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Liberals Rip Off Tasmanians Over Public Plantation Sale

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 14 September 2017

Tags: Forests, Public Land, Environment

Cassy O’Connor MP | Greens' Leader and Forests spokesperson

As the owners of public forests and land, Tasmanians are being robbed blind by the Liberals who have privatised 29 000 hectares of public hardwood plantations for $40 million less than taxpayers paid to establish them.

When Minister Barnett says this is a good deal for the Tasmanian people, he is lying.  In a 2012 letter, the Auditor General accepted Forestry Tasmania’s estimate of $3,500 per hectare to establish a hardwood plantation.  At a conservative estimate, it cost taxpayers $101 million to establish those plantations.

Tasmanians have been completely ripped off but the Liberals want them to believe being stripped of plantations they owned and short-changed by at least $40 million is a good deal.

The $60.7 million sale price ‘negotiated’ by the Liberals is apparently contained within a ‘binding contract’ that includes a 99 year lease on the 29 000 hectares of public land.  In the interests of transparency, the Greens tried to force the Liberals to present the contract to Parliament, but they shut down debate and refused to provide any detail.

We are talking about the fire sale of a substantial public asset, yet the former owners of that asset have been absolutely left in the dark.

The Premier has betrayed Tasmanians who believed him when he said, shortly after coming to office, that his government won’t be privatising public assets. 

A 99 year lease on public land is privatization by any other name.  This is one of the biggest privatisations by any government in Tasmania’s history and all of it undertaken with zero transparency.

The new owners, Reliance Forest Fibre Pty Ltd, only registered with ASIC on 7 July this year.  They did not exist when final bids for the plantations were due in May.  Now we discover their parent company is based in the tax haven of the Cayman Islands. 

The profits from this firesale will be going offshore fast, with very little benefit to Tasmanians and Forestry Tasmania’s one potential profit making asset sold out from under them.

This is yet another example of how the Liberals operate on forestry. 

Nobody wanted to buy into their southern residues solution, so they had to coax the formation of a new company – Majestic Timbers - which only registered after the contract negotiations, with the promise of millions of dollars in annual subsidies from the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme.

Now we’ve seen it again with their sale of the public plantation estate. The estate has been sold to a company that has only existed for two months, based outside of Tasmania, and with an ultimate holding company based in the Cayman Islands, and at a significantly discounted price.

It just goes to show that under the Liberals if their policy is bad, they will rip off Tasmanians just to be able to pretend they have been successful.

No wonder Minister Barnett failed to answer Greens’ questions in Parliament today and then refused to front the media.