Minister Paul Toole responds to Oberon mayor's forest rates concerns

ON THE MOVE: Oberon mayor Kathy Sajowitz has been pushing for a better deal for Oberon on state-owned forestry land.
ON THE MOVE: Oberon mayor Kathy Sajowitz has been pushing for a better deal for Oberon on state-owned forestry land.

BE careful what you wish for.

That is the warning from Forestry Minister Paul Toole in response to Oberon mayor Kathy Sajowitz’s push for a better deal for Oberon 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 and that represents a loss of more than $750,000 in rate revenue per annum.

As well as going without rates on the Forestry Corporation land, Oberon ratepayers have to pay for the impact of heavy timber haulage on the road network, she says.

But Mr Toole, who is also Oberon’s state member, said there could be a number of “unintended consequences”, including on Oberon jobs, if rates started to be charged on Forestry Corporation land.

”Nearly one in five Oberon residents are employed in the timber and wood products industry and the imposition of rates could have a devastating impact on employment,” he said.

“The majority of land managed by Forestry Corporation of NSW is Crown land. 

“Crown land is owned by the NSW Government on behalf of the community and it is not subject to council rates, whether the land be parks, showgrounds, cemeteries, racetracks or forests.

“The NSW Government has no intention of extending council rates on Crown land as this would lead to a raft of unintended consequences for parks, showgrounds, cemeteries, racetracks and other essential community assets situated on Crown land.”

He said Forestry Corporation also owns freehold properties, “including the Lyall Plantations acquired in 2017, some of which are in the Oberon Shire, for which council rates are payable”.

“As a land manager of Crown lands, Forestry Corporation is responsible for delivering services and returns to the people of NSW,” he said.

“This includes free recreation facilities, tens of thousands of kilometres of roads for community use and fire and hazard reduction and firefighting.”

Cr Sajowitz said last week that 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 [with state-owned plantations].”

Mr Toole said he would be looking at the issue.

“The Deputy Premier and I have been talking with council Joint Organisations, including Central NSW, of which Oberon Council is a member,” he said.

“Over the next 12 months, we will be looking at a number of options to assist councils in timber areas.”