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STT ~ GPL Settlement – A self-imposed cone of silence …

Daniel PPB and Steve STT in the cone

In a travesty of justice, Liquidators PPB Advisory (now PWC) and Forestry Tasmania (now Sustainable Timber Tasmania STT) are hiding behind their self-imposed confidentiality agreement to the detriment of actual investors in Tasmania, and contrary to the high principles both espouse. It applies to the settlement agreement for MIS investors’ property on State lands. It’s purpose is not to protect growers interests but for the negotiating parties to avoid scrutiny.

Even without disclosing the settlement terms, STT parties remain unwilling to justify the poor settlement, which to this observer’s mind constitutes theft.

Letter from STT Board – will not correspond further

(Finally, but only forthcoming on the initiation of a Right To Information (RTI) request by the author.)

14 December 2018

Dear Mr Burdon

This letter is in response to your letters to me and the members of the Board of Sustainable Timbers Tasmania dated 8 November, 2018.

In your letter you raised your concerns over the settlement reached between Forestry Tasmania (now Sustainable Timber Tasmania) (“STT”) and Gunns Plantations (“GPL”) (in Liquidation).

Any continuing concerns you have with the settlement itself should be directed to the Liquidator for GPL whose obligation at law was to act in the best interests of the investors when seeking Court approval of the settlement.

In relation to your specific requests regarding details of the Settlement, as you have been previously advised by management, STT is subject to a legal obligation contained in the Settlement Deed to not release any such details. To do so would expose STT to legal action.

Given the multiple previous communications from management, it is the View of the Board that to the extent that STT is legally able to respond to your queries it has done so. Accordingly, it is not proposed to correspond with you any further on this matter.

Your sincerely

[signature]

Jaqueline Puig
Company Secretary & General Counsel
Sustainable Timber Tasmania

An analogy

In discussion with fellow investors, I have been refining an analogy. This seeks to counter the simplistic view that all accountability for the apparent theft should lie with the Liquidators PPB Advisory (PWC).

I beg to differ.

(Disclaimer: PWC’s review was sought but was not forthcoming. It is my personal, first-hand view and not intentionally mis-representative.)

Scenario

  • Daniel PPB tells Trevor he needs to sell Trevor’s expensive iPhone to sort out Trevor’s telco’s liquidation.
  • Daniel PPB reaches across the table and takes Trevor’s $2,000 iPhone, promising he will protect his interests.
  • Daniel PPB puts it in the warehouse with all the iPhone stock from the telco.
  • Steve STT owns the warehouse where the iPhones are held and will not permit access for a sale.
  • Steve STT, now at the table, offers $0/iPhone for all the stock, because he was owed rent by the telco for storage of roughly $150/iPhone and other unrelated, undisclosed sums.
  • Steve STT and Daniel PPB settle on $100 each for all the iPhones including Trevor’s.
  • Daniel PPB hands them over to Steve TT, takes the money, and passes $100 to Trevor.
  • Steve STT and Daniel PPB declare the settlement a success, and agree that the sale terms should remain confidential indefinitely.

Questions …

Q. Has Daniel PPB protected Trevor’s interests?
No – Trevor is $1,900 short
No – but he has brokered a single line sale, saved much effort, and charged Trevor for his services

Q. Has Daniel PPB acted competently?
No – he let the warehouse lease fall into default
No – he has not contested Steve STT’s offer in Court

Q. Has Daniel PPB acted with integrity?
No – he exposed Trevor to the telco’s liability
No – he is relying on confidentiality to shield himself from public scrutiny

Q.  Has Steve STT acted with integrity?
No – he knows the value of Trevor’s iPhone and that the telco’s debts are not Trevor’s
No – he prevented any partial sale to prevent the lease default
No – he has concurrently on-sold Trevor’s iPhone for $2,000
No – he has comingled and laundered stolen goods. This behaviour rewards theft and is illegal.
No – he is relying on confidentiality to shield himself from public scrutiny

The STT and Ministerial Tracker – Updated

All parties have received multiple communications directly and via their staff. They know of my concerns. Whether they have chosen to be briefed on the issue details remains uncertain, however, given Messrs de Fegely’s detailed contribution on STT asset valuations to the House of Assembly Government Business Scrutiny Committee 6 Dec 2018, Whiteley’s long tenure and executive position in negotiations, and Bull’s coordination of the sale to Reliance, it is almost a certainty these individuals are.

