With the sale of 29,000 hectares of public forestry assets, the state government has announced it will invest $15 million of the $60.7 million windfall into the state’s ailing health system.
But both Labor and the Greens say the Liberals sold the plantation assets for less than they were worth.
Resources Minister Guy Barnett announced on Thursday that the government was selling the forestry rights to the plantations as a means of putting Sustainable Timber Tasmania – formerly Forestry Tasmania – “back onto a commercial footing”.
The sale comes two months after the government’s bill to unlock 356,000 hectares of Tasmanian forest to logging failed to garner the requisite support in the upper house.
Mr Barnett said the sale had followed the government instructing STT’s board to conduct a “competitive national and international sale process” in 2016.
Now, the rights to the plantations have been purchased by Reliance Forest Fibre, whose parent company is the Cayman Islands-incorporated Global Forest Partners LP.
“GFP has a long history of sustainable forestry investments in Australia and this investment represents its first in Tasmania – a further sign of growing confidence in the Tasmanian forest industry,” Mr Barnett said.
“This is a very positive outcome for the Tasmanian forest industry, economy and taxpayer.
“The sale outcome is another important milestone in our plan to place Sustainable Timber Tasmania on a commercial footing and to grow the forest industry.”
Opposition Leader Rebecca White was not as optimistic as Mr Barnett about the transaction, describing it as a “fire sale”.
“It shouldn’t take a fire sale of forestry assets to make the government invest more in the health system,” she said.
“[You have] signed taxpayers up to a dud deal.”
Greens leader Cassy O’Connor referred to the Auditor-General’s 2012 estimate that the plantation assets were then worth roughly $101 million.
“Tasmanians are being robbed blind by the Liberals who have privatised … public hardwood plantations for $40 million less than taxpayers paid to establish them,” she said.
“No wonder Minister Barnett failed to answer [the] Greens’ questions in parliament today and then refused to front the media.
Wilderness Society spokesman Vica Bayley labelled the sale “desperate and short-sighted”.
“Flogging off publicly owned plantations at a massive loss to subsidise unviable native forest logging operations is a desperate last-ditch effort to hide the ongoing failures of Premier Hodgman’s chaotic approach to forestry,” Mr Bayley said.