Timber Shortages

I begin by thanking the member for Eden-Monaro for giving an old carpenter and joiner like me a chance to speak here in parliament about one of my favourite subjects. Like the most famous scene from Forrest Gump where Forrest receives a lesson from his new army buddy Bubba about the many different ways shrimp can be cooked and eaten, I could take a lot longer than five minutes telling the chamber all about timber—how it’s grown, the different species and how it’s used—but, out of consideration for members present, I will restrain myself. However, I will not have any suggestion that we talk about wood, because we all know you put wood in a fire and you build things with timber.

To understand the shortage that the member for Eden-Monaro refers to, we need to look at why it has come about. This shortage of timber is by no means a sign of the government’s failure. It is a sign of the spectacular success, in fact, of the government’s hard work and creativity in keeping the construction industry in this country afloat. After COVID-19 struck last year, established builders in my community that I’ve known for decades were phoning me to tell me that, after August, they simply had no work. Construction on the Sunshine Coast, generating some $6.1 billion a year in our region and employing 19,000 locals, was on the brink of grinding to a halt. Within just a few months, the situation was very different thanks to the Morrison government. I worked closely with the Assistant Treasurer on informing the creation of the government’s HomeBuilder program. The impact was immediate and dramatic. Those same builders who’d been facing an economic cliff were almost overnight inundated with more inquiries than they had ever seen before.

Nationwide, the 2020-21 financial year produced a record level of 137,170 detached housing starts, an increase of 34.2 per cent on the previous year. Yet HomeBuilder is just one of the Morrison government’s many measures to encourage more domestic construction in this country. In the most recent federal budget, the government allocated $124.7 million to support the construction of more public housing stock. We have introduced the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme, the First Home Super Saver Scheme, the family home guarantee and the new home guarantee, which have stimulated huge new demand and seen first home owner numbers at their highest in 15 years.

The Morrison government, unashamedly, is all about first home ownership; it is about home ownership. In short, this government’s measures are supporting $30 billion worth of construction work across this country. They are saving thousands of jobs in my community, which has been life changing for a wide range of Sunshine Coast locals and their businesses.

However, this incredible success has most certainly contributed to a challenge of supply for building materials. The member for Eden-Monaro is right on one thing, when she notes that Master Builders Association is concerned about a deficit of up to 250,000 house frames over the next 15 years. However, the member for Eden-Monaro ignores another important fact also mentioned by masters builders: in 2021 Australia’s timber mills massively increased production to meet demand, producing a record three million cubic metres of timber. Yet, despite this record increase in domestic production, we continue to see shortages. This is not, as the member for Eden-Monaro suggests, a problem of domestic supply; it is a short-term problem of global shortages and disruption to the global supply chain.

Sweden is seeing its lowest stock of structural timber in 20 years. Sawmills in many parts of the world are under pressure from rising energy costs, while North American supplies are currently impacted by insect damage and recent forest fires. As we all know, container ship capacity is stretched, while road haulage in Europe is suffering from a lack of qualified drivers. At the same time, as economies open up around the world, a backlog of paused construction projects, from China to the United States, are beginning to ramp up again. Demand is rising worldwide at an unprecedented rate. Worldwide production is stalled. In Australia, we’ve stepped up and produced more timber than we have ever done before.