Timber industry leaders fear the Gympie economy could take a major hit if no movement is made in shoring up the private forestry industry.
Timber industry leaders fear the Gympie economy could take a major hit if no movement is made in shoring up the private forestry industry.

$40m Gympie industry at risk from decades-old deal

TIME is now ticking on Gympie's $40 million timber industry thanks to a decades-old agreement designed to keep the state's forests protected.

A key goal of the 1999 Regional Forest Agreement was to lock the timber industry and loggers out of state-owned forests, with a 25-year time limit in place.

But now leading industry figures fear that the once far-off date has been left to become a dangerous deadline.

One which is putting a major industry at risk.

Timber Queensland CEO Mick Stephens said the agreement offered many benefits but there was no outrunning the shadow it now cast.

Industry Forum for private native forest management issue Mick Stephens , Tony Perrett  and Sean Ryan
Mick Stephens (left) and Sean Ryan (right), pictured here with Shadow Agriculture Minister Tony Perrett. Renee Albrecht

"It could be disastrous,” he said.

"You could lose the industry.”

And it is a scenario in which Gympie's economy could be felled.

Data from Economy ID shows that of the region's $218 million agricultural production last year, forestry and logging accounted for almost $40 million.

It also recorded $61.4 million in gross total sales, and directly employs 134 jobs - numbers that were actually down from five years ago.

Overall agriculture was the region's second most productive industry, and forestry and logging was the second-most productive piece of that pie.

Mr Stephens said Timber Queensland has been working closely with the State and councils to move it forward, but there was now a need for "wiggle room” to stave off the problem.

Minister for Local Government Mark Furner in Rockhampton to talk about funding for the local area.
Agriculture Minister Mark Furner. Chris Ison ROK171017cfunding2

"We've got to the point where that state supply has got to be extended.

"2024 is five years away but for planning purposes we need some clarity now,” he said.

A crucial part was the code covering private native forestry production, which he said was under review.

Mr Stephens said any changes to that code must be "practical” to ensure the future wood supply.

Private Forestry Queensland CEO Sean Ryan echoed Mr Stephen's concerns.

"The reality is we've only got a few years left. Things are starting to get grim,” he said.

Mr Ryan said the industry was now near "the point of no return” and that if movement was not made, half of Queensland's timber mills could close within the next 10 years.

A truck loaded with logs at the TMS timber milling operation at Bondoola.   Photo: Chris Ison / The Morning Bulletin
A truck loaded with logs. Chris Ison ROK070314ctimber8

Mr Ryan said it was a key part of the Wide Bay's timber industry, which was itself a major hub of the state.

One which was on the cusp of serious issues thanks to years of delays.

"It's been going around and around in circles for so long.”

Making matters worse was the State's promise to increase the amount of protected forest from 12 per cent to 17 per cent by 2021. This, he said, would undoubtedly affect their industry.

Nor was he a huge fan of the original agreement but it was something they now had to deal with, and any solution - and he believed there was one which suited all - needed to be put on the frontburner.

"It needs to be fast-tracked,” he said.

FAITH IN TIMBER INDUSTRY: A timber training centre will open in Maryborough later this year.
A timber training centre. Adam Hourigan

And at it needed the State to take responsibility for helping to foster the private industry.

"The (privately owned) timber won't grow overnight.”

A spokesman for Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said the government was working towards a solution.

"The Minister is leading the development of policy on the future state-owned native timber production across Queensland, in line with a charter letter commitment. The Government will consult with industry as part of this process,” he said.