Importantly the Board has had at least one and perhaps two Board meetings, and their secretary has responded with their presumed consent and input. (The afore-mentioned RTI, RTI18/6, is seeking any related Board minutes.)

Disappointingly, the high governance standards to which Ministers should hold their Government Business Enterprise have not been met. They are content to refer back to STT, while gushing over the apparent STT return to profitability. The political need to tell a good news story takes precedence.

Even under sustained questioning by MHA O’Connor in the Scrutiny Committee, the government would not concede the $113M transfer of STT superannuation liabilities to the State was in fact a further subsidy, and contrary to the new STT guidelines.

So desperate has STT and the government become that it is prepared to fleece private investors as well. That was $30,300,000 – now give it back! https://tasmaniantimes.com/2018/10/a-facts-a-fact-now-give-it-back/ HERE 

As if we wouldn’t notice, this self-imposed cone of silence suggests an ongoing and deep cultural problem.

Trevor Burdon is a Business and IT Consultant, who most recently was decommissioning Telstra’s Silver Lining cloud. Resident in Melbourne he expects to return to Tasmania when he can see a clearer sky over a better government. He invested in early Gunns Plantations schemes to protect heritage forest and provide resource for new value-added industry. On ASIC’s pathetic advice that he complain in Court, he appeared at the commencement of the Gunns Plantations Liquidation (Proceeding SCI Vic 2013 2095). Uniquely, as an individual grower investor, he has been in attendance ever since, alongside the properly-resourced Liquidators and Receivers counsel at the bar.

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Trevor Burdon

    January 21, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    MjF, I presume from your comments you were a third-party who leased his land to Gunns Plantations for the establishment of MIS plantations. Is that correct?

    From your own lease documents, what was the term of your lease, please? Did the lease provide for termination on early harvest or on any other grounds?

    I am trying to determine what GPL rent obligations there were on termination, and how that compares with the forestry rights you ‘inherited’ from growers.

    • MjF

      January 22, 2019 at 10:38 am

      Trev, my land was leased to a tree company for MIS woodlot establishment and growth, but it wasn’t GPL.

      My lease had a maximum life of 20 years with harvest to occur from age 15 on. This ensured at least 15 years’ income for lessor as long as both parties remained compliant with the lease.

      The terms of defaulting, the notifications process and the resultant tree ownership were also very clear. In my case the indexed rent was maintained on time up to age 17 by an administrator acting on the growers’ behalf when they eventually got their wood off.

      This was much to my disappointment as I was hoping to get advanced-age trees for nix.

      • Trevor Burdon

        January 23, 2019 at 6:57 pm

        So your administrator acted with integrity, unlike the PPB pact that saw STT subsidise its own private debts with grower assets.

        I note too, that your disappointment betrays your belief that you would have benefited had you got those trees for nix.

        That which is so obvious makes a mockery of FT’s statements that no benefit was to be realised while they were plotting to sell – the crooks.

        • MjF

          January 24, 2019 at 9:39 am

          It was not my administrator, Trev. He was retained by the growers in all projects up to yr 2011 to maintain their interests on 3rd party land. This no doubt came at a significant cost beyond the annual lease fees the growers had to keep up.

          Did they make anything out of the final harvest proceeds after all input costs were added ?

          Who knows ?

          There were a lot of people employed on the administrator’s side of things who had to be paid, as well as an intermediary project manager employed to organised harvesting and dealt with landowners etc, all to be paid from harvest proceeds. In many lease cases additional costs were incurred by the administrator having to either clear land afterwards or fund replanting operations according to how the original leases were worded.

