The coalition government’s plan to corporatise Forests NSW is set to costs jobs, slash environmental regulations, and even lead to privatising state forests and plantations, according to critics.
North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) spokesperson Dailan Pugh said that the intent of corporatisation is to shift the focus of Forests NSW from managing state forests in the interests of the NSW public to maximising profits, while minimising ministerial accountability.
‘The primary industries minister Katrina Hodgkinson says that all the current wood supply commitments of Forests NSW will be transferred to the new corporation and will continue to be underwritten by the government.
‘There is currently a timber supply crisis in northern NSW. In 2004 the government gave 20-year guarantees of large sawlogs from state forests to millers at levels that simply did not exist. The government has not been able to provide the committed volumes any year since, and has already had to buy back commitments and compensate millers for their failure to supply. Only 60 per cent of commitments were able to be supplied last year.
‘Timber commitments must be reduced to sustainable levels now. Forests NSW already operate their native-forest operations at a loss of around $14 million a year; something has to give if they have to turn this into a profit while at the same time suffering a rapidly worsening timber deficit.
‘We are not comforted by Minister Hodgkinson’s claims that there will be no reduction in the regulatory oversight of Forests NSW by the Environmental Protection Authority and Fisheries NSW, as we have proven that their current oversight is appalling. It needs to be strengthened, not maintained.
‘Despite the minister’s assurance, we expect there will be a major slashing of environmental regulations for the protection of oldgrowth forests, rainforest and threatened species to enable Forests NSW to extract a bit more timber.
Greens MLC David Shoebridge echoed NEFA’s concerns.
‘Under the new plan, the environment ministry can avoid accountability for the actions of its government-appointed board,’ Mr Shoebridge said.
‘A corporatised Forests NSW will be expected to maximise profits; this will likely come at the direct cost of regional jobs and the ecological sustainability of the state’s forests,’ he added.
‘Forests NSW workers across regional NSW will now be facing further pressure from a new corporate employer that will have even fewer scruples than the O’Farrell government when it comes to job shedding.’
Mr Shoebridge said the plan is likely to be just the first step in a path of job shedding, rationalisation and eventual privatisation of the publicly owned body.
‘Barry O’Farrell’s job cuts to Forests NSW nurseries, research staff and workshops now look like just the beginning from a government that has shown it is committed to profits before people.
‘State Forests in NSW are an important repository of biodiversity in this state and must be protected from this government’s anti-science, anti-jobs and anti-environment agenda.’