Deal to sell plan­ta­tions la­belled a ‘rip-off’

The Gympie Times - - NEWS NATION - – Alexan­dra Humphries The Mer­cury

A DEAL to sell Tas­ma­nia’s 29,000ha of pulp­wood plan­ta­tions for $60.7 mil­lion has been de­scribed as a strong out­come by the State Gov­ern­ment and a “fire sale” and “rip-off” by op­po­nents.

Ques­tions have also been raised about the com­pany, which Par­lia­ment heard had been reg­is­tered only two months ago and had a par­ent com­pany listed in the Cay­man Is­lands.

The long-awaited deal was an­nounced via a Face­book post by Re­sources Min­is­ter Guy Bar­nett, who was crit­i­cised by the ALP and Greens for not fronting the me­dia to an­swer ques­tions.

The gov­ern­ment said the sale would add to Sus­tain­able Tim­ber Tas­ma­nia’s bot­tom line, but net pro­ceeds of about $15 mil­lion would be di­verted into Tas­ma­nia’s health sys­tem.

The sale of plan­ta­tions was first flagged by then re­sources min­is­ter Paul Har­riss in April 2015 as a way to keep Forestry Tas­ma­nia sol­vent, with­out pub­lic sub­si­dies.

Forestry Tas­ma­nia be­came Sus­tain­able Tim­ber Tas­ma­nia in July this year.

La­bor leader Re­becca White ac­cused Mr Bar­nett dur­ing Ques­tion Time of con­duct­ing a “fire sale” and mak­ing a “dud deal”.

Health Min­is­ter Michael Fer­gu­son said the

$60.7 mil­lion was sig­nif­i­cantly more than gov­ern­ment ad­vis­ers had ex­pected, but he did not pro­vide the pre­dicted amount.

“It’s a great out­come for Tas­ma­nia,” he said.

Mr Fer­gu­son said the gov­ern­ment had not sold the land, just the trees, but Greens leader Cassy O’Con­nor and Ms White said the deal amounted to pri­vatis­ing a pub­lic as­set be­cause it in­cluded a 99-year lease.

Ms White said it cost tax­pay­ers $90 mil­lion to put the trees in the ground and re­cent sales of sim­i­lar plan­ta­tions had fetched much higher amounts.

A sim­i­lar sale could have net­ted tax­pay­ers close to $200 mil­lion, she said.

Ms O’Con­nor said the deal was a “rip-off,” cit­ing a 2012 let­ter in which the Au­di­torGen­eral ac­cepted fig­ures es­ti­mat­ing the cost of estab­lish­ing the plan­ta­tions was more than $100 mil­lion.

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

LOSS: Tas­ma­nia’s gov­ern­ment is un­der fire over the sale of plan­ta­tions.

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