Tasmania's government is under fire over the sale of 29,000ha of pulpwood plantations.
Tasmania's government is under fire over the sale of 29,000ha of pulpwood plantations.

Deal to sell plantation labelled 'rip-off'

A DEAL to sell Tasmania's 29,000ha of pulpwood plantations for $60.7 million has been described as a strong outcome by the State Government and a "fire sale” and "rip-off” by opponents.

Questions have also been raised about the company, which Parliament heard had been registered only two months ago and had a parent company listed in the Cayman Islands.

The long-awaited deal was announced via a Facebook post by Resources Minister Guy Barnett, who was criticised by the ALP and Greens for not fronting the media to answer questions.

The government said the sale would add to Sustainable Timber Tasmania's bottom line, but net proceeds of about $15 million would be diverted into Tasmania's health system.

The sale of plantations was first flagged by then resources minister Paul Harriss in April 2015 as a way to keep Forestry Tasmania solvent, without public subsidies.

Forestry Tasmania became Sustainable Timber Tasmania in July this year.

Labor leader Rebecca White accused Mr Barnett during Question Time of conducting a "fire sale” and making a "dud deal”.

Health Minister Michael Ferguson said the $60.7

million was significantly more than government advisers had expected, but he did not provide the predicted amount.

"It's a great outcome for Tasmania,” he said.

Mr Ferguson said the government had not sold the land, just the trees, but Greens leader Cassy O'Connor and Ms White said the deal amounted to privatising a public asset because it included a 99-year lease.

Ms White said it cost taxpayers $90 million to put the trees in the ground and recent sales of similar plantations had fetched much higher amounts.

A similar sale could have netted taxpayers close to $200 million, she said.

Ms O'Connor said the deal was a "rip-off,” citing a 2012 letter in which the Auditor- General accepted figures estimating the cost of establishing the plantations was more than $100 million. - Alexandra Humphries

The Mercury



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