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The Great Tasmanian Land Robbery

Reprinted with permission from Tasmanian Times

18.06.07 6:30 am

The Background: Tasmania Inc. continues to expand

Though it was and is bigger than the Great Train Robbery by several orders of magnitude, and swallowed resources that could have been of major benefit to Tasmanians in general, the affair known as the Forestry Tasmania Land Swap has largely disappeared from public consciousness. Though little discussed, the Land Swap merely sleeps, awaiting a proper government.

To refresh the reader, the land swap began in 1997, when a vague deed of arrangement providing for an exchange of land of equal value between the State Government/Crown and Forestry Tasmania passed quietly through the Tasmanian Parliament. It appeared to mean no more than an administrative exchange of undesignated Crown land in the bush and designated Crown land known as State Forest, which is managed by Forestry Tasmania. No one in parliament questioned the extraordinary lack of detail to the Deed of Arrangement.

It wasn't until 2000 that that the affair came to light. A concerned employee in the government's Land Services Department, which deals with all land records and transactions, expressed alarm to an acquaintance at the huge and irregular transactions coming through his office. No less than 77,809 ha of State Forest, the great bulk of Forestry Tasmania's plantation estate, had come to him to be converted and transferred as freehold, or private land, to Forestry Tasmania. The titles had allegedly come with verbal instructions from the whistle blower's superior instructing him to withhold the titles from the Department's Valuation Roll, a contravention of regulations.

The transactions raised a blizzard of questions. Why was Forestry Tasmania having State Forest converted to private freehold when private land, unlike Crown land, was subject to rates and taxes? Why was it withheld from the Valuation Roll? Where was the freehold land 'of equal value' which Forestry Tasmania was required to surrender to the Crown in compensation for the Crown/State Forest it received as freehold? How, why, and where would Forestry Tasmania have been holding an amount of native bush of equal value to 77,809ha value of established plantation? Why had the employee received title details to all the 77,809 ha but no details or title deeds to any land surrendered to Forestry Tasmania?

By coincidence, some 121,409 ha of State Forest was, according to Forestry Tasmania, transferred to Parks and Wildlife, also in 2000. A Freedom Of Information (FOI) request to the Information and Land Services department produced the astonishing reply that they had no records of this land, despite their responsibility for all land records.

The search for answers was pursued by journalists from Four Corners, the Australian Financial Review, and the Sunday Tasmanian, as well as by myself and a few other private fossickers, all to no avail. When the ever changing but invariably implausible explanations from the Government and Forestry Tasmania broke down, the government simply stopped answering. When the Auditor-General was called in to investigate, he eventually announced that the transaction was all in order, despite admitting, as did the Land Services Department, that he had not actually located the land surrendered to either the Crown or to Parks and Wildlife. In total, around 200,000 ha of land had vanished.

The 77 809ha of Land Swap plantations by themselves would be conservatively valued at well in excess of $200 million. There is also the 121,409 ha of former forestry land which has not been accounted for. Tasmanians are justified in wondering what else has gone missing, and what it may have to do with our status as the poorest state?

It seemed apparent that the Tasmanian Government had not initially expected any questions on the Land Swap. Things may not have gone to plan. It was subsequently divulged by Forestry Tasmania that it managed the 30 000ha of pine plantation it brought to its joint venture with Rayonier. Forestry Tasmania later disclosed that these trees were actually Land Swap freehold.

Now we are seeing the troubling situation where Gunns, as aspiring buyer of Auspine, would become major purchaser of pine logs from Forestry Tasmania and Rayonier. This, of course, is the very result whose public interest, and perhaps legal interest shortcomings, forced the Lennon government to put Auspine on expensive public welfare.

One would have hoped that the Land Swap might have encouraged the Government to be more cautious, if not principled. Unfortunately, the lack of consequences, combined with a lack of opposition, has seen them grow even more arrogant.

This is dramatically evident in its Protection of Agricultural Land (PAL) policy. The blatant stacking of PAL policy toward plantations is transparent. The inclusion of MIS plantations as an agricultural use, while simultaneously giving them exclusive and effectively perpetual jurisdiction on their Private Timber Reserves, will ensure the accelerated disappearance of conventional agricultural land.

PAL goes so far as to prevent even 'future' agricultural land, namely the private land bush which comprises one million hectares, or one third of all Tasmanian public forests, from being 'fettered' for economic or environmental reasons. PAL would discourage even full-time farmers from living in the countryside, arguing that such measures would discourage theft and vandalism, not to mention lowering capital value for any purchasers uninterested in a residence.

