Wood-supply contracts signed by disgraced former resources minister Ian Macdonald that opened up thousands of hectares of native forests on the north coast to unsustainable logging should be immediately investigated by the corruption watchdog, say the NSW Greens.
They’re calling for more than a dozen forestry contracts signed by Mr Macdonald for the north-east NSW region, including one with Lismore-based Hurford’s Building Supplies, to be reviewed by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in the wake of the investigation into Mr McDonald’s links with former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid and his family.
ICAC has heard that up to $175 million in profits is alleged to have flowed to the Obeid family and associates as a result of decisions by Mr Macdonald, who is alleged to have been offered $4 million in kickbacks.
Greens MLC David Shoebridge said the 16 forestry wood-supply agreements signed into law by Mr MacDonald were ‘known at the time to be based on grossly unsustainable yields from State forests, and that have since left NSW with degraded forests and growing legal liabilities’.
Mr Shoebridge said that between 2004 and 2007, Mr Macdonald, the the then primary industries minister, was responsible for signing at least 16 wood supply agreements ‘that opened up thousands of hectares of native forests to unsustainable logging.
‘More than a dozen wood supply contracts, covering thousands of hectares of State forests, were signed by this former minister and questions must be answered about how they stack up, both environmentally and financially.
‘The evidence of questionable dealings we have seen in ICAC over the past weeks means there must be an immediate review of every wood supply contract that bears Mr Macdonald’s signature to protect both NSW Treasury and this state’s precious native forests.
‘These agreements are still in place and provide for the ongoing supply of thousands of cubic metres of timber to mills across NSW with most of the contracts continuing to run until 2020 and some as late as 2025.
‘At the same time as the former minister was signing these documents, Forestry NSW was in receipt of a scathing internal report that made it clear the government had no idea of the extent of the timber resource the minister was signing up for harvest.
‘The 2004 internal government review found that a report by State Forests highlighted deficiencies in just about every aspect of the process Forests NSW used to estimate the merchantable volume of timber available for harvesting.
‘Wood supply contracts in NSW represent notoriously bad value, promising amounts of wood that cannot be sustainably delivered, and with compensation clauses that cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Meanwhile, the four National Party MPs on the northern rivers have refused to rule out logging of national parks.
The North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) says the four, Don Page (Ballina), Thomas George (LIsmore), Geoff Provest (Tweed) and Chris Gulaptis (Clarence), had refused requests to express their support for national parks in response to proposals to open them up for logging.
‘Having already voted to allow recreational shooters into most of our national parks it seems the Northern Rivers’ State elected representatives are going to stand aside again and allow them to be given to the loggers,’ NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh said.
‘The Forest Products Association are asking for over a million hectares of north-east NSW’s national parks, nature reserves and state conservation areas to be made available for logging. So far they have identified over 100,000 hectares of 43 specific reserves they want revoked.
‘In the Northern Rivers the loggers have so far singled out 12 reserves they want to be wholly or partially revoked for logging: Wollumbin, Mebbin, Nightcap, Goonengerry, Guy Fawkes River, Chaelundi, and Nymboi-Binderay National Parks, and Wollumbin, Whian Whian, Bungawalbin, Butterleaf, and Chaelundi State Conservation Areas.
‘The O’Farrell Government is currently assessing the timber resources in these reserves with a view to opening them up for logging.
‘These reserves encompass core habitat for an array of threatened plants and animals, rare ecosystems, rainforests of world heritage value, exceptional oldgrowth forests, and part of a wilderness. The loggers are also seeking the removal of protections for numerous stands of oldgrowth on state forests throughout the region.’
Mr Pugh said NEFA wrote to the four MPs in mid December asking them if they supported logging in the protected areas on the far north coast, but none had indicated they would oppose logging of national parks.
‘Don Page replied that he had forwarded our request for his opinion to the Minister for the Environment Robyn Parker. This is the same environment minister who repeatedly refused to rule out allowing logging in national parks during a budget estimates hearing. She has not replied,’ Mr Pugh said.
‘Thomas George responded that until the government considers an inter-departmental committee review into the timber supply situation on the north coast he is ‘’not in a position to speculate on what those options might be or even speculate on what subsequent decisions might be made’’’.
Mr Gulaptis and Mr Provest did not respond.
‘We need local members who are prepared to stand up for the north coast and not stand aside while our national parks are given to the shooters and loggers.’
Conservation groups have established a Save Your National Parks website to provide information on north east NSW parks proposed for logging: http://saveparks.com.au/