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Interview with Selina Green, ABC Radio South East SA

2 July 2020

Interviewer: 
Selina Green

Subject: Forestry projects, plantation forestry, Emissions Reduction Fund.

E&OE

SELINA GREEN: Joining me on the phone this morning is the Federal Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor. Good morning and thank you for your time.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good morning, Selina. Thanks for having me.

SELINA GREEN: What is changing? And how will this allow forestry projects, what will it allow forestry projects to access?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well look, this has been a burning issue for some time. Previously plantation forestry and farm forestry projects in high rainfall areas were largely unable to participate in the Emissions Reduction Fund - what will become the Climate Solutions Fund, $2 billion of commitment to that fund - we want to allow them to get access to that. Tony Pasin has been arguing for this for a long time for the Limestone Coast area. We've now worked our way through it. We’ve worked our way through the science and the approvals we need. We're now in a position to say that forestry will be able to access the Emissions Reduction Fund in higher rainfall areas, and that's good news for jobs, it is good news for emissions reduction, and it is good news for the forestry industry on the Limestone Coast.

SELINA GREEN: This is designed as an incentive to grow the plantation in the state? Is that the main intention?

ANGUS TAYLOR: That's exactly right. I mean, it's no secret to this region that when you have plantation forestry going in, it gives a lot more confidence to the processors to be able to make investments and those investments are crucial for jobs. That confidence is crucial. Obviously when you plant, it's many years before you get the timber, but it's the confidence that there's a great future, that investment in plants, investment in jobs is going to have a payback that's really crucial in this, and this is an important step in giving everyone the confidence of the great future for the timber industry.

SELINA GREEN: Now, is this going to apply to existing plantations? Or existing projects? Or is this only for future plantings?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, it applies to new plantations. The view has always been that existing plantations, you know, are replaced and the economics of that will work. But it applies to new plantations. So the idea here is that we can bring increased supply of timber and, of course, in effect give greater jobs and investment that otherwise wouldn't have happened.

SELINA GREEN: The south east of South Australia, as we say, is one of the selected sites but of course we are part of a greater Green Triangle forestry region. What about western Victoria?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, we're working our way through that. We would like to include western Victoria in that as soon as possible. We need final approvals from the Victorian Government on that. But, as I say, that is one of the listed areas where we expect to be able to make an announcement in the near future. Obviously in this part of the world, they're joined up, and so it's very important the Victorian side of the border be included in it.

SELINA GREEN: Speaking to the Federal Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, this morning. Now this, I understand, includes farm forestry as well. So what defines that under this scheme? For example, if you've got a farmer who wants to plant a dozen trees as a windbreak and maybe later harvest those, does that count? Or is this really for large scale projects?

ANGUS TAYLOR: It is primarily for large scale projects, although we are including the potential for farm forestry - and there's broader methodologies inside the Emissions Reduction Fund for farm plantations. I mean, there's a mix here. Of course some farmers do plant significant timber that can be harvested for commercial milling in the future. But smaller farm forestry, there are other methodologies that exist or are under development to give them potential to do that. Look, more generally we see enormous potential in trees as a means of reducing emissions and at the same time improving agriculture, providing jobs, improving the farms, the aesthetics and the productivity of our farms. And so this is an area of very, very strong focus for the Government. Look, and as I say, it is one where I know the local member in your area, Tony Pasin, has been arguing in the party room and more generally for a long, long time.

SELINA GREEN: We have focused here a lot on plantations but when we talk about the environmental aspect of this - so it's not just about industry? Do native plantings, will count under this?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, all trees, obviously, this is the focus. I mean, the Emissions Reduction Fund is neutral to the source of emissions, as long as it works inside the methodology. And of course trees absorb carbon - it's a really simple and obvious statement, but it's true, and so we want to encourage this. What's so good about this particular announcement and this methodology is that it also creates jobs. It also creates a sustainable future for a great industry that is important to, of course, your region. I grew up in a timber town myself, and I just know how important it is to have those plantations coming through over time to make sure there's confidence there to invest in the milling and the processing to ensure you've got an industry for many, many years to come. Job creation, investment, all those things that we want to see, particularly coming out of COVID. Investment, jobs: it's a priority for the government.

SELINA GREEN: Now people who've worked in the industry, who've been in this region a long time that have seen the impact in the past of something like managed investment schemes and what happened there with the forestry industry - obviously this is a completely separate thing and a separate fund - but what sort of checks and protections are in place to ensure this works for taxpayers? And that, you know, people are using this scheme as intended?

ANGUS TAYLOR: The Emissions Reduction Fund reduces emissions so it's not an endless bucket that is available for people to go and do a whole lot of things that cut across other sources of agriculture - it's there for a very, very specific purpose and it's well defined. But we've also defined the regions carefully, and this is an important point. We've created hubs. There's a hub in the south of New South Wales for instance which is a big timber industry area, just as is the Limestone Coast. And so we've defined those hubs. We've done those very carefully to make sure they're in areas where there is potential for jobs, where there's an existing industry and we can sustain the future of that industry. So it can't be in any area, it has to be those hub areas.

SELINA GREEN: Minister, we do appreciate you calling in this morning, and thank you for your time.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks for having me.

ENDS