APRIN LOAN SAGA CONTINUES
Forestry Tasmania Flags ‘Profit-Sharing’ Arrangement
Tim Morris MP
Greens Economic Development spokesperson
The Tasmanian Greens today obtained further details of arrangements surrounding the proposed Aprin loan currently being assessed by the Tasmanian Development Board, including confirmation that Forestry Tasmania’s contract with Aprin contains a profit-sharing arrangement.
Greens Economic Development spokesperson Tim Morris MP said that these latest revelations raise further questions about details of Forestry Tasmania’s arrangements with Aprin, which the Minister has argued cannot be placed on the public record due to the Board’s process still being underway.
Mr Morris also obtained confirmation that the Board met Tuesday afternoon and is currently seeking further information from the company, and is not expected to complete its determinations until later this week or early next.
“As more details come to light regarding the Aprin loan to facilitate the purchase of the Triabunna woodchip mill, the more questions arise especially regarding the involvement of Forestry Tasmania,” Mr Morris said.
“Under Greens’ questioning the Forests Minister, Bryan Green disclosed that part of the contract between Forestry Tasmania and Aprin regarding the provision of wood supply on a tolling basis, includes a profit-sharing arrangement.”
“This means that potentially Forestry Tasmania is looking at taking on part of the risk of an Aprin operation of the Triabunna mill should this loan eventuate, which we believe is definitely in the public interest to have disclosed.”
“The Board’s Aprin loan process is still underway, as despite it meeting yesterday it has not made its final determination, and is not expected to do so for a few more days at least while further information is sought, and the Greens will be maintaining our position that this loan should not proceed,” Mr Morris said.
INDEPENDENT STRATEGIC REVIEW OF FORESTRY TASMANIA MUST EXAMINE AUDITOR-GENERAL’S REPORT
And No Further Public Bail Out without Parliament’s Approval
Kim Booth MP
Greens Forestry spokesperson
The Tasmanian Greens today called on the Minister for Forests to ensure that the current independent Strategic Review into Forestry Tasmania includes the Auditor-General’s Special Report 100, Financial and economic performance of Forestry Tasmania, saying that the Report makes it clear that Forestry Tasmania is a failed business and in urgent need of restructure..
Greens Forestry spokesperson, Kim Booth MP, also called for a commitment that no further public monies will be used to bail out Forestry Tasmania from any financial difficulties without such a funding injection first coming before the Parliament.
“I have long been on the record warning the Minister that Forestry Tasmania is a rogue agency that has been unable to return a sustainable commercial rate of return for the Tasmanian public, and is in fact a drain upon the public purse,” Mr Booth said.
“As Shareholder Minister, it is incumbent on him to take responsibility for the fact that the Auditor General formed the view that whilst the ‘expectation of Forestry, and the environment in which it operates, changed fundamentally’ over the last 15 years, the ‘business and funding model did not keep pace with these changes.”
“This Report by the Auditor-General is relevant to the independent Strategic Review of Forestry Tasmania, and the Greens believe it must be formally submitted for the Review’s consideration.”
“With Forestry Tasmania crying poor and the suggestion that more public money might be required to pay their employees superannuation how will the Minister reassure Tasmanians that he will take a more active role in ensuring hard-earned public money is not thrown into the bottomless pit that is Forestry Tasmania?”
“Any further injection of public funds, to bail out this underperforming GBE, should not occur without first seeking Parliament’s approval of any conditions set upon which public money is provided,” Mr Booth said.
Christine Milne in the Senate:
Senator MILNE (Tasmania—Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (14:22): My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Minister Ludwig. Is the minister aware that the Tasmanian minister for forestry has confirmed in state parliament today that Forestry Tasmania has entered into a profit-sharing arrangement with Aprin Logging to keep the Triabunna woodchip mill open? Can the minister say whether this is a breach of the forest principles agreement commitment to no new contracts? Does it jeopardise the Tasmanian and Commonwealth negotiations in the forest peace process?
Senator LUDWIG (Queensland—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:23): In terms of the specific issue around the Tasmanian forest principles agreement, as you know, the parties continue to reach agreement in relation to that particular point. Specifically around the issue that Senator Milne has requested, the area of the woodchip bidder—if we use it as the rhetorical question, ‘Does the government support the conditions on the side of the Tiabunna mill to the Aprin bidder as being conditional or satisfactory in the progress of the implementation of the forest principles agreement?’ and reverse it in that sense, because, if I detect the question correctly, I think that is where Senator Milne is heading—the government is obviously concerned to ensure that the impact of the Gunns Ltd move out of native forest logging on the Tasmanian economy is well managed. Of course, Gunns has signalled to the market that it will be selling its assets to support its move to a new business environment. The government continues its commitment to this process as outlined—that is, to support the continued discussions. We continue to support those discussions. The facilitator, Mr Kelty, is continuing the due diligence assessment—
Senator Bob Brown: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Milne’s question was directly about a contractual arrangement involving Forestry Tasmania. The minister has not addressed that question.
The PRESIDENT: There is no point in order. I am listening closely to the minister’s answer. The minister has 28 seconds remaining.
Senator LUDWIG: Thank you, Mr President. If you are referring to contractual arrangements between the Tasmanian state government and individuals, that is not a matter that the Commonwealth would intrude on. If they do exist, they are commercial arrangements between those entities. What is important to consider is the Commonwealth’s position in this. The Commonwealth is working on the statements of principles with the community and interest groups. (Time expired)
Senator MILNE (Tasmania—Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (14:26): I thank the minister for not answering the question that I asked. Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister say whether the forest principles agreement commitment to no new contracts is breached by Forestry Tasmania entering into a profit-sharing arrangement with Aprin?
