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ForestrySA plantations debate heats up

INTERPRETATIONS are mixed amongst forestry campaign leaders regarding reports that state forests minister Michael O’Brien will submit a proposal for cabinet discussions, which essentially opposes government intentions to sell off the ForestrySA plantations.

However, it is a shared perception that the revelations have only elevated the importance of February’s rally.

On Monday, an anonymous source from within the Labor Party told The Border Watch that Mr O’Brien had requested Cabinet discuss a proposal that would see ForestrySA buy more land to expand plantations, rather than sell them to a private buyer.

Sources also stated that many within the party held “misgivings” about the plan to sell the state-owned forests.

Independent member for Mount Gambier Don Pegler slammed the reports as mere “smoke and mirrors” and a attempt by the government to “take the sting out of the campaign.”

Mr Pegler discounted Minister O’Brien’s intentions to expand plantations to be unrelated to the government’s intentions to forward sell ForestrySA plantations.

“They are two entirely different issues,” he said.

“Last time O’Brien was here he was telling us to reinvent ourselves and accept the sale but now he has made an about face and is publicly opposing the sale – which one shall we believe?”

However, Mount Gambier mayor Steve Perryman has labelled Minister O’Brien an “ally” who has finally started listening.

“My understanding of O’Brien’s intentions will see an expansion of government ownership through an expansion of the state owned plantations,” he said.

“That ought to mean that this plan would exclude the forward sale process.

“It appears that he has been listening to not just the ForestrySA board but also to the advice from regional leaders and union representatives who have been pushing this case.”

Mr Perryman said the fact that the issue had become so contentious that it was capable of driving a wedge to divide government was positive news for the campaign.

“It is a positive sign that the pressure we have applied has resulted in it becoming one of the key issues causing disunity, and that it has brought to light opposition surrounding the issue within the party,” he said.

However, Mr Perryman said it was an opportunity for the South East community to take advantage of at the upcoming rally.

“I think what has happened is that through this campaign we have been educating those in government and the wider state about the value of this forestry industry and what it means to us – they are gradually catching on,” he said.

“The rally on February 8 will be the paramount opportunity to make sure the message is getting through and I urge people to vote with their feet and join us in Adelaide.”

Meanwhile, mayors from the lower South East council’s and the member for Mount Gambier and Mackillop have sent an open letter to Premier Mike Rann demanding more specific details regarding the sale.

“We are extremely concerned that there has not been more details given on this decision which could jeopardise the heart and soul of the community down here in the South East,” he said.

“There are too many unanswered questions.”

Amongst the details requested are an “exact” description of the asset up for sale, the precise terms of the sale, the timing of the sale process, a figure on the expected return from the sale, and how many years of rotations are being considered.

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