          Make no mistake, I was hoping to inherit maturing trees by lease default and benefit from that in a future sale, but that didn’t come to pass. I had to be content with a fully paid lease. Oh, well.

  2. Trevor Burdon

    January 10, 2019 at 5:23 pm

    Twitter 10 Jan 2019 – Related liquidation of MIS on Gunns land.

    @MichaelWestBiz, @adele_ferguson #BankingRC 2 must investigate insolvency predatory practices and the treatment of innocent investors.

    Tasmanian Times has yet to return from its break.

    Pre-press pdfs are here (2nd go :-)) https://www.dropbox.com/s/lxwrr4mydqpg4hz/A%20Predatory%20Practice_1.pdf?dl=1 https://www.dropbox.com/s/3sozi5dgtkzzm7d/A%20Predatory%20Practice_2.pdf?dl=1

  3. Trevor Burdon

    December 26, 2018 at 4:18 pm

    So individuals are to cover Gunns liabilities and STT mismanagement via contrived and secretive arrangements? 12% of the harvest was GPLs, and could have been used at any time to avoid default.

    MjF may want to refer again to my response to his points 4,5 and 6.

    As the Royal Commission has confirmed, our trust with financial institutions has been misplaced. I am highlighting that it is also misplaced with insolvency practitioners, STT and its accountable Ministers. If one presses those landowners who have ‘inherited’ good woodlots they will concede a windfall gain to which they were not entitled. The caught-out banks are busy remediating the injustice, and STT and the State should do the same.

    The ignorances here are either feigned, where Board and Ministers have no opinion, or of the popular ‘smarter than thou’ kind that blames the victim.

    I imagine that MjF, as a Forest Practices Officer, was well placed to suggest why STT blocked any sale of MIS lots on State land BEFORE GPL fell in to default.

    Please, are you able to enlighten us .. or will it be another plea of ignorance?

    • MjF

      December 31, 2018 at 3:33 pm

      I’m not sure Trev, why being an FPO gives me any special insight into STT’s and GPL’s commercial arrangements.

      My best guess would be that the minimum life of the lease as specified had not been achieved, therefore no sale of wood was possible. This would seem likely given the pruned log regime you bought into, which would have a longer rotation life than unpruned.

      • Trevor Burdon

        January 1, 2019 at 2:00 pm

        MjF, thankyou for your suggestion.

        However, former MIS plantations were up to 14 years old at the time of lease default, and mature enough for an Option 2 thinning where not done or an Option 1 clear-fell. Harvesting and sale then of the GPL harvest share would have easily covered rent due and most probably rent through to full term of the leases immediately.

        Opening with a hard offer of $0/ha, I believe STT’s intention was never to pursue a fair outcome, but rather to socialise STT’s GPL losses across the MIS growers.

        (Note: My conservative estimate of the $30.3M owed to growers is after discounts for 12% of the harvest and rent due.)

        • MjF

          January 2, 2019 at 9:28 am

          That may be true Trev, that you consider the resource mature enough at age 14 to clear-fell. Certainly plantations younger than that have yielded merchantable wood on a clear-fell basis.

          1) As Option 2, why had GPL not already undertaken thinning as the responsible entity ?
          At up to age 14 this certainly would have been overdue prior to going bust.

          2) As an Option 1, the minimum lease term may still not have been reached. Remember STT was after its rental due, and had no interest in wood value under lease, at least not until the lease was breached and then all bets were off.

          I would have thought a thinning was good silvicultural management regardless of which Option was exercised. I wouldn’t have bothered investing in any scheme which did not propose any thinning. The stand yield benefits of thinning are well known and documented.

  4. MjF

    December 26, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    As I’ve previously stated, there’s little point in Burdon flogging this dead horse. He clearly shows ignorance of the high stakes game he chose to participate in.

    Prepaid rent is neither here nor there, Trevor. All that does is highlight your total dependence on the responsible entity fulfilling its obligations with your money (which it didn’t).