There are signs that ever more Tasmanians are awaking to the the gross misappropriation of public resources to private interests. Let us hope it isn't too late.

The Story: The Land Swap between Forestry Tasmania and the State Government

The Tasmanian Government Gazette of 30 June 1997 lists the proclamation of statutory rule 81 under s.97 of the Government Business Enterprises Act 1995. This proclamation provides for an exchange of land of equal value between Forestry Tasmania (FT) and the Crown. There is no mention of area, value, or estate (i.e. freehold, Crown land, etc).

The ostensible purpose of the exchange was set out in a statement (27/10/00) from DPIWE Minister David Llewellyn in response to queries from Federal Labor Senator Shayne Murphy. Mr Llewellyn said: 'The intent was to enable FT to obtain consolidated titles to its major plantations.' Nowhere does Llewellyn mention 'freehold', which would acknowledge a major alienation of public property.

The transaction seemingly attracted no interest from the Tasmanian media or the political opposition despite some anomalies. FT's forest estate is principally State Forest, a form of Crown land. There seems little point in consolidating Crown land, as it is not subject to rates and taxes on a title basis. What freehold FT already owned would be largely that relatively small area acquired for its private investor plantations and encumbered by those interests, hence not available for exchange. There also appears to be no logic in giving FT freehold, as it is subject to local government rates and land tax. Unless it is intended to be on-sold

The transaction attracted outside attention in 2000, when a Land Services employee confided in a member of the public his concern about seeming irregularities in procedures. He claimed to have been given a large number of titles of Crown land being transferred as freehold to FT with a highly unusual verbal instruction from the Valuer General that they be withheld from the Valuation Roll. He also claimed that his request for an explanation was met with a response that it was a matter best left unquestioned. He forwarded copies of some 55 of the title plans to the citizen, which contained some duplicates, leaving some 48. News of the leak apparently got back the government, as the informant reported the arrival of outside security consultants and the imposition of stringent monitoring of access to LTO and FT data. The informant subsequently indicated that he was fearful of providing further information.

Some of the properties on the leaked plans could be readily located, such as a nearby 3300ha block at Beulah, and have proven to be almost solely plantation. Seven more parcels identified in the Burnie area were also plantation, primarily pine.

Senator Murphy was persuaded to query the land exchange, copies of which are in the file, along with Mr Llewellyn's replies. There are further anomalies in these replies. The Llewellyn letter of 20/10/00 refers to 50 properties transferred to FT. The First Schedule of the GBE proclamation, lists these properties as comprising 77 809ha. These are almost surely the same as the leaked properties, which on an initial count comprised some 77 458ha. There is a general correspondence between the areas of specific properties on the maps and those listed on the Proclamation schedule.

If so, Llewellyn's cited land/capital valuation of $27,792,000 is an impossibly low $357 per ha, with a land value of $159 per ha, or $64.50 per acre. This contrasts with the $3000 per ha establishment costs charged by FT's Trees Trust investor plantation prospectus (2000) ( land not included), the $5,000 to 10,000 establishment fees charged in some other plantation schemes, and the $10 000 and $68 000 forecast as the commercial yield per hectare of pulpwood and softwood plantation respectively by FT in the above prospectus.

The valuation raises questions as to how the land was valued, and the legality thereof. This exchange involved the alienation of Crown land to freehold. The sale of Crown land, whether for cash or some other form of exchange, should take place under the Crown Lands Act. This act specifically (s.13(3)(c)) requires the potential commercial value of any trees on the land to be factored into the sale price. This was obviously not done here.

The Valuation of Land Act, relating to freehold land, features one the grotesque concessions to logging interests which abound in Tasmanian legislation. S.11(7)(a),(b) prohibits the valuation of any forest or plantation designated for industrial or commercial use ( firewood lots excepted). This means that a plantation on private land is subject to council rates on the same basis as waste, or unimproved land, and on which stamp duty could be easily avoided. If this legislation was applied, which appears arguably illegal, the Tasmanian Government has disposed of public property at a write-down of over 90%.

The transaction is further muddied by another extravagant perk to private logging interests in Tasmania. It is FT policy to replace state native forest with plantation wherever conditions are suitable. Where this is done by private interests, namely Gunns, the resulting plantation trees are owned by them, with the public land underneath being rent-free. This may be contrasted with Victoria, which even in its open slather days did not permit the replacement of state forest with plantation.

