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Greenies buy woodchip mill

Tasmania's timber industry is in shock after two wealthy environmentalists buy a big woodchip mill.

Tasmania's timber industry is in shock after two wealthy environmentalists buy a big woodchip mill.

TASMANIA'S timber industry is in shock after two wealthy environmentalists bought a big woodchip mill, giving them a strategic grasp of the controversial native forest logging industry.

Jan Cameron, founder of outdoor wear group Kathmandu, and online travel entrepreneur Graeme Wood paid $10 million for the Gunns Triabunna mill, east of Hobart.

The purchase has infuriated a local logging company, which claims it it was offering $6 million more for the mill.

Ms Cameron and Mr Wood are closely allied to green groups and strongly opposed to native forest logging in Tasmania.

Ms Cameron is one of Australia's wealthiest women, with a personal fortune estimated at more than $300 million after she sold out of Kathmandu in 2006.

Mr Wood's fortune, made from the travel reservation site Wotif.com, has been estimated at more than $370 million.

The purchase could bring a game-changing shift in the native forest logging debate. It comes as the federal and state governments consider a peace deal, including protection of up to 430,000 hectares of forest, in exchange for some continued logging.

Ms Cameron said their company, Triabunna Investments, would continue to operate the mill during the industry's transition out of native forest logging. But the pair have indicated that its long term future will be as a tourism destination.

''It's a very unexpected development for both of us I think,'' said Ms Cameron, who now operates Chickenfeed discount store chains through her company Retail Adventures. ''This is definitely a long term project for

Graeme and myself. We don't have any certainty about what's going to happen.'' But she said the writing was on the wall for the native forest logging industry, which has lost key Japanese buyers because the wood is not sustainable under international certification.

In the latest forest peace talks, it was said that industry agreement was ''premised on Triabunna continuing''. Woodchips sent to Triabunna provide vital secondary income to sawmillers and veneer producers in southern Tasmania, according to Premier Lara Giddings.

She had to send a text message to Ms Cameron to set up a phone call to discuss the purchase, news of which broke on ABC radio to the amazement of the other bidders, the O'Connor family's Fibre Plus.

''To give the woodchip mill to two of Australia's richest people ? for a $6 million discount compared to what they were asking from us is gut wrenching,'' Ron O'Connor said. ''Our industry is dead and finished without the mill.''

Fibre Plus was two weeks over a deadline to complete the purchase from Gunns, despite obtaining approval for a controversial state government loan.

Analyst Robert Eastment, of IndustryEdge, said it appeared Gunns, which is on a debt reduction drive, opted for the certainty of Mr Wood and Ms Cameron's offer.

Mr Wood has been under media scrutiny after he gave $1.6 million to the Greens in the last election campaign.

Mr O'Connor said opposition to his family's bid by the Greens and independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie had made raising finance difficult.

Environment Tasmania said it believed Triabunna could be part of a lasting forest agreement. ''We continue to be committed to working constructively with unions, timber contractors and the timber industry to deliver that," said director Phill Pullinger.

The Forest Industries Association of Tasmania said the purchase had created confusion, and that without Triabunna's continuation, the peace deal would have no standing.


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