Tasmanian farmers' group backs report calling for state to spend AU$150,000 to resolve legal issues relating to managed investment plantation schemes; official says forests are 'vital' to future of wood processing industry

December 20, 2013 () – TASMANIA'S peak farming body has backed a report confirming private forestry plays a major role in the long-term development of regional Tasmania.

The report, Review of the Tasmanian Private Hardwood Plantation, has recommended the state should spend up to $150,000 to sort out legal issues in managed investment plantation schemes.

Former federal resources minister Martin Ferguson made the recommendation in the report and said a pulp mill at Bell Bay would provide the best return on Tasmania's estate.

``There are a range of issues for the Tasmanian Government to consider, such as information portals which cost money and potentially fund a process to resolve some of the legal issues,'' he said.

Private forest owners, who are mostly farmers, manage about 885,000ha of forest resource. The report shows this includes about 177,000ha of hardwood plantations.

The Government should also consider support for new forest products processing developments, the report said.

The industry could underpin a range of value-adding opportunities. Potentially, these private plantations could sustainably produce up to three million tonnes of wood each year.

TFGA chief executive Jan Davis said farmers have been sustainably managing native forests, plantations and wood lots for many generations.

``We believe that continuing management of all these forests will be vital to the future of wood processing in Tasmania.

``It is time the role of private forests was given more than lip service, and the State Government moves to address some of the major impediments to this.

``We'll be holding the government to account.''

Ms Davis said ensuring the future of the forestry industry in Tasmania required the full engagement of the private forests sector.

Gunns Ltd receiver Korda Mentha, liquidator PPB Advisory and Melbourne real estate firm CBRE are selling massive tracts of plantation including managed investment schemes, pulp mill permits and the site.

Mr Ferguson said a high-class pulp mill using modern technology would put Tasmania in a cost competitive position.

However, Greens forestry spokesman Kim Booth said the report was nothing more than a last-ditch sales pitch to try to lure naive investors to buy the ``worthless Tamar Valley pulp mill permits.''

``It has nothing to with looking after the interests of Tasmanian farmers, who were lured into investing in failed managed investment schemes ...'' Mr Booth said.

``If the growers want to see a financial return on their plantation investment, it will sadly not come from a monopoly pulp mill that will pay peanuts for the resource and turn farmers into price-takers.''

Mr Ferguson said: ``There has been a hell of a lot of interest in the plantations and the pulp mill licence but it is all a matter of price.''

State and federal governments, he said, had an obligation to ``get this right'' but stopped short of calling for federal assistance.

``Korda Mentha is selling a private sector investment opportunity in Australia. It does not involve asking for a government handout,'' he said.

But the state should consider allocating money to sort out ownership of MIS plantations on leased land.

Other legal issues such as land title, maintenance, fires and plantation insurance affected parts of the estate.

Export infrastructure may be needed in the south because of the loss of the Triabunna export mill.

Deputy Premier Bryan Green said there had been no better opportunity to use the resource and get a pulp mill.

``If Korda Mentha are successful in getting proponents to go ahead and build the major downstream processing facility it is a game changer for the economy,'' he said.

(c) 2013 News Limited

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