Changes to forest body spark union fears
THE state government-owned Forests NSW will be corporatised, sparking fears that the move may be the first step towards privatisation of the organisation by the O'Farrell government.
The Primary Industries Minister, Katrina Hodgkinson, will make the announcement today. She said transforming Forests NSW from a state trading enterprise to a state-owned corporation would improve its commercial performance.
Forests NSW, which has assets worth about $1.6 billion, manages more than 500 state forests in NSW. According to its website, it harvests more than 2.5 million cubic metres of logs and more than 1.5 million cubic metres of pulpwood each year.
''As a state-owned corporation under a skilled commercial board, Forests NSW will be able to focus sharply on its core business of growing and harvesting timber to meet the community's needs for hardwood and softwood products, while still providing recreational opportunities for the people of NSW,'' Ms Hodgkinson said.
But a union source said the announcement was the ''first step to privatisation'' and there were fears the government would seek to shift workers from the NSW industrial relations system to a federal award. The Australian Workers Union is in negotiations with the government over the renewal of its award.
However, a government spokesman said: ''This is not about privatisation, it's about corporatisation.''
Under the change, which will need to be enshrined in legislation and passed by Parliament, a new ''commercially focused'' board would be appointed, which would operate at arm's length from government.
Ms Hodgkinson said the change would be similar to those made to other state-owned entities such as the Sydney and Hunter water corporations. All wood supply agreements would be transferred to the new corporation and continue to be underwritten by the NSW government.
There would be no reduction of regulatory oversight of Forests NSW by the Environment Protection Authority and Office of Environment and Heritage.
The opposition spokesman on the environment, Luke Foley, said corporatisation would mean less ministerial oversight of the organisation.