Forestry grudge chipped mill deal: inquiry told

Lyons Liberal MHA Guy Barnett
Lyons Liberal MHA Guy Barnett

The inquiry into the destruction of the Triabunna wood chip mill has this morning heard a private company was ready to buy the mill for $16 million, but a grudge between forestry figures and government intervention stopped the sale.

Lyons Liberal MHA Guy Barnett set up the committee to examine the circumstances of the mill's closure, sale and dismantling by new owners, environmentalists Graeme Wood and Jan Cameron, after a national magazine exposed "disgraceful tactics of radical environmentalists".

The committee is today hearing from members of the forest industry.

Timber businessman and Aprin co-owner Ron O'Connor, speaking from Queensland, told the committee a small profit could have been made on the mill.

"But after two years later that would have changed," Mr O'Connor said. "The chip mill was viable".

Mr O'Connor said Gunns knew Aprin's offer was on the table, but sold the mill to environmentalists Jan Cameron and Graeme Wood.

Mr O'Connor said he had secured $10 million in private finance and  a $6 million loan from the Department of Economic Development, and had a supply deal in place with Forestry Tasmania.

He said former Gunns boss Greg L'Estrange wanted to "hurt Forestry Tasmania".

“Greg said if he could ever do anything to hurt Forestry, he would. He was happy with me until he heard I had struck a deal with Forestry Tasmania.”

Mr O'Connor said the federal government intervened and prevented the sale.

Farmer Leigh Arnold told the committee that he 'explored the option' of operating the mill, but after a conversation with the mill's new operator Alec Marr, there was ''no doubt in my mind'' that Ms Cameron and Mr Wood had no intention of reopening the mill. 

The hearing continue and will this afternoon hear from Forestry Tasmania chief executive Steve Whiteley and Forest Industries Association of Tasmania chief executive Terry Edwards.