Royal Commission forum told recovery of South West Slopes softwood industry is vital for region’s economy

Bushfire Royal Commission Chair Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin and AFPA CEO Ross Hampton

The Australian Forest Products Association today told the Royal Commission into Natural Disaster

Arrangements that key forestry assets such as the NSW Southwest Slopes’ softwood plantations, which

support the biggest economic sector in the region, should be considered critical infrastructure

when allocating firefighting and fire mitigation resources.

At a community forum in Tumbarumba today held by the Royal Commission, AFPA CEO Mr Ross Hampton told the Royal Commission’s Chair Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin that there must be a

whole-of-landscape approach to bushfire mitigation and land management, and more aggressive fuel

reduction that includes mechanical fuel reduction alongside controlled burns.

“The current system where there are multiple approaches to fuel reduction by multiple land managers

and agencies isn’t working and we need a more coordinated approach,” Mr Hampton said.

“I commend the Federal Government for including in the terms of reference for the Royal Commission

“the preparedness and resilience responsibilities, which includes land management and hazard

reduction measures’, which gives the Commissioners the scope to closely examine this issue.”

Mr Hampton said while bushfires were unavoidable, more fuel reduction that included mechanical fuel

reduction to create buffers around towns and critical infrastructure would make it easier to

suppress catastrophic fires.

“The softwood plantation-based industry is the biggest employer in this region, supporting nearly

$2 billion of economic activity in the region and employs around 5000 people, but with up to 40 per

cent of region’s softwood estate damaged by the fires there will be a significant impact on the

industry for at least the next 15 years,” Mr Hampton said.

“While saving lives must be the priority for firefighting resources, we must also redefine critical

infrastructure to include key economic assets such as forestry plantations because they are the

economic backbone of many regional communities, and they can take decades to recover. This should

apply not just to the deployment of fire mitigation and suppression resources, but also recovery

funding.

Mr Hampton welcomed the NSW Government’s announcement this week of a $46 million equity injection into Forestry Corporation of NSW is a welcome first step to aid the state’s forest industries

recovery from the bushfires.

“The replanting effort, the recovery of burnt timber and the increased freight costs facing the

industry are significant and we are working with the NSW and Federal Governments to manage these

challenges – we hope to see further announcements to support the massive recovery effort needed in

NSW, Victoria and South Australia,” Mr Hampton said.

AFPA recently released a report, Using Fire and Machines to Better Fire-Proof Our Country Towns.

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