Call for probe into claims of logging buy-out rorts

A Senate committee has called for an immediate government investigation into claims of rorting in million-dollar taxpayer handouts to Tasmanian native forest logging contractors.

The contractors won the payouts to exit the failing industry in a $44 million federal program that has since been hit by claims of fraud and non-compliance.

Instead of leaving the native forest logging industry, some of the contractors ”phoenixed” their family businesses, the committee heard.

After closing their companies down and qualifying for the big payouts, new companies rose from the ashes under the control of other family members.

Greens leader Christine Milne said the program was so poorly designed and managed that all forestry responsibilities should be taken away from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).

”Exit means exit,” said Senator Milne, who pushed for the Senate inquiry. ”Any future exit programs should require exit and be designed to eliminate loopholes which allow people to take the money and stay in the industry.”

The Contractors Exit Program was a key component of the Tasmanian forest industry settlement that followed a 50 per cent fall in employment under global market changes.

A total of 61 applicants received payments ranging from $20,000 to $3 million in 2012,  but according to a whistleblower group who gave evidence to the committee, at least 18 of the applicants rorted the program’s rules.

”. . . It is important for the integrity of the program and to allay people’s concerns that DAFF resolve these matters as soon as possible,” the senate committee recommended in a report  tabled on Wednesday night.

DAFF officials told the committee that if there were evidence of non-compliance it could seek an injunction on the recipient’s funding deed, and a return of the funding.

A spokesman for Forestry Minister Bill Ludwig said the department had commissioned the federal government’s business program manager, AusIndustry, to manage compliance with the program.

”Further, a fraud team for any allegations of fraud into this program has been established, and evidence can be provided to the team at anytime,” the spokesman said.

”The Government will consider the senate committee’s findings.”

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.