It was a relief to learn that Australia is 80 per cent self-sufficient in toilet paper and there is, therefore, no need for panic buying.
But hang on a minute. First, that 80 per cent is for a market that has suddenly grown – perhaps doubled. So, there may indeed be a shortage.
What should be more worrisome is that Australia is only 80 per cent self-sufficient in an industry sector which we should be a massive net exporter. We actually import 50 per cent more wood and paper products than we export.
In days of yore, governments were always looking for value-added industries that could leverage off our natural advantages. Because we had cheap energy and bauxite, we were world leaders in aluminium production and this led to fantasies that we’d become a key part of the global supply chains for industries like automobiles (engines) and – I kid you not – for windmills (blades). Governments sank considerable funding into these ventures.
They were doomed by the labour market arrangements that, with the connivance of governments and the legal system, have priced Australia out of so many world markets. They were doomed once again by an energy market policy that has subsidised renewables and transformed Australia from the lowest to among the highest cost energy nations in the world.
Wood industries were also earmarked as promising. After all, even though only about 14 per cent of Australia is forested, this gave a wood availability per capita that was among the highest in the world. Moreover, the woodlands are in the right places and they too could benefit for the abundance of the (now mythical) cheap energy.
But such forecasts not only underestimated the capacity of Australian Governments to wreck the energy industry, they failed to recognise politicians’ susceptibility to other green forces that would close down the forestry industry. Forest industry output is increasing by only 1-2 per cent a year, in spite of massive investment in plantations, as areas are progressively closed off from logging,
Closing off areas for logging (the Peoples Republic of Victoria is in the process of a new slew of such closures) not only deprives the nation of valuable output but also contributes to creating yesterday’s newsworthy item, bushfires. Notwithstanding CSIRO’s feeble attempts, utterly demolished by Matt Canavan, to portray the fires as a feature of global warming, it is clear that their spread is due to the prevention of tree thinning and management of land that comes with forestry and the roads and heavy machinery that is concomitant with it.
Perhaps coronavirus will lead to an awakening. Probably not.