Australia’s building’s timber shortage set to worsen

Australia’s building’s timber shortage set to worsen. By Robert Gottliebsen.

Back in 1990 — yes, 30 years ago — the farsighted politicians of the day saw a housing timber problem looming in 2020. They resolved to make the necessary timber investments so this would not happen. But those wise politicians left the scene and their replacements were motivated by winning short-term votes.

It’s true we invested a great deal of money in timber as a result of the 1990 plan but a large amount of the timber we planted was designed for hardwood chips to sell to China, plus almond trees.


This softwood plantation in WA is 8 years old


Nevertheless substantial pine/softwood plantations were planted and they are now the backbone of the timber we are using for our housing frames. But there is not enough. …

Because Australia did not implement a proper 30-year growing plan we simply cannot provide enough timber for our normal building industry construction rate, let alone the current boom.

Like other industries the doctrine of “she’ll be right mate” was applied so we planned to import our timber needs just as we import everything else. We built our imports up to about 25 per cent of our timber frame needs. But with many countries now stimulating building, the world is short of timber and in the US the prices have risen three to fourfold and as a result America is sucking timber from around the world. …

We then must face the consequences of our mistakes and realise that there is now a new blow coming. In softwood plantations the “thin” trees are removed so that the remaining trees can expand and grow for house frame timber. If you don’t take the “thins” out then the forest can’t produce frame timber. …

We have shut most of our pulp plants and while some “thins” can be used to make chip board Australian pinewood plantation owners don’t know where they are going to store the felled “thin” trees and finance the harvesting in the absence of the China chip market.

If they are not cut down then in future years there will be no timber for frames. It’s a slow strangulation process.

You just knew the Greens would be part of the problem:

The obvious solution to the problem is to expand our hardwood production from native forests while replanting the trees harvested.

But nationwide there are severe restrictions on this and only some four trees in every 10,000 trees can be accessed. Increase that to, say, six, and the problem is reduced.

But in Victoria the plan is to end native forest harvesting and replanting by 2030. In fact it will end in 2025 because of economies of scale. The Victorian government believes it has a right to take hardwood timber from NSW and South Australia. Moreover the Victorian government needs this policy to retain inner city seats with strong green voters.

But politicians in NSW and South Australia will have to explain to their voters that their timber shortages are set to be even more severe because their timber goes off to Victoria to appease green voters.