Victoria’s publicly owned state forests continue to be logged for no real economic gain, with the VicForests 2012-13 Annual Report showing a dividend of at least $61million is owing to the people of Victoria.
Today, community representatives from logging heartland, the Central Highlands, are travelling to Melbourne to deliver a strong message to State logging agency VicForests, following revelations in Parliament of VicForests’ problematic finances.
Communities such as Toolangi and Healesville are increasingly being subjected to VicForests’ logging operations encroaching on township views, recreation and amenity sites and habitat for endangered species such as the Leadbeater’s Possum.
But for the sixth year running, the state Treasurer, currently Liberal MP Michael O’Brien, has permitted VicForests to return no dividend to the people of Victoria for logging state forests.
"In spite of being allowed free access to 'harvest' our forests, and declaring a small profit, the net value of VicForests (its equity) has dropped by $1.6 million. Meanwhile, Victorians are owed a dividend of at least $61million. This is a scandal," says Steve Meacher, Toolangi resident and Chair of Healesville Environment Watch Inc.
"This issue affects all Victorians - but local communities are living with the everyday reality of logging encroaching on iconic forests that are part of community identity."
“There’s a real question over the environmental viability of continuing to log Victoria’s native forests, mostly for pulp,” says Victorian Campaigns Manager, Amelia Young. “This year’s VicForests Annual Report again raises the question as to whether the ongoing destruction is of any real economic benefit as well.”
“The state government’s Leadbeater’s Possum Advisory Group is currently deliberating as to how to assist the recovery of the endangered Leadbeater’s Possum. Reducing taxpayer funded logging pressure in the animal’s forest home must be a top order priority for this group to consider.”
“The Advisory Group must not turn a blind eye to the fact that logging is not only costing the people of Victoria their state animal emblem; to add insult to injury, Victorians are owned $61million for the ‘privilege’ of their forests being logged for pulp,” says Ms Young.
“Victorians are owed at least $61 million in unpaid dividends, yet logging destruction continues. This begs the question of why Spring Street allows this kind of out-dated exploitation of natural resources to continue?” concludes Ms Young.
What: Delivery of an invoice to VicForests head office for $61 million in unpaid dividends
When: 11am Friday, 8 November 2013
Where: 473 Bourke Street, Melbourne
Photo op: Giant invoice delivered by volunteers in Leadbeater's Possum and Owl costumes
Additional: An invoice will simultaneously be delivered in Healesville by the Knitting Nannas of Toolangi members and supporters
For Info: Steve Meacher 0447 339 863
Background Information – prepared by Steve Meacher, Toolangi resident and Chair of Healesville Environment Watch Inc.
The latest failure to pay a dividend is revealed in VicForests' 2013 Annual Report, tabled in Parliament on 16 October, 2013, and available at http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/file_uploads/VicForests_Annual_Report_2012-13_optimised_bVpM1v79.pdf
Each year the amount to be paid is determined "after consultation with the Treasurer" and for the last six years it has been assessed at "$Nil".
In spite of being allowed free access to 'harvest' our forests, and declaring a small profit, the net value of VicForests (its Equity) has dropped by $1.6 million.
Dividends have now been paid in only two years out of nine since the corporation was created in 2004. In the corporation's new Annual Report, it is proposed to pay a Dividend of $250,000 this year. This is inadequate and there is no guarantee it will ever be paid. The 2011 Annual Report contained a similar proposal "to pay a dividend of $1,260,000 in October 2011," but this has never been paid.
In a review of VicForests' performance prepared for Treasury in 2010, URS Australia p/l suggested that the company should be able to produce 15% - 20% Return on Equity. On this basis the outstanding amount after 9 years of operation is more than $61 million (at 15% RoE).
If the unpaid dividends were calculated at the higher rate of 20%, the unpaid balance exceeds $81 million.
Although $61 million is a substantial sum, it is a very reasonable amount to expect in exchange for access to a massive and valuable public resource.
In comparison, Forestry South Australia (which manages public timber plantations and produces an almost identical volume of timber to VicForests (1.33 million cubic metres compared to VicForests' 1.27 million)), returned an annual dividend to the people of that state of $14 million in 2012, $26 million in 2011 and $31 million the year before that, a total of $71,000,000 for only three years of operations.
- Steve Meacher 0447 339 863
- Amelia Young 0404 074 577