I am pleased to see the Labor Environment Action Network (LEAN) express its concern about a grant by the federal government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency for a project centred on the Boral Timber mill at Heron’s Creek near Port Macquarie.

The government has given $500,000 to Boral to investigate biofuel production from native forest residues. ARENA should review its policy regarding the “clean and renewable” nature of biofuels made from native forests and avoid taxpayer subsidy to this unsustainable product.

Biofuels of this kind are bad for forests and bad for wildlife. Already we have koalas on the vulnerable list. All this move does is encourage clearfelling and help move koalas from the vulnerable list to the critically endangered list.

We need to protect our precious forests, koalas and other wildlife. Conservation is central to our long-term economic, social and environmental prosperity. We also need a sustainable timber industry that operates where is it environmentally and socially acceptable and responsible to do so.

The project being supported by ARENA is simply not sustainable and bad for our local community. It should be investing in sustainable projects that don’t harm the Mid-North Coast and threaten our economy.


Letter to ARENA


25 October 2018

Martijn Wilder, Chairman,

Australian Renewable Energy Agency,


Dear Mr Wilder,

I am writing to voice the concern of the Labor Environment Action Network (LEAN) about the decision of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to give a $500,000 grant to Boral Timber (Media Release, 24 August 2018)

It is understood the $500,000 grant has been given to Boral Timber to investigate the feasibility of building a biofuels refinery using the waste sawmill residues from the Boral Timber Hardwood Sawmill at Herons Creek near Port Macquarie.

Labor and LEAN support the proliferation of genuinely renewable resources which are compliant with the principles of ecologically sustainable development. Projects such as the one at Port Macquarie is not compliant with these principles.

We do not believe this is an appropriate use of the taxpayers’ money:

  • Biofuels using timber from this resource on the NSW Mid-North Coast is not sustainable due to the impact on local flora and fauna, most notably koalas.
  • Labor is opposed to the burning of native forest timber and cleared vegetation for electricity production and by implication other forms of fuel.

The burning of native forest timber is not a clean and renewable energy and forms no part of a credible strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Upon election, and under the New South Wales Labor Platform[1], a state Labor government will reinstate the prohibition on burning native forests and cleared vegetation for electricity.

Labor has taken a strong stand on this issue in federal parliament as well. It was the Labor government that removed the burning of native forest timber out of the renewable energy scheme some years ago. It was inserted originally under the Howard government. Labor has opposed attempts to reinsert native wood waste under the Abbott and Turnbull Governments. Labor takes the view that native wood waste is neither clean nor renewable, in the sense that term is used in the modern parlance for renewable energy.

Further, Labor is greatly concerned about the welfare of forests and their inhabitants. The decision of NSW Liberal and National Government to introduce clearfelling in 140,000 hectares of forests on the state’s mid-north and north coasts from Taree to Grafton is an environmental catastrophe. This action was introduced through changes to the Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (IFOA) regulatory system, which until now has previously prohibited damaging Tasmanian-style clearfelling operations in northern NSW. The changes were explicitly introduced to secure wood volumes, with the NSW Natural Resources Commission concluding this could not be achieved whilst delivering on the NSW Government’s commitment to ‘no erosion’ of environmental values. LEAN also understands that serious inter-departmental concerns were raised during the IFOA ‘Remake’ process that Forestry Corporation of NSW had been undertaking illegal clearfelling type operations, under the guise of ‘Heavy Single Tree Selection’ logging, since the mid-2000s – a practice that has now been legalised and intensified as clearfelling.

The North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) believes the very survival of koalas in the region is threatened by increases in logging intensity and extensions of timber contracts. Further, they estimate approximately 50 per cent of the region’s koala population has been lost since the late 1990’s. The koala population is not going to increase with the removal of more trees. Further, much of the Heron’s Creek catchment are examples of high-quality koala habitat, as identified by NSW Department of Primary Industry. More than anything else, logging koala habitat to create bio-fuels does not pass the ‘pub test’ of what Australians imagine renewable energy to be.

The Boral Timber contract runs until 2028. If this intensive logging in these areas continues for that time, there will be few koalas left in the area. With younger forests, there will be less habitat; less water for the catchment; less carbon storage and it will be more fire prone as smaller in diameter trees have less fire resilience than larger tree trunks. The NSW Chief Scientist in her report on koalas in NSW called for a study into the impacts of ‘regeneration harvesting’ on koalas. This is yet to occur.

It should also be drawn to ARENA’s attention that Boral have faced a number of difficulties in finding a market for sawmill residue, in large part due to environmental sustainability issues. Previously, Boral exported residue from Heron’s Creek to Japan as woodchips through the port of Newcastle. However, this trade ceased in 2013 after Boral failed to obtain the Forest Stewardship Council ‘controlled wood’ accreditation (the weakest of FSC’s global standards) that was required by their customer. In essence, ARENA is supporting an investigation into the use of a product that has failed to achieve the lowest rung of the leading global forestry certification standard.

Given the concerns about the legitimacy of burning forest timber as a ‘clean and green’ technology; knowing the devastating impact the supply of timber will have on flora and fauna, most notably koalas, and recognising the increased fire threat to life and property from forestry practises, LEAN calls on ARENA to reverse its decision to fund this study by Boral and invest funds into legitimate renewable and sustainable technologies.

Thank you,


National Convenor
Labor Environment Action Network

Copy to:

  • The Hon. Mark Butler, federal Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy
  • The Hon. Tony Burke, federal Shadow Minister for The Environment and Water
  • The Hon. Adam Searle, state Shadow Minister for Energy
  • The Hon. Penny Sharpe, state Shadow Minister for the Environment

[1]The NSW ALP Platform 2017 states in Chapter 1, paragraph 80, Burning of native forest timber and cleared vegetation for electricity production is not clean or renewable energy, and forms no part of a credible strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Labor will reinstate the prohibition on burning native forests and cleared vegetation for electricity. 

Updated: 25 October 2018