FEDERAL Environment Minister Tony Burke has refused to front a state parliamentary inquiry into the Tasmanian Forests Agreement Bill.
However, Mr Burke has offered to meet on Thursday with members of the Legislative Council committee, who are investigating whether or not the controversial bill should become state law.
``While it is convention that House of Representative ministers do not appear before committees I am happy to meet informally with members of the Legislative Council to discuss any issues or concerns. I am also happy for departmental officials to appear before the committee should they be required,'' his letter states.
The Commonwealth has allocated $324 million towards a state-federal agreement that underpins the bill, of which $194.5 million is yet to be spent.
Mr Burke has previously warned MLCs that if the bill doesn't become law the money will be withdrawn, but in his letter says ``this additional funding may be allocated to other government priorities''.
The committee has also asked Deputy Premier Bryan Green and Environment, Parks and Heritage Minister Brian Wightman to appear at the hearings, which began on January 15.
A state government spokesman said yesterday that no decision had been made as yet to accept or decline the invitation.
``It is not standard practice for lower house members to appear before upper house committees in bicameral parliaments, but we have received the request and will consider it in due course,'' he said.
Ministers can refuse to attend such committees, but government staff are compelled.
Committee chairman and Huon MLC Paul Harriss said there should be no reason for state ministers to refuse to appear.
``Clearly, from the state's point of view they (the ministers) ought to be coming and providing evidence on the record as this is a major issue for Tasmania,'' Mr Harriss said.
``There's no magic in ministers appearing or not appearing. They have done it in the past when it suits, and will do so in the future.''
The next hearing is scheduled for February 5.