Job losses could heighten fire threat

Job losses could heighten fire threat

10 December 2011

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Australia — THE axing of state forestry worker jobs in the North and North-West could threaten the state’s firefighting capability, Forestry Tasmania has warned.

Forestry Tasmania managing director Bob Gordon says the firefighting capability in the Mersey, Murchison and Bass districts has been impacted by the necessity to reduce job numbers as a result of the forestry downturn and exiting of Gunns Ltd from native forest harvesting.

This would have impacts on forest roading and other firefighting measures, Mr Gordon told yesterday’s Government Business Enterprise hearing.

However, he said FT had started a major retraining exercise to boost FT’s firefighting capacity.

The main forestry news announced at yesterday’s hearing was that Taswood Growers, of which FT was a 50% shareholder, agreed to sell the forestry rights to its 46,000 hectare plantation estate to Sydney-based firm New Forests for $156million.

The deal is expected to be finalised early next month, subject to Foreign Investment Review Board approval.

The move was designed to fix FT’s debt woes.

Mr Gordon said it would allow FT, “with the exception of superannuation liabilities” to become “debt free”.

The deal is for the trees, but not the land.

Forestry Minister Bryan Green said New Forests would have the right to establish, maintain and harvest the plantation estate until the forestry rights expired in 2069.

“I would emphasise that while the government has been kept informed, the decision to sell the 50% share in the joint venture was made entirely by the Forestry Tasmania board,” Mr Green said.

Liberal forestry spokesman Peter Gutwein said FT was forced to sell its “profitable share” in its softwood joint venture for “less than its book value” to pay for the “disastrous” impacts of the forestry “peace deal”.

Greens forestry spokesman Kim Booth said “Forestry Tasmania is cannibalising public assets for a short-term cash boost”.

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