Repairing and preparing Australia's landscapes for global change:

Why we must do much more

A report on an expert roundtable, held at the University of Melbourne on 21 February 2013, to consider the question:

'What are the benefits of large-scale reforestation and revegetation, and how can they best be achieved?'

Richard Eckersley

June 2013


In 1989, CSIRO published my report, 'Regreening Australia: The environmental, economic and social benefits of reforestation'. The report was a preliminary investigation into a large national program to 'regreen Australia' through massive reforestation and revegetation over a period of 10 to 20 years.

The 1980s were a time of growing interest in land degradation and the role of reforestation in addressing the problem. In the same year, the National Farmers' Federation and the Australian Conservation Foundation joined forces to propose a national land management program involving, as a central element, the establishment of 1,300 Landcare groups. Another initiative that year was the Western Australian Government's launch of Tree Trust, the largest reforestation program to be undertaken in Australia.

The main justification for the CSIRO proposal was to combat land degradation, regarded then as Australia's most serious environmental problem. However, the report outlined other potential benefits, including mitigating and adapting to climate change; protecting biodiversity; increasing the sustainability and productivity of Australian agriculture; boosting timber resources; building environmental management expertise and innovation; creating many useful jobs; and boosting national morale.

The proposal attracted a great deal of public, political and professional interest. A science and environment journalist described the report as seminal, saying it had persuaded a lot of people, including him, to take the notion of such massive reforestation seriously. A parliamentary committee inquiry into land degradation recommended its adoption, and it influenced government policy. However, the proposal was never implemented on the scale envisaged and necessary to realise the potential benefits.

In 2012, the Board of Australia21 agreed to re-examine the topic, using the 1989 report as a benchmark or reference point, given: almost 25 years had passed; greater recognition of the seriousness and urgency of climate change; and heightened global economic instability, making job generation potentially important to maintaining economic and social stability.

Australia21 conducted an expert roundtable at the University of Melbourne on 21 February 2013, attended by 27 farmers, foresters, researchers, business people, former government officials and others (and with input from several more invitees who could not attend). The central question discussed was, 'What are the benefits of large-scale reforestation and revegetation, and how can they best be achieved?'.

The roundtable was run under the Chatham House Rule to encourage frank and open discussion: people would be quoted, but they would not be identified by name or affiliation (although in some cases they have been cited by name with their permission). The discussion was recorded and transcribed. The transcript forms the basis of this report (together with other sources, including email exchanges with participants). Participants were given the opportunity to comment on a draft of the report and, in some cases, to edit quotes.

The intention is to provide a broad overview of a complex topic from different perspectives. The process has obvious limitations: it cannot delve into detail; important issues can be brushed over or left out; what is said is often a matter of opinion, sometimes contested and reflecting special interests and other sources of bias. The report does not purport to be a consensus, although there was a high degree of agreement on most of the key points. Responsibility for the content rests with the author and Australia21.