    Move on. You’re one of thousands who lost out because you placed all your eggs and trust in one basket.

    There are now many satisfied landowners who have inherited ex wood-lotted trees on their properties through lease default. STT is but one.

  5. John Hawkins

    December 26, 2018 at 11:25 am

    I assume that Martin J Fitch never invested in the scam, for as an insider on the gravy train of the Forest Practices Authority, he as Forest Practices Officer knew, or should have known, that the MIS business was a scam and would eventually implode.

    I have not forgotten Lilydale, but I have been busy earning a living and publishing the results on Tas Times. Bulldogs and Broaches of Burning Gold are much more fun.

    I have just purchased the Gold Bronze Age Soberton Bracelet – arguably one of the finest Celtic object discovered in recent times.

    So it will be a while yet.

    • Mjf

      December 31, 2018 at 5:22 pm

      Good for you Hawk; nothing quite like blowing your own trumpet.

      I was a lessor rather than an investor, if you must know. Renting my land out was a good earner. I am in the process of investing in more ex MIS land to replant but it’ll all be funded, implemented and managed by me. I find that fun. Isn’t that odd ?

      Do forget Lilydale, old boy. I imagine your precious few spare moments could be more wisely spent.

      I don’t see MIS trees as a scam, nor did it seem at risk of implosion. Sadly the promoters became too leveraged with borrowings, internal financing, trailing commissions and under budgeting establishment, maintenance costs and land bank accrual. The latter cost was particularly driven up by the number of players fighting for space on the ground.

      Hasn’t all this been discussed before ?

      • Trevor Burdon

        January 4, 2019 at 7:03 pm

        MjF … I’m glad you can see the wood from the trees.

        Gunns swept GPL accounts. GPL had a current asset of $84M owed to it by Gunns. GPL had a $23M reserve for maintenance and a $4M undrawn credit facility on entering administration (and was not hopelessly insolvent as characterised by PPB) all of which was captured or stayed by the Receivers.

        As you’ll read in my next articles, out assets were disclaimed to the Receiver’s great advantage, as well as the landlord beneficiaries such as yourself.

        • MJF

          January 5, 2019 at 7:38 pm

          Same old, same old, Trev. All your evidence confirms your grievances lie with Gunns, GPL and PBB. I don’t disagree.

          Your pursuit of STT is unwarranted and unjustified, other than you believe it to now be your only viable target as ending up being the sole beneficiary.

          I would have tried for the same result as a dudded landlord.

          • Trevor Burdon

            January 11, 2019 at 10:07 am

            It couldn’t be simpler MJF – the bankers court the cops who pulled forestry benefactors into the alley, beat them up .. and the Government shared in the spoils with a nod and a wink.

  6. Mjf

    December 26, 2018 at 8:16 am

    Burdon’s simplistic scenario ignores a number of points:

    1) Trevor never actually has the use of his expensive iPhone, so no loss there.
    2) Trevor’s iPhone remained in Steve’s warehouse all its working life (at a cost) but he was promised access to it by his telco at some undefined point in the future whereupon he could sell it at a greatly inflated price provided certain annual commitments by his telco were achieved.
    3) Trevor gained a tax break for buying this iPhone whether he wanted one or not, but still useful.
    4) Trevor overlooks the fact that his telco is the responsible entity for his iphone and liable for a number of commercial transactions to maintain the leased space in Steve’s warehouse.
    5) Trevor also overlooks the fact that if his telco defaults on the lease deal with Steve’s warehouse he then loses access to his iPhone, which he never actually had the use of anyway.
    6) Trevor also ignores that fact that the lease between Steve and his telco nominates certain commercial terms for iphone storage which, if ignored or not achieved, negates the whole deal, and Steve rightfully takes possession of all phones stored, not just Trevor’s.
    7) Daniel PPB as the default responsible entity for Trevor’s liquidated telco, negotiates a slightly better outcome for Trevor’s iphone than is actually required (which would have been $0) by appealing to Steve’s fair sense of play.
    8) Trevor thinks Steve has already sold his ex iPhone to the highest bidder who will then on-sell it again, presumably because it has achieved a collectible’s premium price, but he has no evidence of this.
    9) The expensive iphone may still be in the warehouse under Steve’s ownership and gathering more dust.

