A DEAL struck between the former Queensland government and a US-based timber company has left a hole in the Gympie Regional Council budget, and local ratepayers to foot the bill.
Hancock Queensland Plantations paid $603 million for a 99-year lease over 204,000ha of Queensland plantation pine forests in 2010, including forestry at Imbil, Toolara and Gallangowan, near Manumbar.
Under the agreement, the Queensland Government retains ownership of the underlying land held under the licence.
AS a State Government asset, that forestry land was never subject to council rates, and when the licence to manage, harvest and regrow the timber was signed over to HQPlantations, that same exemption was applied, despite a submission against it from GRC.
Crown land accounts for 43% of the 698,000ha Gympie region, Gympie Mayor Ron Dyne said. Taking that much of the region out of the rates equation impacts on rates that have to be paid on the other 57%, he said.
Cr Dyne said the situation was also unfair to farmers who leased crown land but must pay rates. It is also unfair on the council coffers, which must fund timber road maintenance for the logging trucks.
But Member for Gympie David Gibson says almost 82,000ha of the region's 106,220ha State forest are managed by HQPlantations.
"The total area of State forest and protected area estate is 212,360ha, or 31% of the Gympie Regional Council area," Mr Gibson said.
"There are approximately 9700ha of plantations outside of the plantation licence area (i.e. on freehold land) in the GRC area that are managed by HQPlantations Pty Ltd for which rates are paid to the council," he said.
Mr Gibson said the Gympie region included three of Queensland's largest softwood processors, which drew log timber resources from the plantation licence area.
"These include the Laminex Group, Carter Holt Harvey Pinepanels and Superior Wood (formerly Hyne) at Imbil and Melawondi," he said.
"DAFF estimates that the forest growing and first-round primary processing sectors of the Queensland forest industry contribute about $500 million to Queensland's economy each year."