Tasmania’s Opposition Leader Bryan Green has accused two Liberal MPs of trying to rewrite history during a heated parliamentary inquiry into the sale of the Triabunna mill. Source: ABC News
The parliamentary committee was commissioned to investigate the sale of the woodchip mill to environmentalists Graeme Wood and Jan Cameron in 2011.
The pair initially said they hoped to reopen it but later unveiled plans for a tourism development.
Liberal committee members Guy Barnett and Roger Jeansch grilled Mr Green, the former resources minister, about what he knew of the mill sale before it occurred.
Mr Green told the committee he had heard the news the evening before it was made public and was shocked.
He said the then-government’s goal was always to get the mill operating again, but ultimately who it was sold to was Gunns’ decision.
“This process was fully audited, we had Solicitor-General’s advice, what are you trying to suggest we were up to?” he said. “You want to rewrite history. I’m telling you that every decision I made, every decision that I put to the Parliament of Tasmania I included the industry in that decision-making.”
Mr Green was also questioned about $25 million in compensation paid to Gunns to exit the industry when the company indicated it would leave voluntarily.
Mr Barnett asked whether the payment was neccessary and referred to outrage amongst other industry players.
Mr Green went on the attack. “Nothing like a good witch hunt to take the focus off the Government’s poor budget performance,” he said.
The committee also heard about the sharp decline in forestry jobs in Tasmania in the past five years.
Jacki Schirmer from the University of Canberra gave evidence by phone about her latest research into socioeconomic changes in the forest industry.
She said overall employment had dropped from 7000 direct jobs in 2008 to just over 2700 in 2013.
Ms Schirmer said the Glamorgan Spring Bay area suffered major problems as it depended so heavily on forestry employment.
She said the decline became rapid after the closure of the mill in 2011.
“There’d been the loss of almost 70% of forestry jobs at that stage,” she said.
Ms Schirmer said the report did not take into account the flow-on effect of the job losses.
A recent article in The Monthly magazine reported that mill manager, conservationist Alec Marr, had said reopening was never on the cards.
The article said the plant’s infrastructure was destroyed in an undercover operation to quash any possibility the Labor- Greens state government at the time would compulsorily acquire the mill to reopen it.
The inquiry also heard claims the mill’s demise was caused by Gunns itself.
Colin McCulloch from the Australian Forest Contractors Association said the subsequent closure of the mill saw forest businesses “wiped off the planet” in the hope the $2 billion pulp mill proposal would get off the ground.
Mr McCulloch said a lot of AFCA members were out of work when the mill was sold.
“I don’t think Gunns had any friends at that time,” he said.
Mr McCulloch described the sale to Mr Wood and Ms Cameron as an “up yours” to the industry to kill competition.
He told the committee forest contractors were sacrificial lambs in the process.
Mr Wood offered to appear before the committee in Triabunna, but Mr Barnett said the call came too late. He is due to appear at another time.