It is estimated that some 70% of FT's plantation trees are actually owned by private interests. The 2001-02 FT annual report shows FT owning only 24,000ha of the forest estate's 83,000ha of plantation. According to FT's annual reports for 2000-01, the 77,809/ 77,458 ha would have represented virtually their entire plantation resource, with most of it encumbered by private interests in the bulk of its value. This would suggest that the intended purchaser could hardly be other than Gunns or their successors.

Among the other ambiguities arising from the Llewellyn responses is the discrepancy between the $27.8m valuation of the 50 properties, and the $32m cited in his letter of 27/10/00 as being the value of the land vested in FT as well as the properties surrendered by them. The use of 'vested', which means only having a legal interest, is also confusing, as the Crown land managed as State Forest by FT has been vested in them, but not owned, by them.

Also confusing is the 19,199ha of the First and Second Schedules accompanying Llewellyn's response to Murphy's request for volume and folio numbers of 2/10/00. These were identified by land district, parish, lpr numbers, and volume and folio numbers. The Surrender Deed of 30/9/00 seems to refer to these schedules as having been retained by, and vested in, FT as part of the exchange, but not otherwise described by Llewellyn in his reference to the number of properties. I initially presumed these were the properties surrendered, since they do not correspond with the properties of the First Schedule of the GBE proclamation. They are far more numerous at 228 to 97, cover just less than one quarter the area, and average 84.2ha to 802ha for the latter. But it is not impossible, in view of the crudity of government PR, that it was presumed that the opacity of the documents would discourage further investigation. It may well be that these properties are ones purchased by Forestry Ministers for forestry purposes under s 12B of the Forestry Act and which, under s.16, may be sold by the corporation, albeit for a price determined by the same criteria as other Crown land.

It has proven difficult to match the properties from the various documents. Attempts at property searches through Service Tasmania from a selection of identifiers on the leaked property plans came up with no matches. If the First and Second Schedules with volume and folio are in addition to those of the proclamation schedule, the valuation drops still further, to around $329 per hectare.

We still have no record of the land supposedly surrendered by FT. Queries to the Minister on these properties, and on the 121,409 ha which were shown as disappearing from FT's forest estate through 'reclassification' in its 2000-01 annual report, were sent on 1/12 03 and 16/12 /03 with an FOI request on 23/01 — that year also featured an exponential rise in revenue from land and equipment sales, to $74 m. To date, 5/1/04, there has been no response or acknowledgement to any of these.

The basic question is why conduct a seemingly illusory land exchange in the first place? The state government is at liberty to sell its plantation estate, as it did 30,000 acres of pine plantation to RMO several years ago, at approximately $3200 per hectare. It is also free to provide more Crown land to FT as State Forest.

The plausible hypotheses are not reassuring. The Land Swap format, for which we still have no quid pro quo, would provide FT with all its plantations in a saleable form which does not appear in its assets valuation. That plantation asset, moreover, appears to be undervalued by around $200m, and in a tenure which it does not seem logical to hold in the long term.

This situation, complemented by another lavish perk — FT's exemption from FOI legislation — could provide FT with a hidden cash supply to disguise its ongoing debt problems and chronically woeful economic performance. Given the extraordinary and inexplicable generosity shown by the Government towards Gunns Ltd, it could also be made an enormous and discreet gift to that company.

The extreme undervaluation of the plantations together with the Bacon/Lennon government's scarcely disguised devotion to the economic interests of Gunns, suggests that the intended beneficiary is not FT. The economic analyses of FT by actuary Naomi Edwards and Graham Green of Timberworkers for Forests, clearly reveal the government's intent to operate FT as a milch cow for the private sector. Edwards compared FT's 1% return on equity (0.7% according to the Auditor-General) to the 35% ROE of its main customer, Gunns.

While the scenario postulated above may seem brazen, it is not out of keeping. Tasmania's forests are being logged at an intensity of something like 15 to 25 times that of the mainland for by far the lowest rate of return in the nation.

After receiving no acknowledgement to the three FOI requests sent to DPIWE Minister Bryan Green, I asked for the reasons, in writing, for their apparent decision to ignore the requests, with copies to two Tasmanian Green MHAs. An acknowledgement arrived by return post.

On 27/1/04 I received some of the information requested, namely that supplied to Senator Murphy in 2000. This clarified that the 19,199ha also went to FT, making the total 97,108ha, which was valued at $32 million dollars. This lowers the average valuation to $329 per hectare, with the 19,199ha having an apparent valuation of $218 per hectare.