    • Trevor Burdon

      December 26, 2018 at 9:08 am

      1. Trevor owned the iPhone. STT prevented its early use sale.
      2. Trevor’s rent was prepaid. Rent owed was by the telco. STT did not provision for telco debts and recovered them from Trevor.
      3. Tax deductions were available as they are for any business activity. Scheme design allowed them up-front rather than post-expense. This policy promoted massive investment as intended, but didn’t anticipate the level of abuse by professionals nor this final outcome that poor cultural practice would seep into the fabric of government and the courts.
      4. False. The $30.3M sought is after adjustments for telco rent liability and share of stock.
      5.6. False. MjF has already been referred to the lease agreement. Trevor’s ownership was not transferred on default.
      7. Disingenuous. The debts are not Trevor’s. Fair play would acknowledge the different ownership. STT made the case that $0 should apply because no value was realised. Bullshit was called on this before. The Reliance sale underway concurrently is the truth to the lie.
      8. False. The photo from Invest in Tasmania -bah is of the Riverlea harvest and sale.
      9. True. The magical growing iPhones have been kept, and are slated for future clearwood production at much higher sale price.

  7. William Boeder

    December 24, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    Well put together, Trevor. The facts in this matter are exactly as you have presented them.

    Given that I had engaged in substantial research to also identify the alleged perpetrators of this outright theft by this State’s GBE of STT (an ill-intentioned creation of non-wunderkind, Guy Barnett MP) the difficulty is that the STT retreat into “no further correspondence will be engaged in” will not banish the dishonest action engaged in by this State government’s logging industry.

    There is a very important message here for the readers of this Tasmanian Times article, namely beware that a State government will not necessarily refrain from corrupt and illegitimate engagement with corrupted others.

    Please note that the mainstream media portals in our State are reluctant to print the facts of how the resultant post-MIS scandals and thefts and its allegations of grand theft have indeed become an unquenched set of criminal actions kept hidden from the people in this State, if not all of Australia.

    Meanwhile, please understand that the denial by the perpetrator of a criminal action is not at all, and will never be, a testament to innocence.

    Another case in point is the internationally known Goldman Sachs case, in its alleged impropriety of securing the funding of some $4 Billion-plus American Dollars for IMDB in Malaysia. This undeniably illegitimate engagement has since brought about the overthrow the former ruling corrupted government of Najib Razak in Malaysia.

    Fortunately, the revelatory facts underlying the guilt of Goldman Sachs’ impropriety has not been smothered by Australia’s Major Mainstream Media News Publishers.

  8. Stu

    December 24, 2018 at 7:47 am

    A warning to investors in anything.
    When a prospectus or any info is glossy and indicates high returns then be suspicious. If you’re chasing high returns then be prepared to accept high risk!

    • Trevor Burdon

      December 25, 2018 at 6:38 pm

      Stu … growers are not receiving anything like valuation and nothing like establishment value from wood that’s been grown and is being harvested today. The key message is that parties negotiating these settlements are putting their self-interest first, despite obligations to a third-party.

      It has nothing to do with the promised returns, which are actually being achieved, or are still capable of being achieved, for these early schemes on good land. It’s not shifty financial planners, lenders, or product developers though they too existed.

      Your simplistic test excuses no-one, condones incompetence and predation by Liquidators and Ministers of the State, and insults genuine investors.

  9. Ivo Edwards

    December 23, 2018 at 10:22 am

    Thankyou for a great article! I hope you are not gunned down by a drive-though shooter and your house burned down for daring to ask important questions!

    I like your analogy, one which greatly simplifies and clarifies your argument!

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