The North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) is calling on the Baird Government to hold an independent public inquiry into the gross mismanagement of State forests.
NEFA spokesperson, Dailan Pugh, said the privatisation of timber resources from public lands has proven to be a very expensive failure that has resulted in the public paying millions of dollars in compensation and subsidies to private companies, gross over-logging, and the widespread degradation of public forests.
"Yields from public forests are still declining as large sawlogs become rarer. Australian Solar Timber's laying off of 18 workers is just another indicator of the collapse of the timber industry based on public native forests due to gross over-logging.
"The NSW Government are not only running down the resource, they are severely degrading our public forests, they are leaving us with depleted wildlife, damaged soils, sick streams, severe weed infestations and spreading dieback. It will cost millions more to repair the mess.
"Our public forests are not being managed in the public's best interests.
"This is the result of secretive backroom political deals and cronyism. It is well past time for an open, public and independent inquiry into why NSW taxpayers have had to pay millions of dollars to private companies to unsustainably log public forests.
"With the hardwood sawlog industry based on public native forests in terminal decline an inquiry needs to consider the best future use of our degraded State forests, the costs of rehabilitating them, and who should pay to fix the mess" Mr. Pugh said.
"Back in 1998 the NSW Government gave private sawmillers 20 year Wood Supply Agreements for a total of 269,000 cubic metres per annum of large high quality sawlogs from north-east NSW's public forests.
"At the time NEFA provided evidence to the NSW Government that the Forestry Corporation had grossly overstated resources.
"By 2003 it was evident that resources had been over-estimated, the Government reduced the Wood Supply Agreements but extended them for another 5 years, increasing the total volume committed. The Government has never been able to meet the new commitments.
"While we have been proven right, it has come at a high cost. Since then NSW taxpayers have spent at least $13 million to buy back timber given to sawmillers for free.
"Annual commitments have almost halved since 1998 down to 142,337m3 p.a. due to the Forestry Corporations grossly inflated resource assessments not being able to be met.
"Not only have taxpayers had to pay sawmillers compensation for timber that never existed, but we have also spent millions more buying private properties to get timber for them, and we spend $11 million per annum subsidising the logging of public native forests for them.
"In 2012 the Legislative Council inquiry into the Management of Public Land in New South Wales identified that the Forestry Corporation was unable to meet commitments, with Douglas head complaining that the industry "is actually collapsing now" and Bruno Noraras identifying "that by 2019 it will be pretty tough". The sawmillers identified that they wanted to be able to log national parks to meet shortfalls, with the politically driven inquiry recommending "That the NSW Government immediately identify appropriate reserved areas for release to meet the levels of wood supply needed to sustain the timber industry".
"When the then Minister for Resources, Katrina Hodgkinson announced in June 2014 that the NSW Government paid Boral $8.55 million to buy-back part of their Wood Supply Agreement she claimed that this would reduce yields to a sustainable level and enable supply of the preferred Blackbutt timber species to other sectors of industry.
"NEFA claimed then that it was too little too late because they were just buying back allocations they were unable to supply anyway. The laying off of workers from Australian Solar Timbers because log quality continues to decline is proof that despite more multi-million dollar payouts the NSW Government failed to fix anything.
"The Government's political inquiry and political solution solved nothing. An independent inquiry is the only way out of this costly political mess", Mr. Pugh said.
EXTRACTS FROM PUBLIC LAND USE INQUIRY
13.44 ... Mr Douglas Head described the situation on the North Coast as being unsustainable post 2023, when the current agreements are due to expire. He commented that ‘At the moment, we are in an unsustainable pattern
13.46 ... The Committee is concerned at the suggestion that the Forestry Corporation of NSW has failed to deliver on its commitment to supply the specified volume and quality of saw logs. In addition, the Committee questions whether the wood supply agreements were based on unsustainable yields from the outset, making it impossible to deliver the supply of wood needed to sustain the industry. ...
13.75 In relation to the amount of additional land required to make the industry sustainable on the North Coast, Mr Ainley gave evidence that: ‘At a guess, I would suggest that we would need a little more than one million hectares to be returned. However, it depends on which hectares,
where they are and how the regulations may affect them’.