The Bryan Green response, which was signed by AG (Attorney-General) Judy Jackson over his name, referred me to FT in regard to my request for details of the land supposedly surrendered by FT. I have responded that this surrendered land should now be in the government domain, and that FT is expressly exempted from Tasmania's FOI Act. I am awaiting a response.

My query as to the fate of the 121,409ha which was removed from the FT forest estate in 2000-01, was ignored. It should be noted that FT's reported plantation area was not affected by the conversion to freehold.

To summarise, FT has been given, in freehold 97,108ha of public land, mostly plantation, at an extremely low valuation, vastly more freehold land than it possessed at the time of the exchange. To date, the public still has no evidence of anything being offered in compensation.

February saw further evidence emerge regarding the land surrendered by FT, indicating that the exchange was a deliberate and premeditated sham.

The Sunday Tasmanian (15/2/04) published a letter from David Boyer, who claimed to have been involved in the transaction and defended its propriety, albeit without evidence. A phone call to Mr Boyer produced both the full text of his letter, and his verbal admission that the land surrendered by FT was Crown land.

Mr Boyer turned out to be a retired surveyor with FT. As his letter indicates, the surrendered land was that from FT's property register whose title had either been cancelled, presumably because it adjoined other Crown land, or whose title was held in the name of the Crown. He admitted the land transferred to FT had not had the trees on it valued, as would be required by the Crown Land Act. He offered no explanation as to why land had been given to FT as freehold.

In late February I obtained both the transcript of the Four Corners interview with Evan Rolley on 28/1/04 and the written explanation of the exchange affair issued by Rolley on 29/1/04.

Conversion to freehold is described as essential to involving and securing third-party interests. However, governments normally issue letters of guarantee to private joint ventures, not assign them interests in public property. He describes the conversion of the 97,000ha going to FT as 'vesting', which it wasn't as the land was already vested with them.

He describes vesting as integral to consolidation of titles, which it isn't. He also claims that the conversion to freehold of the 77,000ha was reported in FT's 1997-98 annual report — it wasn't. The annual report claims that the 77,000ha was vested in FT on 30/7/97. It does not reveal that the land was made freehold, nor that it was already vested in FT as Crown Land. The earliest date on any of the transferred title plans is 18 May 1998.

Rolley does implicitly admit that the 200 titles retained by FT from the property register were not in FT's name ( para (a) of the 'Issue of Titles' section), though it is questionable that it should have been done under s.11 of the Land Titles Act, as that section appears to exclude transfers to government agencies.

The draft FT policy of 2000 to pay municipal rates on land purchased since 1994 which he cites should be viewed alongside the 2002 amendment to the Government Business Enterprise Act, which allows the Treasurer, on the portfolio minister's recommendation, to exempt a GBE from any or all government charges. At any rate, the great bulk of land purchased by the Forestry Commission/FT was purchased before 1994.

A March 2004 property search of a 3,300ha freehold block given to FT as part of the 'exchange' indicates it has yet to be valued, more than five years after conversion, suggesting rates on it are not being paid, and that it might not appear even in its severely discounted form as an FT asset. Curiously, the volume and folio references cited for the block brought up a 15.6 ha property for valuation purposes, but the entire 3,300 ha on a dealings search.

No explanation has yet been extracted from either FT or through the FOI request to the Land Services of DPIWE as to the fate of the 121,409 ha which disappeared from the FT State Forest in 2000-01, through 'reclassification'. If this is not clarified, and the 97,000 ha remains off the valuation roll, the entire area could seemingly be disposed of without trace in their reporting procedures.

This entire transaction appears flagrantly irregular and exhibits evidence of deliberate and systematic efforts to conceal and deceive as to its actual nature. Though the matter has been known to the government since July 2003, there has not been any substantive rebuttal of the charge that the exchange was a sham. Mr Lennon, in his Four Corners interview, refers the interviewer to Christine Milne on the issue. Present Forestry Minister Bryan Green has merely offered an unsubstantiated claim that everything was aboveboard.

Update: 23/3/04
Still no answer from DPIWE Secretary Kim Evans on the information missing from my FOI request of 23/12/03. Still no answer from FT's Kim Creak as to the fate of the 121,409 ha which disappeared from FT's State Forest in 2000-01, a question which DPIWE inexplicably referred to this FOI exempt body. Because the land supposedly 'surrendered' by FT remains with them, as Rolley admits, this disappeared 121,409 ha could potentially cover the surreptitious disposal of all the 97,008ha, and then some.

