Executive Summary

​​This report presents results of a case study in which recommended indicators for monitoring the social and economic impacts of forestry were tested in the ‘Green Triangle’ region of south-east South Australia and south-west Victoria. The indicators tested were developed as part of a project undertaken for the Forest Industries Branch of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, which aims to identify cost effective indicators for monitoring social and economic impacts of Australian forestry.

The indicators were developed by reviewing the types of information needed about social and economic impacts of forestry, followed by identifying methods that can be utilised to measure these impacts. The indicators were refined after a workshop in which key stakeholders were consulted, and then tested in two case study regions: the Green Triangle, and north-east Tasmania. The final set of recommended indicators is described in detail in Schirmer (2008a), while results of the Tasmanian case study are presented in Schirmer (2008b).

The Green Triangle was selected as a case study region in which to test the indicators as it is an important forest industry region in Australia, in which the industry is based predominantly on plantation forestry. In 2006, there were more than 170,000 hectares of softwood plantation, and just under 140,000 hectares of hardwood plantation, established in the region. A significant manufacturing industry has developed over several decades to process the softwood resource, while harvesting of hardwood plantations is currently beginning in the region.

The indicators tested aim to identify key information that enables assessment of social and economic impacts of the forest industry in the region. In particular, the indicators aim to assess:

  • Key characteristics of the forest industry;
  • Impacts of the forest industry on the broader community;
  • Impacts of the forest industry on its workforce; and
  • Impacts of the forest industry on Indigenous people.

Two types of data were utilised to measure indicators: existing data produced by organisations such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Bureau of Rural Sciences; and a survey of forestry workers which gathered information on aspects of impacts of the industry on its workforce for which data were not otherwise available.

Indicators were measured where possible for the Green Triangle, and for three regions within the Green Triangle – the South East region (covering the South Australian part of the region), the Western District (covering the south-west Victorian part) and the Wimmera (extending further north in Victoria). Data were also measured where possible for individual ‘statistical local areas’ (SLAs) - each local government area in the region is made up of between one and three SLAs. Trends in the Green Triangle were compared to trends seen in Australia, South Australia and Victoria over the same period.

Five key characteristics of the forest industry were examined: direct employment in the industry; estimated value of production; estimated volume of production; efficiency of production; and consumption of wood and paper products.

A total of 3,369 people were employed in the Green Triangle forest industry in 2006. Of these, the large majority – 2,777 – were based in the South East region of the Green Triangle, 518 in the Western District and 74 in the Wimmera. This includes people employed in forestry and logging and wood and paper product manufacturing; it excludes people employed in transport of logs, and some silvicultural contractors, as these are not included in forestry employment figures by the ABS. The local government areas (LGAs) with the most forestry workers were Mt Gambier, Wattle Range, and Grant, in South Australia. Total employment in the Green Triangle forest industry grew more than the Australian average over 1996 to 2001, and fell less than average over 2001 to 2006, indicating the industry is more stable in the Green Triangle than many other Australian regions. The large majority of employment in the industry – 82% of workers - is located in the manufacturing sector, while only 18% of workers are employed in growing and harvesting trees.

Approximately 82% of workers in the Green Triangle forest industry worked in the softwood plantation sector in 2006, while 12% worked in hardwood plantations, 3% in native forestry, and the sector in which the remaining 3% worked was unknown.

The estimated volume and value of forestry production could only be measured at state scale, providing limited information about the Green Triangle region. Growth in both volume and value of production was slower in South Australia and Victoria than in Australia as a whole over 2000-01 to 2006-07. The efficiency of production was difficult to measure due to a lack of data on the labour required to produce different types of products; more detailed direct survey of the forest industry is needed to produce useful data on the productivity of labour.

Consumption of wood and paper products in Australia is a useful predictor of likely demand for wood and paper products from the Green Triangle and other forestry regions. Per capita consumption of paper and paperboard products grew over most of the period of 1994-95 to 2006-07, as did consumption of wood-based panel products. Consumption of sawnwood showed a more variable pattern, but grew over much of 1998-99 to 2003-04, and subsequently declined.

Impacts of the forest industry on the broader community were examined by measuring the dependence of the labour force on the forest industry; social characteristics of forestry dependent regions; the location of forest industry employment; and the impact of the forest industry on rural population. These indicators, as with all those reported here, represent a subset of the many ways the forest industry may impact on the broader community, and should be accompanied by in-depth studies which examine how people experience and interact with the forest industry, and the impact of changes to the forest industry.

Dependence on the forest industry was measured by calculating the proportion of the employed labour force who worked in the forest industry. Within the Green Triangle, the highest dependence occurs in the South East region. The LGAs of Grant, Mount Gambier, and Wattle Range all have very high dependence, with over 11% of the workforce, and up to 16%, working in the forest industry in 2006. This level of dependence is much higher than the Australian or South Australian average. It only reflects direct dependence on forestry; indirect dependence through industries who supply the forest industry or rely on spending of wages and salaries by forestry workers should also be considered. In the Western District, parts of Glenelg Shire have a higher than average dependence on forestry employment, with the SLAs of Glenelg – Heywood and Glenelg – North having between 4% to 6% of their labour force employed in forestry.

