17 Jun, 2011 12:13 PM
The 30-year-long conflict over logging old growth forests in Tasmania is on the verge of being resolved, with the federal government poised to commit to a deal early next week that has been hammered out by forestry and conservation groups.
The Australian Financial Review reports that all the major points have been agreed upon among the forestry stakeholders, paving the way for an end to nearly all old-growth logging in Tasmania and enabling Gunns to build its $2.3 billion pulp mill.
It is understood the federal government has made decisions about support for Tasmanian forestry sector employees and contractors, as well as which tracts of native land will be placed in reserve.
It is not clear if compensation has been set aside for Gunns, although several sources said the company would expect something in return for surrendering native forest logging contracts and its investment in roads and other infrastructure.
Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke told the Financial Review that once parties agreed on the final shape of an agreement, the government would be in a position to respond. “We have agreed that it is the appropriate time to be negotiating a settlement to the statement of principles,” he said.
The Australian Financial Review
• Moving mountains for $1million
NICK CLARK | June 18, 2011 12.01am
GUNNS managing director Greg L’Estrange is earning a salary of $1 million a year in 2011—and judging from the past week he must be earning every cent.
He also has a performance incentive for up to another $1 million.
While the objectives he has to achieve are not known, beating a June 30 deadline for the repayment of $55 million must surely be one of them.
Having already earned a $1 million bonus for last year’s contribution, to be paid on December 31, 2011, Mr L’Estrange has endured a tough week.
Gunns shares started off the week at 30c but fell every day, to a low of 25.5c on Thursday, before closing up slightly higher yesterday at 27c.
The fall reduced Gunns’ market value to about $230 million, about 10 per cent of the cost of the Bell Bay pulp mill it proposes to build.
Mr L’Estrange was also the victim of a parliamentary administrative blunder which resulted in a $15 million dispute with Forestry Tasmania being made public.
A bright spot was the sale of the Triabunna woodchip mill but it is likely to contribute less than $10 million to the $45 million short-term facility Gunns is due to repay on June 30.
There is also a $10 million quarterly payment relating to senior debt of $360 million payable on the same date.
In Mr L’Estrange’s words, the Triabunna sale is contingent on “satisfactory progress” in the Statement of Forest Principles process.
However, Forest Industries Association of Tasmania chief executive Terry Edwards put out a statement yesterday saying recent media speculation that a final agreement was imminent was premature.
• ABC Online: Figures reveal gap in forest peace process
New figures have been revealed which show just how far Tasmania’s forest peace deal is from resolution.
Industry will support the protection of an additional 270,000 hectares of forest.
But environment groups want more than 570,000 hectares protected.
That’s a 300,000 hectare gap between the major players in the forest peace talks.
The Forest Industry Association says the gap between signatories is larger than the public realises.
“An agreement is not imminent, in fact there is a significant difference between the parties as to the level of forest reservation and the amount of resource that needs to remain available to industry,” said Terry Edwards, the Association’s Chief Executive.
“Both governments are becoming impatient, a lot of the participants in the negotiations are becoming impatient, but at the end of the day the various participants in these negotiations have their own ideological objectives,” he said.
Forest groups say they’ve already compromised.
“It’s probably fair to say we went into the process saying no new reservation is appropriate,” he said.
It’s hoped Gunns’ exit from native forest logging will help the process.
But at the moment the timber company’s focus is on its plummeting shareprice.
It fell to 24.5 cents this week, the lowest level since the stockmarket crash in 1987, and finished the week at 27 cents.
The Tasmanian Opposition is …