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Forestry - Sale of State's Planation Assets

20 September 2017

Ms O'CONNOR question to PREMIER, Mr HODGMAN

[10.21 a.m.]

Your Government has privatised 29 000 hectares of publicly owned plantations for around $40 million to $55 million less than it cost taxpayers to establish them, according to the Auditor-General.  Not only have you sold Forestry Tasmania's only potentially profit-making asset out from under it and privatised land that belonged to the Tasmanian people, you have done a deal that was a steal for the new owner.  Why have you gone back on your word to Tasmanians that your Government would not privatise public assets and why have you agreed to such a bad deal for taxpayers?

 

ANSWER

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her question.  I reject the characterisations contained within it.  We are now able to take money that was previously being used to subsidise forestry operations in this state and put that money into our health system.  That is a very good deal and a very different approach under this Government than what was adopted under the former government of ongoing - in fact $100 million - subsidies being budgeted for Forestry Tasmania at the expense of schools, hospitals, roads, and more police in our communities.

We are very confident this outcome has delivered great value for Tasmanian taxpayers in returns to our state.  It will enable STT to be debt-free and on track to be sustainable into the long term - and commercially sustainable.  Pre-sale advice on similar sales in Tasmania and Australia indicated a range of between $1500 to $2000 per hectare for first rotation hardwood plantation estates.  The result we have achieved is clearly at the upper end of that.  It has enabled us to return a windfall in the order of $15 million into essential services. 

Those opposite say that is not much money, but we think $15 million more into our health system rather than forestry operations is a good result.  STT is retaining around 20 000 hectares of high-value hardwood plantations which will produce high-quality sawlogs, just as we said it would.  STT still holds plantations of very significant value, as well as getting $60 million now to pay off debt and return that money into health.  We think it is better value for taxpayers' money. 

The Auditor-General has previously pointed to what was not a good use of taxpayers' money when under Labor and the Greens $400 million was spent in shutting down the forest industry.  They want to spend even more locking up more production forests in our state's north-west, which is the Greens policy commitment.

It is important to make the point that we have not sold the rights to the land.  It is only for the plantation trees. 

Greens members interjecting.

Mr HODGMAN - It is not true.  Just because you keep saying it does not make it true.

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Madam Speaker.  The Premier has misled the House because the documents from the sale process make it clear that he sold the rights to the land.

Madam SPEAKER - What is the point of order?

Ms O'CONNOR - The Premier has misled the House.

Madam SPEAKER - You know you can only do that by way of a substantive motion, so it is not a point of order. 

Mr HODGMAN - The sale will transfer full ownership of the current tree crop to the forestry right holder and enable them to replant plantation on harvested land.  In addition, STT has retained plantations required for sawlog production, providing resource security for the future.  As STT still owns the land, the same access for recreational users still applies.  In regard to the contract, the board of STT advises there are no additional liabilities for STT arising from the sale.

Each of those elements points to a much better deal for Tasmanian taxpayers now, a much more sustainable pathway for STT to operate into the future, and a much better thing for us to do.  We can put more money into health, which we want to do, or return to the old ways of a Labor-Greens government, which is to shut down the forest industry, pay people for the jobs that were lost in the process and subsidise Forestry Tasmania to the tune of $100 million, as the Labor-Greens government had budgeted to do.  We would rather put more money into supporting our health system and the work we are doing to support it than to subsidise forestry operations.