Overall dependence on the forest industry has fallen over time in almost all regions, a result of a broadening labour force and some decline in employment in the forest industry in recent years.

Key social characteristics of local regions with differing levels of dependence on the forest industry, including total population, unemployment rates, education levels, median age, household income, the ratio of working age to child/retirement age population, and economic diversity, were compared. The goal was to identify whether local areas with high dependence on forestry differ to other areas of the Green Triangle. In areas with medium or high dependence on forestry, a slightly higher proportion of the adult population held a bachelor degree or higher qualification, and residents were slightly younger than average, while median household income grew at a slightly slower rate in areas with high forest industry dependence. It is possible these differences are not due to the forest industry but to other factors.

Forestry workers tend to be relatively urbanised, being more likely to be based in large towns/regional centres than in small towns or rural areas within the Green Triangle. Forestry workers are more likely to live in towns with a population of more than 10,000 people and less likely to live in towns with less than 200 residents or in rural areas outside towns compared to the overall labour force of the Green Triangle. Forest industry employment is also much more urbanised than employment in the agricultural industry. This indicates that any shift from traditional agriculture to forest-industry based employment is likely to be accompanied by some urbanisation of employment opportunities in the region.

Areas experiencing plantation expansion were analysed to identify whether the plantation expansion has affected rural population levels. At the SLA scale, there was no evidence that areas experiencing plantation expansion had experienced a greater loss of rural population than those experiencing no or little plantation expansion. This means that any population decline resulting from plantation expansion is too small to be distinguished from other factors causing rural population decline, with many areas in the region experiencing loss of rural population over 1996 to 2006 whether or not plantation expansion occurred.

Perceptions held about forestry by members of communities living in the Green Triangle were not examined in this case study, due to a lack of time and resources. Understanding the social impacts of forestry requires understanding perceptions, as they inform how people understand, experience and respond to forestry in the region.

A range of characteristics of the forestry workforce were examined, to help identify the impacts the industry has in the people who work for it. Key findings were that:

  • Forest industry workers in the Green Triangle earn a slightly higher income on average than other members of the labour force;

  • The forest industry across Australia has a higher rate of occupational disease and injury requiring compensation than all other industries, and this rate is declining at a slower rate than for other industries, indicating ongoing high injury and disease rates compared to other industries;

  • A majority of forestry workers in the Green Triangle indicated they were satisfied with their life in general, the local area they live in, and the health of their family; a smaller majority were satisfied with their own health and their financial situation;

  • Forestry workers in the Green Triangle are satisfied many aspects of their work in the industry, including the level of challenge, income, interactions with colleagues, and sense of accomplishment, but a higher proportion feel dissatisfied with the support received from those outside the industry, the rules set by government on how forestry can operate, and the fairness of decisions made about the forest industry;

  • Forestry workers are predominantly male, with around 18% of workers female in 2006. However, female participation in the forestry workforce in the Green Triangle is growing at a greater rate than for the labour force overall, indicating the ‘gender gap’ between the forest industry and overall labour force is narrowing, albeit slowly;

  • Forestry workers in the Green Triangle are slightly younger on average when compared to the overall labour force, however, the forestry workforce aged more rapidly than the labour force as a whole over 1996 to 2006, indicating that this difference is likely to narrow;

  • Green Triangle forestry workers have less attachment to the place they live in compared to forestry workers living elsewhere in Australia, and are less likely to believe they will be living in the same area in five years time, indicating a relatively low ‘attachment to place’;

  • Around 30% of forestry workers have more than one member of their household working in the industry, while 22% have a family history of work in the industry extending beyond one generation. Many workers have reasonably strong social networks within the forest industry, although very few indicated that ‘most or all’ of their friends worked in the industry, indicating good social links outside the industry;

  • Green Triangle forestry workers are more likely to work full-time hours than those in the general labour force; and

  • Forestry workers are more likely to have a post-school qualification than average for the total population aged over 15.

The Green Triangle forest industry has a lower than average proportion of Indigenous workers, when compared to the Australian forest industry average and the average for the labour force in the Green Triangle. However, Indigenous employment has grown at a faster rate than average in the forest industry in recent years, indicating this gap may be closing. Indigenous workers are most likely to work as machinery operator/ drivers and labourers, and less likely to work as managers, technicians, trades workers, and in clerical and administrative works, compared to the rest of the forestry workforce.

The indicators reported in this document provide a broad overview of the key social and economic characteristics of forestry and forestry workers, and of the communities that are dependent on forestry, in the Green Triangle. The indicators can be used to identify how these characteristics are changing over time, and hence to examine social and economic change related to the forest industry. These social and economic changes may have many impacts on different people. However, the indicators can provide only a limited understanding of impacts, and should be accompanied by in-depth studies which provide a more complete understanding of the social and economic impacts of forestry. These studies include studies of downstream economic impacts, of the ways people experience the changes identified in the indicators and what these changes mean for their lives, and of perceptions about forestry, amongst others.

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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