New timber research and innovation centre for Gippsland

Phillip Hopkins

A $4 MILLION centre for timber research and innovation will be set up in Gippsland to service the region’s forestry industry.

In a joint project, the federal and state governments have committed $2 million each during the next four years to establish the Gippsland Centre of the National Institute for Forest Products Innovation.

Projects funded under NIFPI are expected to cover forest and plantation management, timber processing, wood fibre recovery, value-adding, advanced manufacturing and the bio-economy.

Forest and Wood Products Australia will provide ongoing administrative support to the centre, which will have no staff.

Like existing NIFPI centres in Launceston, Tasmania and Mount Gambier, South Australia, it will have an investment and management committee and an independent chairman.

Committee members usually cover the whole value chain, from forest growers to harvesters, sawmillers and the pulp and paper sector.

The centre will operate as a virtual structure to reduce management and administrative costs, and will be linked to activities underway in existing centres.

Successful projects, which will be managed by Forest and Wood Products Australia, will be chosen by the management committee.

Forest and Wood Products Australia managing director Ric Sinclair said the organisation would have no say or input into the committee.

“Using the existing NIFPI infrastructure – websites and management systems – we can hit the ground quickly,” he said.

Previous NIFPI research has helped reduce stock loss by better understanding the influence of time taken to dry the timber.

Research has also resulted in new sawing and gluing techniques that produce more attractive and structurally stronger products at cheaper prices.

Federal Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries Jonathon Duniam said the governments’ funding would be supported with additional money and in-kind contributions by industry and research agencies.

“Funding the centre is a further commitment to the native forest industry in Victoria. Our policy for forestry is to ensure both strong plantation and native forest sectors,” he said.

“We call on the Andrews government to overturn their devastating unilateral decision to shut down the native forestry industry in Victoria by 2030 and back the industry, the workers and the regional communities the industry supports.”

Victoria’s Minister for Agriculture Jaclyn Symes said the centre would encourage ingenuity that supported the government’s policy to transition from native timber harvesting to plantation timber by 2030. The government has allocated $120 million to support the transition to 100 per cent plantation timber harvesting by 2030.

Gippsland MHR Darren Chester added the announcement was positive news for Gippsland, which had battled drought, bushfires and the economic fallout from the coronavirus.

The Australian Forest Products Association applauded the announcement, but criticised the state government for pretending the centre would support the closure of the native forest sector.

Association chief executive Ross Hampton said it was disappointing that the state government marred the important development with media spin claiming the centre supported its plan to close the region’s sustainable native forestry.

“The Andrews plan is not for a transition to plantations, but rather a transition to imports,” Mr Hampton said.

Victorian Association of Forest Industries chief executive Tim Johnston welcomed the announcement, but said he was keen to see the details, priorities and processes.

“The Victorian timber and forest industry needs ongoing resource security, which requires maintaining access to native forests and getting trees in the ground,” he said.

“Only through policy and regulatory certainty will industry have the confidence to invest and innovate.”

Earlier this month, the federal government announced $2.2 million in funding to set up a Gippsland Regional Forestry Hub, which aims to reduce barriers to forestry expansion and develop a farm forestry strategy.

It is one of nine forestry hubs under the federal government’s $20 million National Forest Industries Plan.