Update: 13/4/2004
Having received no response to my 28/3/2004 appeal to Kim Evans against the FOI officer' refusal/constructive refusal to provide some of the information requested, and with the statutory 30 day period for response having expired, I today posted a request to the FOI Officer, with a copy to Kim Evans, to provide the written reasons to which I am entitled by s.22 of the FOI Act. I also questioned why the FOI officer, Jo Cook, had referred my appeal to Department Secretary Kim Evans when she was authorised to determine such appeals.

Update: 31/5/2004
Possibly resulting from my letter on the Land Swap in the Sunday Tasmanian (25/4/04), I received a letter (26/4/04) from FT's Kim Creak claiming the Swap had been complex but nonetheless transparent. It also claimed that the 121,409 ha which disappeared from the State Forest in 2000-01 had gone into permanent reserves. It did not explain why reserves had previously had been shown as part of the State Forest. He also reiterates the Ombudsman’s nonsense that FT is subject to the FOI Act.

Mr Creak dispatched a letter to the Tasmanian Conservation Trust on the same date claiming, in contradiction of the explanations given by FT's Managing Director Evan Rolley and former FT employee David Boyer, that the surrendered land was freehold. Mr Creak proceeded to claim that the only record of this very large area of formerly freehold land, but no longer possessed by FT, was the brittle ledger maintained in FT's office.

He also claimed that all land within each of a number of unspecified zones was valued equally, an odd practice which would seemingly offer endless scope to balance the apparent value of the land going each way, however great the disparity in the area. He doesn't comment on the fact that the single blurry sheet marked "appendix D" offered in evidence suggests that the area of land given to FT was some 50% greater than the land surrendered, and largely plantation to boot. That sheet provides no evidence of the estate of the land or of any verifiable location.

The latest communication from DPIWE has been from its Secretary Kim Evans, claiming to have supplied all the information requested under FOI, notwithstanding the non-supply of information on the land surrendered by FT and the 121,409 ha which disappeared from the State Forest. He offers to let me inspect DPIWE's files, while at the same time referring me again to FT. Mr Evans concedes that "some aspects" of FT's operations may be FOI exempt.

Evans concludes with a statement that DPIWE would no longer respond to correspondence on the matter and that any appeals on non-compliance should be directed to the same Ombudsman who effectively denied that the comprehensive exemption of FT in FOI Act s.32A. DPIWE never expressly refused the omitted information, but ignored my request for written reasons for their constructive refusal.

Update 23/7/04
An Australian Financial Review reporter visited Tasmania in June and pursued the Swap story. She took up the FT invitation to inspect documents relating to the land surrendered by FT at FT's offices. She related that the documents she was shown revealed nothing that indicated a transfer of land or change of estate. She took the matter back to the Land Services section of DPIWE who had earlier referred me to FT on the issue. They referred her back to the Premier's media liaison unit, who, she recounted, told her that no more information would be forthcoming on the matter. Her article was published in the AFR on 27/7/04. The public response in the Mercury from FT's Creak stated that the land surrendered was Crown Land which somehow belonged to FT, and that the land it had received was made freehold to provide security to private sector partners. There has never been any explanation as to why the government has departed from its usual practice of issuing letters of guarantee to private sector partners in joint ventures, rather than granting them interests in public assets privatised for no other purpose.

On 1/7/04 I approached the Kentish Council regarding a nearby 3311ha parcel involved in the Swap and whether rates were being paid on it. When a council official refused to discuss the matter, I lodged an FOI request on 12/7/04. A response was received on 21/7/04 confirming that rates were not being paid and referring to a general undertaking by the state government to pay some level of charges to councils in exchange for the councils becoming subject to state charges. It also claimed that there were "unresolved questions" on the valuation of some government land, including that of FT. It made no mention of the parcel's freehold status, that it had been transferred to FT in freehold in 1998, that it is being used primarily by private logging interests, or of my request for the details of any exemption given to FT freehold. The unanswered FOI issues were resubmitted to the council on 22/7/04. The reply threw no light on these issues.

Update: 18/6/2005
Although FT has insisted that the more than 97,000ha given to it as freehold remains in the State Forest, there has yet to be any explanation of the 121,409 ha which disappeared from the State Forest in FT's 2000-01 Annual Report. As mentioned above, an FOI request to the Land Services Department yielded no information whatsoever as to the location and identity of the missing land. Searches of Hansard and the legislation database found no mention of the proclamations under the Forestry Act 1920 necessary to remove land from the State Forest, nor of the proclamation(s) themselves which become part of the legislation data. There were no proclamations for this amount of land under the Regional Forest Agreement ( Reclassification of Land) Act.

