THE State Government has cleared the region’s largest plantation owner over alleged breaches to the forward sale contract following an interdepartmental investigation.
Forestry Minister Leon Bignell has released the findings of the probe amid a fresh call for more action on the issue.
Unsatisfied with the government’s handling of the issue, Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell is pushing for an independent auditor to investigate whether OneFortyOne Plantations (OFO) is meeting the conditions of the sale.
His comments come as some regional processors continue to hold concerns over long-term log security and sawlog exports.
But Mr Bignell said the government was “satisfied” OFO had met all conditions agreed in the forward sale.
He said previous claims alleging breaches of conditions had been investigated by an interdepartmental government committee including experts from Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA), Department of Treasury and Finance and the Crown Solicitor’s Office.
“These were found not to be substantiated,” Mr Bignell revealed.
He said the conditions were designed with the assistance of industry and community representatives from the South East as part of the sale process, through the South East Forestry Roundtable.
“Despite there being no evidence of a breach of these conditions to date, OFO has, in good faith, announced the engagement of an independent probity expert to review their next tender,” Mr Bignell said.
“The government continues to encourage all members of the timber industry to work collaboratively to ensure the long-term future of the industry in the South East.”
But Mr Bell said an independent auditor was needed to investigate and report on all aspects of the forward sale of the region’s publicly owned forestry estate.
“The forests were sold for $670m and came with a number of conditions,” the independent MP said.
“I am concerned that when I ask the minister about concerns or breaches of the contract that are raised with me, it appears there is no independent auditor ensuring compliance.”
In particular, he said he was concerned OFO was required to submit its own breaches to the government and that details associated with these matters were confidential.
“I find this totally unsatisfactory,” Mr Bell said.
“There is an urgent need for an independent auditor to be appointed to investigate all aspects of the sale.”
He said the person appointed should be competent in the knowledge of forestry and economics.
“What has transpired so far has been entirely unsatisfactory and the shroud of secrecy should be lifted,” Mr Bell said.
Mr Bell claimed every step of the way had been “shrouded in secrecy”.
“I call on the State Labor Government to appoint an independent auditor and resolve these issues for all and in particular for the people of the South East,” he said.
“I continually have people involved in the timber industry raise issues with me and the only way our community can have confidence the conditions of the contract are being adhered to, both in
written form and in the spirit of the contract, is for there to be an independent auditor appointed.”