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 north east Tasmania.

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 et al. (2008a), while results of the Green Triangle case study are presented in Schirmer et al. (2008b).

North east Tasmania 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 both native forest and plantation based forestry activity is undertaken.

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 (ABS) 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 north east Tasmania, and for individual ‘statistical local areas’ (SLAs) within north east Tasmania. Each local government area in the region is made up of between one and three SLAs. Trends in north east Tasmania were compared to trends seen in Tasmania and Australia 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 1,852 people were employed in the north east Tasmanian forest industry in 2006, based on ABS data. 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. Of these, 37.4% (691 people) were based in Launceston and 24.2% in Dorset (449 people). Other municipalities had fewer forestry workers, although Meander Valley, West Tamar and Break O’Day all had over 100 forest industry workers in 2006. Total employment in the forest industry in north east Tasmania followed the Australian average, with slight growth over 1996 to 2001 followed by decline over 2001 to 2006; while in Tasmania as a whole, employment declined over both periods, indicating the industry is more stable in the north east Tasmania than Tasmania as a whole. The majority of employment in the industry in 2006 – 65.7% of workers - was located in the manufacturing sector, while 34.3% of workers were employed in growing and harvesting trees, similar to the average across Tasmania. This is considerably different to the Australian average; across Australia an average of 87.3% of employment in the forest industry is located in the manufacturing sector.

North east Tasmania has a higher reliance on plantations for employment in the forest industry than the Tasmanian average. Approximately 40% of workers in north east Tasmania work in the plantation sector, compared to 31.7% in Tasmania as a whole, while 60% work in native forestry, compared to 68.3% in Tasmania.

The estimated volume and value of forestry production could only be measured at state scale, providing limited information about north east Tasmania. Growth in both volume and value of production was greater in Tasmania than the Australian average over 2000-01 to 2003-04, while over 2003-04 to 2006-07, volume and value of production fell in Tasmania while it grew in Australia. 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 the wood and paper products from north east Tasmania sold into domestic markets. 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. All parts of north east Tasmania had higher dependence on forestry employment than the Australian average, and six municipalities had dependence higher than the Tasmanian average. Within north east Tasmania, the highest dependence occurs in the municipality of Dorset, where in 2006 almost 16% of the employed workforce worked in the industry. This measure of dependence 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.

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; the exception over 2001 to 2006 was Dorset, where dependence on the forest industry grew slightly, indicating higher vulnerability to change in the forest industry.

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 north east Tasmania. In areas with medium or high dependence on forestry, a slightly lower proportion of the adult population held a bachelor degree or higher qualification than areas with low dependence, and a slightly higher proportion held no post-school qualifications. Median household income was slightly lower in areas with medium and high dependence on forestry than other areas. It is possible these differences are not due to the forest industry but to other factors.

Forestry workers in north east Tasmania tend to be located in similar sized towns to the overall labour force, with the only difference being that a moderately higher proportion of forest industry employment is located in towns with less than 1,999 population and on rural land compared to the labour force overall. This is different to forestry workers in other regions; in the Green Triangle, forestry workers are much more urbanised than in north east Tasmania. Forest industry employment is 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; in addition, many areas in the region experienced growth of rural population over 1996 to 2006 whether or not plantation expansion occurred. At more localised scales it is possible other trends would be evident, but these scales could not be examined for this study.

Perceptions held about forestry by members of communities living in north east Tasmania 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 north east Tasmania were more likely to earn $600-999 and less likely to earn over $1,000 per week 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 Tasmanian forestry workers 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 Tasmania 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 are 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 10% of north east Tasmanian forest workers female in 2006, less than the average for Tasmania or Australia. Female participation in the forestry workforce has declined over time in Tasmania and north-east Tasmania, while it grew in Australia, indicating the ‘gender gap’ between the forest industry and overall labour force is growing in Tasmania and north east Tasmania;

  • Forestry workers in north east Tasmania are slightly younger on average when compared to forestry workers in Tasmania and Australia; while the forestry workforce has a slightly younger age profile than the labour force in general. 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;

  • Tasmanian forestry workers have more attachment to the place they live in compared to forestry workers living elsewhere in Australia, and are more likely to believe they will be living in the same area in five years time, indicating a higher ‘attachment to place’ than for forestry workers in other regions;

  • Tasmanian forestry workers were more likely than other forestry workers to have spent most or all of their working life in the forest industry. Just under 30% of forestry workers have more than one member of their household working in the industry, while just over 30% 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 few indicated that ‘most or all’ of their friends worked in the industry, indicating good social links outside the industry;

  • Forestry workers in north east Tasmania, Tasmania and Australia are more likely to work full-time hours than those in the general labour force; and

  • Forestry workers in north east Tasmania, Tasmania and Australia are more likely to have a post-school qualification than average for the total population aged over 15.

The Tasmanian forest industry has a higher than average proportion of Indigenous workers in its labour force. Tasmania has a higher proportion of Indigenous workers than the Australian average in the forest industry. North east Tasmania has a lower percentage of Indigenous workers than Tasmania as a whole, although it is still higher than the Australian average. However Indigenous employment has grown at a slower 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 operators/drivers and labourers, and less likely to work as managers, technicians, trades workers, and in clerical and administrative work, 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 north east Tasmania. 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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