On a tip from a parliamentary staffer that the Tasmanian Auditor-General was finally doing a review of the Swap, I rang him in early January 2005 and was told there would be a report issued by the end of June,2005 – if there was something amiss. Amazingly, he first stated he would have nothing more to say if all was in order. He then amended his statement to say he would be announcing it if all was in order, but apparently not issuing a report to substantiate why this was the case. He claimed that his review was in response to "public interest" in the issue. When I pointed out that there had been extraordinarily little public interest, largely confined to two articles in the Sunday Tasmanian and the Financial Review, he mentioned that he was working primarily from the AFR article.

When I asked if he was also looking into the 121,409 ha which disappeared from FT's forest estate, he responded that he was not aware of that issue, despite it being mentioned in the AFR article. When reminded of this, he advised that he would investigate that as well.

To date, all the evidence, including spurious and contradictory explanations, and refused requests for information, are consistent only with a massive fraud on the public.

Update 15/7/2005
The Auditor-General's (AG) review duly appeared, revealing the solidarity of the Lennon government on the issue. Although the AG admitted being unable to actually identify and locate the land surrendered by FT, he was satisfied that said land was now in the custody of the Crown. He did not address the extraordinary fact that the Land Services Department had no records of this land.

Likewise, he was satisfied that Parks and Wildlife was now administering the 121,409 ha which had disappeared from the State Forest, again without addressing the fact, which I discovered by FOI, that P&W seemed to have neither records or knowledge of the land.

The AG proposed the acquisition of land by the Forestry Commission, which was purchased with public money and thereafter designated Crown Land, nonetheless created for FT, FC's successor, a right to the land in fee simple. He argues that the vesting of land in FT created an absolute right to ownership and title of the land, notwithstanding his recognition a few pages later that the vesting of land in the FC was only for management purposes.

Mr Blake endorses the story that the FC's conversion of purchased land to Crown land caused them to literally dispose of their former freehold titles, but he fails to explain why the titles to the State Forest land deeded to FT, which was acquired by the FC in the same way, had somehow been retained.

The AG endorses the government line that the [missing word] of the land deeded to FT was necessary to provide security to private sector joint venture partners of FT, despite them being a government body, as well as the fact that the land value of the plantation land would have been a small fraction of its capital value. He likewise ducks the question of how the government could have legally alienated so much plantation land for undeveloped land of roughly the same area within the Crown Land Act requirement that government land can only be sold at a market value.

The notion that the government office responsible for recording all land transactions could have no records for so vast a set of transactions does not seem to have beggared the AG's belief.

I have not carried out any investigations on whether the FT freehold has yet been valued, aside from determining in mid 2004 that a 3300 ha parcel at Beulah was not yet on the valuation role. The Kentish Council yielded this information only with reluctance.

At this point, the most plausible deductions to be made from the Swap is that no freehold land was transferred to the Crown, and no State Forest transferred to P&W. The significantly shifting explanations of the transaction offered by various government agencies, and the spurious acquittal of the AG is suggestive of deliberate efforts to mislead.

The only element still needed for a final reckoning of this affair is a modicum of integrity in Tasmanian officialdom.

John Hayward
Weegena, Tas 7304

This situation, complemented by another lavish perk — FT’s exemption from FOI legislation — could provide FT with a hidden cash supply to disguise its ongoing debt problems and chronically woeful economic performance. Given the extraordinary and inexplicable generosity shown by the Government towards Gunns Ltd, it could also be made an enormous and discreet gift to that company. The extreme undervaluation of the plantations together with the Bacon/Lennon government’s scarcely disguised devotion to the economic interests of Gunns, suggests that the intended beneficiary is not FT. The economic analyses of FT by actuary Naomi Edwards and Graham Green of Timberworkers for Forests, clearly reveal the government’s intent to operate FT as a milch cow for the private sector. Edwards compared FT’s 1% return on equity (0.7% according to the Auditor-General) to the 35% ROE of its main customer, Gunns. While the scenario postulated above may seem brazen, it is not out of keeping. Tasmania’s forests are being logged at an intensity of something like 15 to 25 times that of the mainland for by far the lowest rate of return in the nation.

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