NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay called on the state government to abandon plans to privatise Forestry Corporation during a visit to Tumut last Friday.
Ms Jodi McKay was joined by Shadow Minister for Natural Resources Paul Scully and Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs Mick Veitch.
Forestry Corporation is the largest manager of commercial native and plantation forests in NSW, producing around 14 per cent of Australia’s timber and employing around 532 people from regional and rural Australia.
In late August of last year, Treasurer Dominic Perrottet announced a scoping study into the long-term lease of Forestry Corporation’s softwood division. The National Party backed the move on the pretense that no jobs would be lost.
Ms McKay said on Friday that she doesn’t believe the Government’s promise that no job losses will occur, and doesn’t believe the move would actually be good for rural and regional economies. She claimed that the Government has made similar promises about job security with past assets they’ve privatised, and those promises were broken.
“Gladys made a commitment in the lead up to the election that there would be no further privatisation. She has broken that promise if she proceeds with this. This should not happen anyway, but particularly at this time,” Ms McKay said.
“This is an industry that is on its knees right now and needs all the support it can get, and it must stay in public hands.
“Wherever we have seen privatisation we have seen a loss of jobs, we’ve seen a reduction in dividends to government – and those dividends pay for schools and hospitals, they’re actually put to work as revenue within government.”
Paul Scully, Shadow Minister for Natural Resources, said that although Labor believes there is no good time to privatise Forestry assets, this is “possibly the worst time of all” to do so.
“We have thousands – tens of thousands – of hectares of our softwood plantation assets that have been burnt, we’ve got a community and communities up and down the coast that need investment in them to recover, and at the same time the Government wants to pull the rug from underneath the workers in the forestry industry and the towns they support by privatising Forestry Corporation’s softwood plantations business.”
The Shadow Minister also took a moment to thank the Forestry Corporation employees, timber industry employees and their bosses for the work they’ve been doing fighting fires throughout the state.
“These people have been there shoulder-to-shoulder for months on end with the Rural Fire Service, with other volunteers [and] with other firefighters protecting our forests, protecting our towns [and] protecting our property,” Mr Scully said.
“This is a multi-billion dollar industry that needs support – it needs support to recover – it doesn’t need to be sold out from underneath people.”
Locally-raised Mick Veitch, Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, said that the Snowy Valleys region has “significant” interest in Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s decision, and that he “should not proceed” with the sale.
“There are thousands of jobs involved in this part of NSW with the softwood industry, it is absolutely critical to the economy for places like Tumbarumba and Tumut, so do not go ahead with the sale of Forestry Corporation in this state.”
If the move was to go ahead, privatising the 230,000 hectares of radiata pine forests is estimated to raise $1bn for future infrastructure.
Ms McKay claims that money raised from any privatisation would not be put towards the diversification of industry in this region, rather the focus would be “making money to pay for big projects that they have underway in Sydney.”
“I think if you ask anyone living in this area whether they want to see the Powerhouse Museum funded at 1.5 billion dollars, or a LightRail at 3 billion dollars in the centre of Sydney, or do they want to save local jobs, I know which way they’ll fall,” Ms Mckay said.
The Opposition leader wants to see a commitment given to Forestry Corporation workers “right now” about their jobs into the future.
“We’re not just talking about a couple of years, we’re talking about long-term.
“This is too important and I’m begging – I am begging – the Premier and I’m begging the Deputy Premier to rule out the privatisation of Forestry Corporation once and for all.”
Deputy Premier John Barilaro responded to the comments made by the Labor MPs on Friday.
“My number one priority is to send a strong message of confidence to the timber industry amid the ongoing bushfire tragedy,” he said.
“And while I’m trying to instil confidence in the timber sector, we can do without Jodi McKay talking down the industry.
“I am working hard to secure and grow regional timber jobs and will have more to say about Forestry Corporation in the future.”