Senator LUDWIG (Queensland—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:26): Again, the issues around what the Tasmanian government does or does not do are still matters for the Tasmanian government. What the Commonwealth is doing in this is working through—
Senator Bob Brown: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Milne’s question did not mention the Tasmanian government. It was about Forestry Tasmania and Aprin. I ask you to have the minister direct his answer to the question.
Senator Chris Evans: Mr President, on the point of order: Senator Ludwig is 14 seconds into his answer. To expect the minister to have seriously got into the content of his answer in 14 seconds is unrealistic. We seem to be getting a lot of spurious points of order and I suggest to you, Mr President, that there is no point of order. Senator Ludwig is attempting to give Senator Milne a serious answer to a serious question.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Ludwig, you have 46 seconds remaining to answer the question.
Senator LUDWIG: Thank you, Mr President. Whether it is a private entity or a commercial entity in Tasmania, those are matters for commercial entities to manage their way through—that is, the commercial contracts they enter into and the terms on which they enter into them. Regarding the Commonwealth’s role to date—and that is what I can describe—the government recognises the challenges in getting that statement of principles to an agreement stage. As to what the parties negotiate and the content of that agreement, until it is finally settled, I do not want to second-guess the outcome. We have appointed Mr Bill Kelty to facilitate that process. The parties are working diligently to arrive at a landed position. Senator Milne is asking me to second-guess, in some respects, what the content might finally look like and what the Commonwealth’s role may be. I will take what I can on notice to see if there are any additional facts that I can provide. (Time expired)
Senator MILNE (Tasmania—Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (14:28): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I ask the minister whether the forest principles agreement has in it ‘no new contracts’ and, if so, does Forestry Tasmania entering into a profit-sharing arrangement constitute a new contract?
Senator LUDWIG (Queensland—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:28): I will take what I can on notice. I go back to the primary point. I am not in a position, when the agreement is not finalised, to be able to second-guess all the terms of it and their impact in relation to commercial arrangements that may exist, as to whether they are in or whether they are out and who would be bound by them. The agreement has not been finalised. I think it is important to recognise that, when we land at that place, people can look at the results, look at the agreements that are there, and see what conditions need to be met. It is important to keep in mind that it is about the coalition of interests and trying to reach an agreement. The government welcomed the community of interest that managed to get together to resolve what has been a very difficult issue in Tasmania for 30-odd years: getting out of native forest logging. (Time expired)
First published: 2011-07-06 05:20 PM
• Mercury: Deal locked in, says Aprin:
THE Department of Economic Development has approved the State Government’s multi-million-dollar loan to Fibre Plus Tasmania to buy the Triabunna woodchip mill, the company says.
The approval could set Labor on a collision course with its minority government partners.
The Greens oppose the loan and Greens MP Kim Booth could act on his threat to move a no-confidence motion in the Government today.
Also yesterday came confirmation that the state-owned business Forestry Tasmania is negotiating a profit-sharing agreement with Fibre Plus.
Aprin Logging owner Ron O’Connor, who set up Fibre Plus last month, received verbal notice of the loan approval last night and was awaiting the paperwork, a company spokesman told the Mercury.
Last week Mr O’Connor said the loan formed a relatively small part of the overall package and he was expecting a response from his main lender within days.
Deputy Premier Bryan Green revealed yesterday during Question Time that FT had entered into a contract to supply wood to Fibre Plus and to engage in a profit-sharing arrangement stemming from exports.
He told Parliament two key departments—Treasury and Infrastructure, Energy and Resources—had advised the Government to support FT’s application and the profit-sharing agreement had been reached “a week or so ago”.
The admission sparked outbursts from Mr Booth, who called it “unbelievable” and “outrageous”.
It also raised concern that FT, which has delivered a second consecutive multi-million-dollar annual loss, would lose more money through the profit-sharing arrangement for a mill that has struggled to find a foothold in the narrowing woodchip market and make a profit.
Liberal forestry spokesman Peter Gutwein said more transparency and accountability was needed.
… more online
• And don’t forget you can watch the Pollies live ( HERE). It can be strangely addictive. (There is a permanent link in TAS-CAM, Top Nav Bar).
Booth told ‘put up or shut up’ over mill loan
The Tasmanian Liberals are challenging Greens MP Kim Booth to deliver today on his long standing threat to bring on a no-confidence motion against the State Government over a controversial government loan.
The Government has said this morning that a loan to private company Aprin to help buy the Triabunna woodchip mill on the East Coast from Gunns is yet to be formally finalised, as some conditions are yet to be met.
Mr Booth has threatened to bring down the Government if the loan, ticked off by Premier Lara Giddings, was finally approved by the Economic Development Department.
But the Liberals’ Peter Gutwein says it appears the loan is locked in and that means Mr Booth must deliver.
“Look it appears quite clear that the loan will be made to Aprin,” he said.
“Now this is a loan that we support but for Mr Booth it will only be posturing on his behalf or attempting to delay the inevitable that if he decides not to bring on the no confidence motion today.
“Mr Booth has been crying wolf now for months in respect of no confidence motions. Today is his opportunity, he’s either got to put up or shut up.”
The Mercury newspaper is reporting that a representative of Aprins’ owner says the company has secured final approval for the loan.
A Greens spokeswoman was yesterday maintaining Mr Booth had not been gagged, after he moved a motion to refer the approval of a loan to a parliamentary committee.
She says all five Greens MPs oppose the Government loan to Aprin.
But she says the party room is yet to discuss the possibility of a no confidence motion and Mr Booth’s threat still stands.
The timber industry has warned the sector would be finished in the south if the Triabunna mill folds.
Forestry Tasmania has come under fire for keeping secret its potential stake in the sale of the woodchip mill.