The New South Wales government has axed its plan to privatise the state’s plantation forests.
The decision follows a five-month independent scoping study that looked at damage to the state’s forestry assets obtained during the recent bushfire crisis. It found approximately 25% of Forestry Corporation’s softwood division suffered fire damage over the summer.
Minister responsible for Forestry and Disaster Recovery John Barilaro said Forestry Corporation would harvest the timber that was damaged during the fires, and would undertake an extensive re-planting program.
“When I took on the role as minister responsible for forestry, I was always determined to grow the harvestable forestry estate across NSW, and these fires have only strengthened my resolve to increase timber supplies and create more jobs and opportunities in the sector right across our state,” the deputy premier said.
“Our priority now is to assist Forestry Corp and the entire forestry industry get back on its feet after the fires.
“Re-growing our forests, getting new trees in the ground, and strengthening the industry so its long-term future is secure is where we are focusing our energy.”
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said the government was “committed” to ensuring the thousands of employees in the sector “have a strong and secure future”.
The unions which represent the state’s public servants and forestry workers have welcomed the news.
General Secretary of the Public Service Association Stewart Little said the union had warned Perrottet he would be “putting hundreds of regional jobs on the chopping block” if Forestry Corporation had been sold off.
“The government’s announcement that it will abandon the sale will bring a sigh of relief across regional NSW, where their economies rely on forestry jobs,” he said.
“Now we need the government to guarantee it will never sell NSW’s Forestry Corporation.”
He argued the state-owned corporation has protected native flora and fauna with a sustainable approach.
“After this horror fire season how can we know that a private operator will invest in fire prevention and sustainability?” he added. “A privately-run Forestry Corp won’t have the same commitment to sustainability and safety. If proper bushfire management has too great an impact on the bottom line, then what corners will a private company cut to squeeze the most out of the plantations?”
The Australian Workers’ Union agreed that the state’s forests must stay under the control of skilled workers.
“The decision to halt the sale of our state forests is a victory for everyone in NSW,” AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said.
“The recent bushfire crisis has demonstrated that we need to keep this valuable asset in the hands of experienced state forestry workers who are skilled in both fire and wildlife management, skills that are needed more than ever.”
Labor and AWU called for the $1 billion deal to be scrapped last month. At the time, AWU argued the Forestry Corporation had been a key firefighting agency, with many of the 400 state forestry workers having fought fires across NSW.
Walton noted the state forests provide thousands of jobs and contribute $100 million to the NSW economy every year.
“This was always an ill conceived idea,” he said.
“This will be a huge relief to forestry workers who spent months battling the blazes that tore through our state. These workers can now start the vital job of rebuilding our forests.”