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The scandals continue with the release today of the Australian National Audit Office’s report on the administration of the Tasmanian Forest Intergovernmental Agreement Contractors Voluntary Exit Grants Program.

“The big question is, as it was with the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement, is the Federal or State government corrupt or incompetent when overseeing these grants programs?” Senator Christine Milne said today, announcing she will move for a Senate inquiry immediately.

“We need to know why $44 million of taxpayers’ funds was allocated to contractors exiting logging, but the reductions in forests harvested and logs hauled was more than 33% less than promised? Fail.

“10 applicants (16%) were offered grants totalling $3.59 million despite not providing the required documentation to demonstrate eligibility, including financial information and evidence of ongoing arrangements or evidence of activity in public native forestry.

“The lack of documentation has raised questions about whether everyone had fair access to the funding program. The report shows that people who met the program’s requirements got funding and people who failed to meet the requirements were also funded. How is this possible and how did the department decide?

“This is not the first time this has happened. Without an ICAC to oversee the public service, DAFF keeps getting away with a complete failure of accountability.

“A Senate Inquiry needs to get to the bottom of this once and for all.”

• Read for yourself: REPORT OF THE AUDITOR-GENERAL––Report no. 22 of 2012-13––Performance audit––Administration of the Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement Contractors Voluntary Exit Grants Program: Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry: HERE

Read these key points:

1. Failure to meet proposed reduction in wood to be harvested, para 19, p 15, paras 2.36 and 2.38, p 56.

2. Forestry Tasmania reference regarding letters sent but not authorised is footnote 87, p 69.

3. Payment to ineligible applicants, para 5.19, p 97.

4. Applications with a merit score of zero progressed through assessment process, para 36, p 21.

5. All eligible applicants irrespective of merit scores were recommended for grant funding, para 39, p 22, para 3.32, p 72.

6. DAFF failure to follow grants management processes para 2.50, p 60, para 23, p 17.

7. Managing compliance of the exit from the industry…Commonwealth must provide advance notice of impending compliance visit para 5.31, p 100.

8. Failure to keep detailed records para 4.30, p 84. The Advisory Panel chair advised the decision maker but details of the briefings were not recorded.

• Statewide Mornings with Leon Compton, CHRISTINE MILNE, Australian Greens leader: The Australian National Audit Office has been critical of the management of $45 million in exit packages for Tasmanian forest contractors. Senator Milne says the handling of the payouts suggests “corruption or incompetence”. ED VINCENT, Forest Contractors Association and Legislative Council candidate: Says questions need to be answered about the way some forestry contractors were dealt with. Listen HERE

• ABC 936 Mornings with Leon Compton 15 March 2013

Transcript of Interview with Christine Milne, Tasmanian Greens Senator for Tasmania, by David Obendorf

http://blogs.abc.net.au/tasmania/2013/03/mornings-on-demand-150313.html?site=hobart&program=hobart_mornings

Leon Compton: The Australian National Audit Office has found that the Department of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries didn’t comply with previous recommendations that had been made to it in administering to the $45 million that have been paid out to Tasmanian forestry contractors & harvesters to leave the industry in the last 12 months.

So why does that matter? Well, the Greens say the $45 million was intended to reduce harvest and transport quotas in Tasmania by 1.5 million tonnes a year. And in end the money – $45 million – only achieved around 60% of that. Christine Milne, is the Leader of the Greens and also a Greens Senator for Tasmania. Senator, good morning to you. You say that this suggests the performance of DAFF and the federal government more generally suggests corruption or incompetence. How do you draw that conclusion?

Christine Milne:Good morning Leon. Oh, absolutely Leon and I would urge listeners to go to the National Audit Office website and look for the Performance Audit Report No. 22 and actually look at it for themselves.

