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14 Feb 2016

Ta Ann In Tasmania - The Untold Story

People often ask 'how did the Asian Timber Mafia get a Tasmania Branch'? The notorious 'Taib Cartel' from Sarawak has made a multi-billion dollar fortune from cronyism, corruption, tax evasion, money laundering and converting jungle to palm oil plantations in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. Taib is allowed to run Sarawak on the island of Borneo as his personal kingdom in return for keeping the ruling party in power in Kuala Lumpur.
Rolley on the left, Sepawi on the right, local politicians in the middle.

It had gone unnoticed that Evan Rolley and Ta Ann owner Hamed Sepawi had both attended the Australian National University (ANU) School of Forestry at the same time in 1975. Their paths were to cross again years later to the benefit of both foresters. Sepawi is Taib's first cousin and business proxy.

Evan Rolley studied for a bachelor of science degree in forestry at the ANU between 1971 and 1975. Sepawi was doing the same course at the same  university at the same time. Rolley graduated in 1975, and Sepawi was there for the year '74 to '75. Sepawi had a science degree from the University of Malaya and was majoring in forestry at the ANU. That placed both of them in the same lecture rooms. Another forester who was studying forestry at the ANU at that time said they must have known each other. Sepawi later obtained a master of science degree from Oregon State University and Rolley got an arts degree from UTAS Launceston.

Evan Rolley started work with the Tasmanian Forestry Commission after he graduated in 1975. He spent most of his working life at Forestry rising to the top job in 1990. He continued as CEO after it became Forestry Tasmania and spent a total of 14 years running government Forestry in Tasmania.

Rolley resigned from Forestry Tasmania in June 2006 after 31 years. His resignation came six months after contracts to supply immature trees to the Sepawi-owned logging company Ta Ann had been signed. The Ta Ann supply contracts expire in 2021 and 2022.

A year later and Evan Rolley was appointed by Premier Paul Lennon to run his department. This was one of the best paid government jobs in Tasmania.

In April 2012 Evan Rolley became Executive Director of Ta Ann Tasmania. He was now processing timber under the supply contracts he had personally signed 6 years earlier, for a man he had attended university with 40 years ago.

In December 2015 Evan Rolley released a right of reply to calls for a Royal Commission into Forestry Tasmania made in the Australian Parliament by Tasmanian member Andrew Wilkie. Rolley stated that Ta Ann had participated in a 'competitive expressions of interest process' to develop timber manufacturing in Tasmania. No documentation to substantiate that claim has been produced by Rolley. Did Forestry Tasmania issue multi-million dollar contracts with no paperwork at all?

The relationship between Tasmania and Sarawak has been extensive and controversial. At one time Hydro Tasmania were building dams for Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) chaired by Hamed Sepawi. Ta Ann has mills in Lonnavale and Smithton and Sepawi joked at the time they were in the electorates of the Premier and Deputy Premier. Sepawi publicly called Evan Rolley 'Captain Rolley' due to his willingness to take calls 24 hour a day. Many millions of tax dollars have been directed into the Ta Ann mills even though they are owned by one of the wealthiest families in Asia and Tasmania is the poorest state of Australia. Liberal politicians Eric Abetz and Paul Harriss have also made the pilgrimage to Sarawak as guests of Hamed Sepawi.

It was not only Evan Rolley that moved between Forestry Tasmania and Ta Ann. Greg Hickey went from Forestry Tasmania as a forester, Gunns as senior forester, Ta Ann as Senior Manager and then back to Forestry Tasmania as Assistant General Manager. It was discovered Greg Hickey actually wrote the letter signed by The Wilderness Society and the Australian Conservation Foundation to the Japanese customers of Ta Ann in 2012*. Rolley was Executive Director of Ta Ann when Hickey wrote the letter for the ENGO's to sign.
David Ridley was Executive Manager of Business Development at FT in 2006 and played a key role in the construction of the Huon Ta Ann rotary peeler mill. Ridley moved to Ta Ann when both veneer mills were up and running and became managing director. Ridley retired from Ta Ann in March 2012 and was replaced by Evan Rolley, ex-managing director of Forestry Tasmania and now Executive Director of Ta Ann Australia.

*Greg Hickey leaves his name on the TWS/ACF letter to Ta Ann's customers in Japan.

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