Oberon mayor will continue fight for better deal on forestry land

MAYOR Kathy Sajowitz says Oberon faces the possibility of losing even more rateable land as she continues her push for a better deal on state-owned forestry plantations.

Cr Sajowitz says almost 47 per cent of the Oberon local government area is non-rateable because it is either national park or a Forestry Corporation of NSW asset, but she is worried about that area growing.

“This [the 47 per cent non-rateable land] represents a loss of over $750,000 in rate revenue per annum, which for a small rural town is substantial,” she said.

Cr Sajowitz said Forestry Corporation had recently bought 11,000ha of private plantation in Oberon and the Tumut area and “although a verbal commitment has been made by the Minister for Forests Paul Toole that at this point in time this land will continue to be rateable, there is no real guarantee that this will remain the case”.

“With supply of wood product not meeting demand, it is a concern that more private plantations will be purchased, therefore the possibility of losing even more rateable land is a real threat that cannot be ignored,” she said.

Cr Sajowitz said the Forestry Corporation of NSW, a state-owned entity, manages more than 2000 square kilometres of pine plantation in NSW and realised more than $46 million in profit during the 2016/17 financial year.

“Although these landholdings are unrateable, clearly they produce a commercial resource which places Forestry Corporation in direct competition with private plantation owners who are required to pay rates,” she said.

“These rates contribute to local service provision, including the construction and maintenance of local road, culvert and bridge infrastructure used in the transportation of product.

“Consequently, not only do Oberon ratepayers forgo rates, they also pay for the impact of heavy timber haulage on the local road network, which is substantial. 

“Other commercial organisations, such as quarries and private mills, pay a per tonne haulage rate to local councils, so it is illogical that Forestry Corporation should be treated differently. 

“Many local councils in NSW are similarly impacted.”

Cr Sajowitz said she wanted to stress that a “vibrant, expanding timber industry is absolutely vital to the economic stability, growth and prosperity of our towns”.

But she said “government profit at the expense of local communities is not tenable”. 

“A more equitable arrangement needs to be negotiated, whether it is a rates contribution or a dedicated infrastructure contribution,” she said. 

“It is also important that private growers can compete on a level playing field, therefore encouraging reinvestment and growth in the sector.”

Cr Sajowitz said a working party was formed in 2017 to collaborate on a strategy to address the problems of unrateable forestry plantation land and forestry road infrastructure contributions. 

The working party has 16 member councils, including Oberon and Lithgow. 

“The working party has secured the support of the NSW Farmers Association and the National Timber Councils Association,” she said.

“Oberon Council has gained the support of the newly formed NSW Central Joint Organisation (NSWCJO) for the issue and the organisation has agreed to advocate on our behalf. 

“Other working party members are pursuing the same course of action. 

“I have had productive meetings with Minister Toole and the Deputy Premier John Barilaro and the strategy is to lobby strongly for a review of the non-rateable land issue and for a rights allocation of funding for road maintenance and a change to the scope of the Resourcing the Regions fund to allow forestry-affected councils access to those dollars. 

“Currently, this fund is only accessible to mining-affected communities.”

On behalf of Oberon Council, Cr Sajowitz said she would also continue to “pursue the status of the IPART Rating Review commissioned by the NSW Government two years ago”. 

She said councils had yet to see any recommendations from the report, but it might contain a review of rate exemptions “such as those afforded to Forestry Corporation of NSW”. 

Lithgow mayor Stephen Lesslie said this week that his council goes without $414,000 in rates on forestry land.