Native hardwood timber ban to blow out building costs

by | Jun 20, 2024

Timber Queensland CEO, Mick Stephens. Pic: Timber Queensland.

New home builders are expected to face higher construction costs and longer completion times as production of native hardwood is banned in state-owned forests in South-East Queensland (SEQ) at the end of the year.

As the shortage of hardwood timber in Queensland looms, Timber Queensland is asking for new 20-year hardwood supply contracts from existing state forests and other crown land for processors as soon as possible, an ABC Rural report has found.

Timber Queensland Chief Executive Officer Mick Stephens said a lack of certainty from the State Government around hardwood supplies would lead to cost and time blowouts.

“If the government cannot provide certainty for the native forest industry there is going to be reduced supply, and so the ultimate impact of that is a blowout in the availability of materials and also price rises,” Mr Stephens said in the report.

Queensland hardwood and softwood is primarily harvested from government and privately owned native forests, as well as from commercial plantations. Queensland has the largest proportion of Australia’s total forest area at 39 per cent, making it a major source of hardwood.

Logging will be banned in the South East Queensland regional plan area from December, and is expected to take about 60,000 hectares out of the supply chain, but will continue in the eastern and western hardwoods regions until 2026 and 2034 respectively, the report found.

In 2019, the State Government committed to a Native Timber Action Plan, saying it would allow logging to continue in its “eastern hardwoods” region until at least 2026 and in the “western hardwoods” region until at least 2034.

Mark Furner.

Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Minister at the time, Mark Furner, said the economics of timber industries around the world had changed and the Australian building industry was not immune to that.

“Sustainably managed timber is increasingly being recognised globally as the ultimate renewable and a key plank of the world’s response to climate change, carbon capture, and carbon sequestration. It is now 2024 and we have no action other than one line in the budget papers to implement the plan with no funding commitments.”

“Here we are in the middle of a housing crisis — Queensland’s population growth is bursting at the seams. We are going to need timber materials and native hardwood is already out there,” Mr Stevens said in the report.

Housing Industry Association Queensland Executive Director Michael Roberts said the Queensland State Government’s target to deliver one million homes by 2046 was not achievable without the materials.

“One of the things we learned during the COVID period was how important locally produced materials are to ensure that the home-building industry can continue to operate in an efficient manner. A shortage of any material inevitably results in an increase in price and, of course, that gets passed on to the end consumer,” Mr Roberts said in the report.

For now, alternative supplies are scarce. Although the government launched a hardwood plantation program in 1999 to provide an alternative timber resource for the native hardwood industry, independent reviews show many of the hardwood plantations that were established performed badly with the program ending in 2019.

Sourcing hardwood overseas would only increase costs and also risks purchasing unsustainable timber, particularly when an estimated 10 per cent of Australia’s timber imports are suspected as being derived from illegally logged sources.

Queensland Conservation Council Protected Areas Campaigner Nicky Moffat said in the report that the timber industry had plenty of time to transition out of native logging and a new hardwood plantation program should be investigated. She also welcomed an end to native logging due to the harm it could cause to wildlife.

Native logging was banned by Labor governments in Victoria and Western Australia this year, while uncertainty remains in Queensland and New South Wales.