By Raquel Mustillo
A ROYAL Commission into the sale of the South East forests is key to understanding the current log export issues, a parliamentary committee into the timber industry has heard.
The Legislative Council committee toured the region on a two-day trip this week as part of an inquiry on issues relating to the timber industry in the Limestone Coast.
At a hearing, veteran forestry consultant Jerry Leech said the committee was likely to conclude the problems underpinning the inquiry are with the clauses in the sale contract, which has never been made public.
In a written submission, Mr Leech said Treasurer Jack Snelling said that control of the level of exports would be set in the sale contract.
Mr Leech told the committee unless the sale contract was made publicly available, the inquiry would “totally lack credibility”.
“I really think the committee doesn’t have the power to require the presentation of the information that you really need if you are going to meet your terms of reference,” he said.
“The only way you are able to get that information out into the public arena is through a Royal Commission.
“The terms of reference refers to the compliance and the lease is publicly available, but the contract is not.
“With the lease it is very obvious in my mind there are very obvious forestry management type flaws in the lease.
“Who knows what is in the actual contact.
“OneFortyOne would be obviously compliant with the contract… and the independent audit isn’t really going to show anything.
“Without that contract, I don’t see how you really can do anything else than say yes, OneFortyOne is compliant.
“Why would have anyone have any confidence in the Legislative Council committee which hasn’t got any forestry management expertise when in actual fact, that’s exactly the situation we have got?”
Mr Leech said information from all forest growers about the volume and size of wood being exported was critical to understanding the opportunities for using log locally.
But he said it was not in the commercial interests of forestry owners to provide the information to the inquiry.
“I have seen the information in your submissions about the timber out of Portland, but that doesn’t include the log sizes that have gone out, it just is total volume,” Mr Leech said.
“That information was provided to you in confidence.
“The question there is can you use it, should you use it and does it provide the information you really want anyway?
“Again the only way I think you can get that information is through a Royal Commission.”
Committee member Frank Pangallo quizzed Mr Leech on his statement, asking what a Royal Commission should specifically focus on and what information he believed it was like to get.
“I think a Royal Commission would show and get out into the open what is in the contract and what should have been in the contract,” Mr Leech said.
“I can’t tell you what’s in the contact because I don’t know.
“You can compel the information about the contract and things like that, that’s fine, my point is that unless this can be made public, what credibility has you as a committee got over and above what PIRSA and the independent auditor had?
“In terms of people down here, we want to know what forestry management expertise you’ve got that can actually review that contact and determine whether it is reasonable or not.”