NSW government may lease commercial softwood plantations

The NSW Government is looking at the “viability” of a long-term lease of the State’s commercial softwood plantation business, consistent with its asset recycling strategy. Forestry Corporation’s profitable softwood division consists of around 230,000 hectares of radiata pine forests primarily producing timber for use in house construction.

NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said it was time to consider whether it was in the best interest of the people of NSW for the Government to continue running the business.

“A government’s priority should be providing infrastructure and services for its people. Commercial operations are often better left to the private sector but we’ll wait for the outcome of a scoping study before making any decisions,” Mr Perrottet said.

“NSW is the only state left in Australia still running a softwood plantation of significant scale so it’s appropriate we take stock as a state and explore whether this is still the best approach for us.”

Victoria sold its softwood plantations in 1998, while Queensland reaped $603 million when it sold Forestry Plantations Queensland in 2010, and South Australia sold off its future harvesting rights for forests in the south-east of the state in 2012 for $670 million.

Forestry Corporation of NSW manages 2.2 million hectares of land which is primarily state forests with small areas of freehold and private land managed through joint-investment partnerships.

The scoping study will focus on Forestry Corporation’s profitable softwood division, which consists of about 230,000 hectares of radiata pine forests, primarily producing timber for use in house construction.

The plantations, which are located in the central west, south and north of the state, employ about 190 staff.

“Our other asset-recycling initiatives such as the long-term lease of the State’s electricity assets have unlocked around $30 billion for vital infrastructure across NSW, boosted economic growth and given us the lowest unemployment rate in the country,” Mr Perrottet said.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro said any lease of the softwood plantations would only proceed on the basis that it posed no risk to the regional jobs involved.

“My focus throughout this process is the protection of regional jobs,” Mr Barilaro said.

“I can assure Forestry Corporation workers, that as the Minister for Forestry, I am determined to grow the harvestable forestry estate across NSW, increasing timber supplies and creating more jobs and better opportunities in the sector.

“We support the decision to assess our options on the softwood business but want to reassure those people working in the plantations, they will not be left out in the cold. “This is all about what’s best for the people in NSW and that starts with the people employed on site,” he said.