Australian Paper payments

My question is to the Minister for Agriculture and Minister for Regional Development.
Wednesday, August 23, 2017 - 3:45pm
Speaker:
Samantha Dunn

Ms DUNN (Eastern Metropolitan) — My question is to the Minister for Agriculture and Minister for Regional Development. On 10 August this year I asked you a question without notice regarding payments by the state government to Australian Paper. In your written response to that question you stated, 'In relation to the payments made with regard to the legislated agreement in the Forests (Wood Pulp Agreement) Act 1996, the specific details of any payments are commercial in confidence'. Can the minister confirm that some of the payments made with regard to the act are fines due to timber being sourced from outside the wood pulp agreement forest area?

Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture) — I thank Ms Dunn for her question. Ms Dunn has, by her own admission, indicated that she is seeking information that is commercial in confidence. If she is seeking information on the legislated agreement, then I would refer her to the legislation. But Ms Dunn's interest in these matters unfortunately I am not going to
be able to satisfy, because these are matters of contractual arrangements between VicForests and, in this instance, Australian Paper. In response to Ms Dunn's previous question, the ongoing work and negotiations are being undertaken with the Hermal Group and the government.

Supplementary question

Ms DUNN (Eastern Metropolitan) — Thank you, Minister, for your answer. Can you advise the house why such payments, which are paid using Victorian taxpayers money, are considered commercial in confidence?

Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture) — I thank Ms Dunn for her question. I know Ms Dunn will not rest while there is a native timber industry in Victoria, but it is certainly the view of our government that a strong and secure timber industry can exist in partnership with the protection of the environmental values that are so important to so many Victorians.

There are a number of arrangements — I would go so far as to say there are many arrangements — that governments enter into from time to time with private companies, the nature of which needs to remain commercial. The reasons for this vary, but certainly a key one among them is ensuring best value for taxpayers, as is the case with our administration of the Regional Jobs Fund. It is appropriate to retain a degree of confidentiality around these arrangements. There are occasions when a company may be happy for that information to be shared. There are other occasions when they are not.

I can certainly assure Ms Dunn that we work hard to ensure best value and best possible outcomes for Victorian taxpayers in all our dealings across different grants programs and other arrangements that are entered into with the private sector.