• Gunns has rejected the Lara Giddings State Government compo offer (max $23m), ABC Radio says ...
Tasmanian timber deal still up in air
Updated September 05, 2011 22:43:21
Tasmanian timber company Gunns is refusing to confirm it has formally rejected the Tasmanian Government’s commercial settlement for its native forest contracts.
The Government issued a two-line statement late on Monday saying Gunns had rejected the undisclosed offer after considering it for more than a week.
It has cast another shadow over the $276 million inter-governmental agreement to end logging in most native forests, and raises questions about the Government’s relationship with the timber company.
Gunns is refusing to comment on the Government’s brief statement, other than to say the process is ongoing.
The sum has not been disclosed but the premier has indicated the maximum amount Gunns could receive under the forest agreement is $23 million.
The Greens’ forestry spokesman Kim Booth says it is disappointing the company continues to hold up the process.
“What I’d say to both the state and federal governments is that they need to proceed with the IGA and not allow Gunns and Forestry Tasmania, who have both been behaving as wreckers in this process, to prevent the IGA going ahead,” he said.
• Matthew Denholm, The Australian: Gunns fells ALP’s deal on forests
THE landmark Tasmanian forest peace deal proudly unveiled by Julia Gillard last month is dead unless Canberra can intervene to rescue a compensation deal with Gunns.
The timber company last night rejected an offer of compensation for surrender of its rights over the lion’s share of logging in Tasmania’s native forests.
Without the surrender of these rights - more than 210,000 cu m of native sawlogs each year - the Prime Minister’s $276 million federal-state forest peace deal cannot proceed in its current form.
The freeing up of Gunns’ contracts is vital if the deal - touted by Ms Gillard as resolving 30 years of conflict - is to deliver its promise of 430,000ha of new national parks and sufficient resource for surviving timber companies.
Canberra, which had left the Gunns negotiations to the Giddings state government in Tasmania against the advice of conservationists, is now scrambling to rescue the talks or lose the entire forest peace package.
“The state government has been advised by Gunns Ltd of their decision to reject our offer of commercial settlement,” a Tasmanian government spokesman said last night. “The state and federal governments are committed to the forestry intergovernmental agreement and we are working together to find an alternative pathway to resolve outstanding issues with the company.”
Gunns declined to comment in detail, but suggested it was still willing to talk. “We will update the market when the process is completed,” a spokesman said.
Deputy Premier Bryan Green last night told The Australian he believed the forest deal could be salvaged. “We are considering our position both the state and commonwealth but the imperative is to keep the IGA underway,” he said.
Speaking before late-night crisis talks with federal Environment Minister Tony Burke, Mr Green denied the forest deal was dead. He stood by the state’s position that it would not top-up the offer to Gunns.
• Andrew Darby, The Age: Gunns rejects crucial financial offer
TROUBLED forestry company Gunns has rejected a financial offer from the Tasmanian government seen as key to the future of the state’s timber industry.
The settlement for exiting native forest logging was critical both to Gunns’s future operations and to a landmark forests peace settlement.
‘‘The state government has been formally advised by Gunns Limited of their decision to reject our offer of commercial settlement,’’ a spokesman for Premier Lara Giddings said yesterday.
The settlement was needed to unlock funding for contractors squeezed by the exit from native forests in a $276 million federal-state package.
Rejection comes with Gunns into the fifth week of a stock exchange trading halt, called for the settlement negotiations, with its share price at an all-time low of 20.5¢.
The settlement, covering tens of millions of dollars, was meant to extinguish Gunns’s legal rights over native forest contracts with Forestry Tasmania.
• Dinah Arndt, The Examiner: Rejected: Gunns not impressed with offer
GUNNS LTD last night rejected a payout offer from the state government, fuelling uncertainty in Tasmania’s forestry industry.
Neither party would comment on the amount offered in return for residual rights of the company’s logging contracts, or the reasons it was rejected.
The offer was made a week ago under a clause in the $276-million forestry intergovernmental agreement.
A spokesman for Premier Lara Giddings said the state and federal governments remained committed to that agreement.
“We are now working together to find an alternative pathway to resolve outstanding issues with the company,” he said.
“We certainly have not closed the door on a commercial settlement with Gunns, but have to talk to the Commonwealth about what that means.”
Gunns spokesman Matt Horan said the company would not comment until the process was complete.
Forestry Tasmania was last night seeking information.
“It’s obviously a disappointing outcome, but we guess that there would be reasons an agreement couldn’t be reached and are keen to understand those reasons,” Forestry Tasmania’s Ken Jeffreys said.
Greens forestry spokesman Kim Booth urged both governments to let Forestry Tasmania and Gunns fight out a commercial settlement and get on with the wider aims of the agreement.
“Don’t let the contractors or environment groups be held to ransom by the recalcitrance of a company like Gunns,” he said.
He said not a cent above the commercial value of residual rights, as determined by an independent probity auditor, should be paid.
Opposition forestry spokesman Peter Gutwein described the news as a “body blow” to the forestry agreement.
It has been a month since Gunns cited uncertainty about the payout when it suspended trading.
Australian Securities Exchange’s Leeanne Bland said there was no deadline attached to suspension of trading, but companies were obligated to update the market and keep in close contact with ASX.
• Earlier, Kim Booth, Greens Forestry Spokesperson MR:
The Tasmanian Greens today called for Gunns to quit stalling and make a decision on the buyback of its native timber contracts, so that cash-strapped contractors can finally start to receive compensation.
The Greens forestry spokesman Kim Booth said that Gunns failure to act was holding up progress on the implementation of the Forests Intergovernmental Agreement.
“It’s time for Gunns to get on with it and make a decision. Tasmanians are getting tired of this issue, and are not interested in listening to more political grandstanding and conflict. They just want results,” Mr Booth said.
“Nobody wants this more than the contractors, who just want to be able to make a dignified exit from the industry. I’ve lost count of the number of workers I’ve spoken to who are ready to hand in their quotas and are utterly fed up with Gunns’ slow progress,” Mr Booth said.
“Unfortunately the actions of some industry bullies have meant the majority of these contractors have been too afraid to speak out publicly.”
“A large number of these hard working contractors are on the brink of foreclosure. They need immediate reassurance that financial help is on its way, not more stalling by the company that put them in this position to start with.”
“The Forests Intergovernmental Agreement is as good a deal as Tasmania can get. It will see large areas of valuable wilderness spared from the loss-making woodchip mills, along with a huge boost to Tasmania’s economy through the $276 million in federal money for immediate relief for contractors and regional development.”
“This is a historic opportunity to put the entire forest industry in Tasmania on a sustainable footing. I’m calling on Gunns to make actions out of the words that they like to throw around so glibly, such as social responsibility, and take what is a fair and reasonable buy-back to get out of native logging,” Mr Booth said.
• David Leigh:
Okay, time 6:21 PM Monday 5th September 2011. There is no pulse, no brain activity… Are we all agreed we should call it? This is the ultimate flat-liner. Only Frankenstein could bring this monster back from the dead.