For the fifth year running, the state government's native forest logging arm, VicForests, has failed to return a dividend to the people of Victoria.
This is the sum the business is supposed to pay the state for the privilege of being allowed to log in publicly-owned forests.
The latest failure to pay a dividend is revealed in VicForests' 2012 Annual Report, tabled in Parliament last Thursday. Each year the amount to be paid is determined "after consultation with the Treasurer" and for the last five years it has been assessed at "$Nil". Dividends have been paid in only two years out of eight since the corporation split from the DSE in 2004. In the 2011 Report it was "proposed to pay a dividend of $1,260,000 in October 2011," but this remains unpaid.
In a review of VicForests' performance prepared for Treasury in 2010, URS Australia p/l suggested that the company should be able to produce 15% - 20% Return on Equity. On this basis a group of local residents and conservationists has calculated the outstanding amount after 8 years of operation to be more than $42 million (at 15% RoE).
An invoice for this amount will be delivered to VicForests Office in Healesville on Thursday morning on behalf of the People of Victoria, the owners of state forests in which the company logs.
"The industry, backed by the state government, often talks about the economic benefits of logging, but the truth is very different. Victorians are entitled to be outraged to learn that their native forests, including the habitats of threatened species like the Leadbeater's Possum and Sooty Owl, are being destroyed for no financial return. We have prepared this invoice so that the Victorian public can finally understand in plain dollar terms how great an outrage this is," said Steve Meacher, a Toolangi resident and spokesman for the group.
"In spite of being allowed free access to 'harvest' public assets, VicForests has so mismanaged its affairs that it has made an operational loss of $96,000 this year. It's a scandal!," he added.
If the unpaid dividends are calculated at the higher rate of 20%, the amount unpaid exceeds $60 million.
Since it commenced operations in August 2004, VicForests has made profits totalling a little over $11 million and over the same period has received grants from the state government in excess of $24 million.