Topic: election Oz 2007
Another regional rort: Abetz must explain
Hobart, 19 November 2007:
Forestry Minister, Senator Eric Abetz, has overseen a massive taxpayer-funded slush fund that has dished out more than $32 million in the past year to a series of questionable projects under the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement (TCFA).
Greens Senator Christine Milne said, hot on the heels of a nationwide expose of the Coalition's regional rorts' program, details revealed under Freedom of Information (FOI) expose the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement as another rort, with evidence of poor accountability, apparently ineligible projects funded and a total lack of strategic co-ordination.
"The Minister for Forests needs to explain why, for example, funding has been given to big businesses to fund new equipment and mill upgrades which any other company, in any other industry, would regard as the cost of doing business. The Minister must also tell Tasmanian taxpayers why a total of $964 250 has gone to N.E. Victorian timber company, Buffalo Valley Logging, and what is its relationship if any, to CK Forest Management and its $91 625 grant.
"Why did the Howard Government have a special column for 'electorate' in its grants' application table? ... A whiteboard by any other name.
"The Community Forest Agreement has become a slush fund. Under the TFCA program, grants totaling $32.2 million have been paid in full. Of these, seventeen should have provided audit reports by now - only three did so on time, and seven have provided no reports at all.
"The Greens will refer its administration and outcomes to the Commonwealth Auditor General for investigation.
"We also know the TCFA funds had not been fully allocated as at 1 October this year, and it is our firm understanding that, just before the election was called, Senator Abetz wrote to forest business operators, recommending they rapidly access more public money out of the Commonwealth's TCFA funding pot.
"Is Senator Abetz effectively urging contractors and others in the timber (LOGGING!) industry to squeeze more public money out of the $250 million TCFA funding pot, without proper justification or purpose?
"We want to know, and Australian taxpayers are entitled to know, if this allegation is true. "In the interests of accountability and transparency, Senator Abetz must release details of the letter and the select group to which it was sent.
"Announced by the Prime Minister with great fanfare in May 2005, the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement was always intended to be a multi-million dollar, pro-logging package which has locked in continued old-growth logging of Tasmania's carbon-sink forests.
"The TCFA was nothing more than just another political fix to get John Howard re-elected with the assistance of the CFMEU, and to bring in Work Choices.
"There was nothing in the Agreement to proscribe a transition from native forest logging into the plantation sector, into genuine value adding and job creation that protects our spectacular forests into the future. There was also nothing in the fine print to make sure the money set aside for the Agreement was being expended in the most appropriate, legitimate way," Senator Milne said.
For more information: Cassy O'Connor (Hob) 02 6224 8899 or 0400 628 939
Tim Hollo (CBA) 0437 587 562
Senator Christine Milne