This is de javu; the Departmentof Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries has demonstrated complete incompetence in the past in overseeing these grants, that’s why the Audit Office has an ongoing audit because they keep pointing it out; every time the Department then comes back say: “Oh yes, sorry we’ll do better next time”. But the point is, its taxpayers’ money – in this case it’s $45 million of taxpayers’ money that was meant to assist contractors to get out of the industry and therefore reduce the pressure on native forests.

But what happened here and to an extent tho Ministers are responsible as well – the federal and State ministers – and that’s why I want a Senate Inquiry to just see where the responsibility falls. Because for a start, in order to be eligible to get a grant initially it was recommended that you had to have had a logging contract in 2 or the previous 3 years. Well that was changed to say you only had to have a contract in one of the previous 4 years and only 50% of that contract had to be in public native forest. And then they changes the compliance period – that is – the time you had to fully get out, up to 10 years. So what’s happens now there are contractors in Tasmania that are completely outraged about the fact that they didn’t apply because they wanted to stay on and then we now find that, ahh… 10 of the people that were paid out were given grant funding of $3.59 million despite the fact that they couldn’t provide documentation to demonstrate that they were eligible. And in fact 2 of them got grants when they had a merit score of ‘zero’ out of 100 for their grants. And yet they were still given the money and Forestry Tasmania is up to their neck in this as well, because Forestry Tasmania provided the letters to the contractors to say that they [b]had[/b] ongoing native forest contracts. And then in January 2012 Forestry Tasmania informed the Department [DAFF] that all the letters of support that they had provided to their contractors were not duly authorised and should be disregarded, and in 7 cases those contractors couldn’t get the letters to say that they had a contract that still paid…. [interrupted]

Leon Compton: OK, at what point did Forestry Tasmania make that correction, because the money was paid out in the middle of last year [2012]?

Christine Milne: January 2012, but the point is you had to have a letter of… Well the first thing is, Leon, whyis… who in Forestry Tasmania is giving the contractors a letter to say that they’ve got a contract and then Forestry Tasmania says: “Whoops, actually those letters went out and they weren’t authorised.”…. [interrupted]

Leon Compton: In other words, you’re suggesting what that did was – in the eyes of DAFF – made people look eligible who may not have been?

Christine Milne: Exactly, and it increased their merit score in order to get grants and, of the ones that Forestry Tasmania sent out, the original letters for 7 they didn’t send out second letters for… which begs the question: Who in Forestry Tasmania sent out those letters in the first place?

But the other things are, Leon in terms of this, is that – and I’ll give you a specific case. One grant applicant actually told the Department [DAFF]that they didn’t have contract in place, therefore, confirming that they were ineligible, but the Department, or the people giving out the grants at least said: “Never mind, we’ll give it to you anyway”. And they gave that contractor and the sub-contractor $697,000, even though they had admitted they had no contracts in place… [interrupted]

Leon Compton: But they… did they

Christine Milne: How is that possible?

Leon Compton: Did they decommission their machinery? Did they do the things that were required to prove that they [the equi
pment] could no longer be operated; or that they would no longer operate in Tasmania?

Christine Milne: No, not at all, because the eligibility requirements says very specifically that you have to demonstrate that you had a contract to log and haul native forests, ahhh… at some time, once in the previous four years. Now when someone says: “I don’t… I can’t do it, I’m therefore not eligible”; why on Earth were they then paid out, with their sub-contractor, $697,000.

But what is also really unfair to the contractors, is that the Department [DAFF] changed the way that they assessed the applications after the people put their applications in, and they never told the contractors that they changed the application. So the contractors that scored highly on the merit order got less money than they should have, and those that score practically zero and had virtually no forest contract to get out of were paid out.

So, those who deserved it least got more and those who deserved it more, got less. Now that is not an efficient use of public money.

Leon Compton: Senator, $45 million in this program was intended to reduce harvest and transport volumes by 1.5 million tonnes a year. In the end the money achieved, it seems, only around 60% of that. But, it would already seem that those involved in the industry that remain, believe that the amounts that will be left for harvesting and processing is barely enough to keep the industry going. So if it had fully delivered on its promise, where would we be?

