President's Report January 2020

I am inspired by our industry.

I recently attended the funeral of Ben Swane, AM and listened to the heartfelt messages of family and friends, and the effect Ben had on their lives and businesses. Ben was a leader, mentor, teacher and listener to countless numbers of people in our industry and his experience lives on in his family and those he encountered during his long life. Vale Ben Swane.

At the reception afterwards, I met Graham Parr, from Parrs Nursery in Cobargo. Graham spoke passionately about Ben as a mentor and the effect he had on his life. Graham also told me his nursery had been destroyed in the fires that ravaged the NSW South Coast, and his determination to rebuild his business. I can’t help thinking about Grahams steely resolve and the mentoring by Ben Swane. We need to support businesses like Grahams.

Unfortunately, this story could be retold in many communities around Australia this summer as natural disasters are not limited to fires. As I write this monsoonal rain is impacting on a parched Queensland with local flooding, a cyclone is loitering in the pacific, while fire is continuing to impact on the remainder of Australia.

The Federal Government recently indicated the devasting bush fires of the last few months will have a negative effect on the economy over the next couple of years. However, from an industry perspective, these negative economic effects do not immediately translate to our industry. I base this on my experience of the 2009 Black Saturday fires that devastated large areas of Victoria.

After the fires, NGIV made a submission to the Royal Commission about the importance of rebuilding safe and resilient communities. A tremendous amount of scientific work had been undertaken about planning in fire prone areas and selecting trees and shrubs that do not burn readily. A lot of that good work has unfortunately been forgotten by state and local authorities.

Nevertheless, my inspiration also comes from Member initiatives such as ‘FebReplant’ by Heyne’s Wholesale Nursery in South Australia who are donating $5 from the sale of specific plants to the CFS SA volunteer firefighters Foundation. Also, proactive businesses such as Cameron’s Nursery in New South Wales arranging Ministerial meetings next week to positively influence the water restrictions, noting the need for industry to support the bushfire recovery in months and years to come.

The GIA Board recently met and agree the greenlife industry has a role to play in the recovery process, and we discussed how we should support and respond to the crisis.

In the post traumatic stages of the major disaster in 2009, there were heartfelt, but ill-informed discussions about greenlife in the affected communities. The key was to ensure that Government authorities, planners, developers, builders and the general public were well informed, and our industry were ready to assist. Local nurseries are critical in this rebuilding process. Unfortunately, well intentioned donations of trees and shrubs to these communities, can only exacerbate the economic damage to local garden centres, landscapers and the wider industry supply chain.

A lot of good work is being done by State Associations in reaching out to members and this needs to be extended to non-members as well. We are all in this together.

GIA will monitor the State and Federal Governments reviews and where appropriate provide submissions. We will also continue to support existing campaigns such as Greener Spaces Better Places to inform authorities and communities about how to build safer and more resilient communities in urban areas affected by the fires. This month GIA staff have been working directly with the Greener Spaces Better Places team to provide information on benefits of greenlife in urban spaces, acknowledging many urban environments are also bushfire prone, that pollution is affecting entire cites and subsequent health and economic impacts. Greenlife and our industry has a role in mitigating these effects.

My experience in Victoria, was if the industry stayed united, connected and informed during the rebuilding process, we were able to maintain steady growth over a several years. Having a united and connected industry has never been more important.

More discussions on this topic will no doubt occur at the National Conference in Perth in March, including a session on natural disaster, resilience and recovery.

Hope to see you there.