Association chief executive officer Nathan Paine praised Mr Basham for understanding the need to ensure the KI timber resource was not lost, but said there was still work needed on the transport options to get timber to the mainland.
"SAFPA will continue to work with the state government to remove other blockages mainly around the short, medium and long-term transport options to ensure the volume of log can be moved to the mainland with the least disruption to the community and in the shortest time possible."
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