Christine Milne: Well that’s the whole point here; it was to assist them to get out of the industry and lower the amount of forest volumes that would be available. That’s the whole point of providing the money to get people out. But what has happened is, because there are no serious compliance provisions written into this, people were able to take the money and there is no follow up about whether you handed the truck over to a brother, or uncle or son… and just took the money and they stayed on in the business in some way. And what’s more, they [?DAFF] got written into the compliance arrangements that the federal government had to give notice before they made any compliance checks of the properties of the people concerned. So … [interrupted]

Leon Compton: We’ll be talking to Simon Crean a little bit later on this morning. He’s been driving much of the restructure that’s been happening and the money allocation in this.
What culpability, in any, do you think the federal government have in this process?

Christine Milne: Ah, well… the federal government has hugely culpability. This is the Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; this isJoe Ludwig’s Department, and in the Tasmanian context it as Bryan Green, I understand, who was the Minister [responsible]. But this issue here is, Simon Crean was part of a federal Ministerial team, but overwhelming responsibility lies with, ahh… the federal Minister Joe Ludwig and his Department, and they are required under the Financial Management Act that approval must not be given to approve a grant unless it is a proper use of Commonwealth resources.

And the question I’d ask is: ‘How can you say giving someone who scored zero on merit and wasn’t eligible; how can you explain giving them Commonwealth money?

Leon Compton: So what happens now? The money has been paid out, and here we are… what happens now?

Christine Milne: Well, this is exactly where we were last time, Leon. We don’t have a national ICAC; a national Corruption Commission. Ahh, … you get all these reports saying this money was paid out wrongly. That’s why I’m moving for a Senate Inquiry so that we can get the Department in and actually ask them these questions directly. And also ask them why they didn’t keep the documentation.

Last time with the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement (2006), they [the Department] said, when they were asked … actually they committed a breach of the Forest Management Act – which is a criminal offense. When I put it to them: ‘Why haven’t you acted on that?’, they said: ‘We lost the paperwork.’

Well, the Nation Audit Office [in Canberra] told them they had to have better records, and this time round [2012], the spread sheets or the data on which the decision-maker made his decisions, they decided not to keep.

Now I just don’t accept that. In this day & age you can’t just decide not to keep some of those critical documents.

Leon Compton: Senator, what support will you have for a Senate Inquiry into the handling of this money?

Christine Milne: Well, I would like to think both the Government and the Coalition would support it, because surely they don’t accept that this money being paid out in this way. And I know that contractors have written to DAFF to ask for an explanation and DAFF still didn’t tell them that they changed the way that they made the assessments, and those contractors will be angry. So hopefully we will get more detail and I certainly encourage people who have got details about what has gone on, which I think is… it is probably some corrupt and some incompetence. But I would like to know that in detail, and that’s why a Senate Inquiry would be a good thing. And if the Labor and Liberal Parties don’t support it, then that speaks volumes that they just don’t want accountability.

And of course the tragedy is, as you mentioned before, the logging industry is continually trying to wind back the areas that were meant to go into reserves because they say they don’t have enough, and here they had the opportunity to maximise the volumes in the payout and they didn’t do it.

Leon Compton: Appreciate you talking to us this morning. Greens Senator for Tasmania and Leader of the Greens, Christine Milne.

Chrstine Milne, Anna Reynolds: Rorts in forest contractor grants …

• Leg Co’s Key Findings, Final Report on the Tasmanian Forests Agreement Bill 2012

The key findings are here:
http://www.parliament.tas.gov.au/ctee/Council/Reports/TFA%20KEY%20FINDINGS.pdf

The final report is here:
http://www.parliament.tas.gov.au/ctee/Council/Reports/TFA%20FINAL%20REPORT.pdf

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