13 September, 2012

VicForests posts loss after 'challenging year'

Leslie White
Weekly Times Now,  September 13, 2012

TAXPAYER-OWNED native forest logging company VicForests has recorded another financial loss.

Environment groups and Greens have said it is "staggering that VicForests gets free land and trees to cut down but still manages to make a loss" and it would be cheaper to send its employees "to Bali to retire" than to keep the entity alive.

But VicForests says it is looking to the "future after a challenging year" and blamed the high Aussie dollar, global economic conditions and legal expenses for the loss.

The 2011-12 financial year is set to be the fifth running VicForests has failed to return any money to the taxpayer.

VicForests clearfells state forest which it sells for around $130 million most years - just less than $650 million in the past five years.

It has about 120 employees and will not be affected by recent Victorian Government cuts which savaged the Department of Primary Industries and TAFEs as it is considered a separate company - but Weekly Times Now has learned those being offered redundancies at the DPI have been encouraged to apply to government be "Forest protest managers".

VicForests has lost money in three of the past six financial years.

Environment East Gippsland coordinator Jill Redwood said VicForests was a "taxpayer-funded work for the dole scheme".

"At $130 million (worth of) taxpayer gift a year for 120 employees . . . we're better off sending every person to Bali to retire than sending them out there to destroy our forests. The employment is miniscule, less than 1 per cent of the employment in East Gippsland (one of VicForests' two major harvest areas)."

VicForests lost a court case to Environment East Gippsland when it was found to have planned to log threaten species habatit.

It settled out of court last month on charges of logging rainforest laid by the Department of Sustainability and Environment.

VicForests faces another legal battle in the current financial year as green group My Environment appeals VicForests  right to log what the group says is habitat for Victoria's animal emblem, the endangered Leadbeater's Possum.

The group lost its initial judgement against VicForests in the 2011-12 financial year.

VicForests chief Robert Green said 2011-12 had been difficult financially "for many industries".

"Our legal expenses were significant and, despite being awarded costs when the Supreme Court dismissed proceedings brought by an environment group in March, we do not expect to recover much of the expense incurred," Mr Green said.

"Government support, an enthusiastic new VicForests' board and further investment by the private sector indicates the future remains healthy for the industry, and the thousands of jobs it provides in rural and metropolitan areas."

Greens Senator Richard Di Natale said it was "economic lunacy" that "Victorians are actually paying Vicforests to raze our precious native forests and exterminate the Leadbeaters possum, the state's faunal emblem".

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