Gorgeous cream, cheese, yoghurt and beef are more important to King Islanders in Bass Strait than woodchips. And in a Tasmanian first, the King Island Council has removed forestry from its planning scheme as an acceptable agricultural use, an amendment now approved by the Resource Planning and Development Commission.

King Island Council general manager Andrew Wardlaw told Crikey this morning that there’s also a moratorium on any further clearing of vegetation on the island for pasture. “People want to protect what they’ve got on the island,” he said.

But Federal Forestry Minister Eric Abetz is spitting chips over the decision to ban tree farms, telling ABC Local Radio plantations create new jobs and revitalise rural communities despite farmers’ claims to the contrary. He says Australia has to make a decision: “We either import timber … or we grow our own.”

Back on July 13th, Eric planted the 100 millionth tree for Great Southern Plantations Ltd on a commercial hardwood plantation near Albany in WA. Eric was extolling exports then: “Once harvested, 100 million trees will result in the production of 10 million bone dry tonnes of woodchip — all of which is destined to be exported to south-east Asia.”

Great Southern Plantations is part of the Great Southern Group, an agribusiness investment manager, which also has interests in beef, wine grapes and organic olives. It’s gobbled up land for tree farms in recent times, stretching from WA to the Tiwi Islands to King Island.

Plantations are big business, not least because investments are 100% tax deductible in the year in which they are made.

Crikey rang Great Southern public relations manager David Ikin’s office in Perth this morning to find out what the company intended to do with its large holdings on King Island, given the RPDC ruling against tree farms. We left a message asking him to ring back. OK, there’s a time difference, but no luck yet.

Peter Fray

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