Tamar Pulp Mill 101 – the Dependent Assessment Process
The Tasmanian pulp mill recently exploded into Australian media, putting a focus on public anger and political shadiness in Tasmania. Premier Paul Lennon gave a different version of events than a former Justice of the Supreme Court , and described Jaakko Poyry – the consultant employed by logging giant, Gunns – as ‘a world leading independent expert’ before a Parliament which looks set to pass one of the most poorly and destructively written laws in living memory. For both Liberal and Labor, this crisis of democracy may well become a Federal election issue. Like an open wound, the situation gets more intriguing the closer you look.
Tasmanians first learned that wood-chipping giant Gunns were discussing plans for a pulp mill with their Premier in June, 2003. There was no public announcement, no parliamentary consultation, not even a development application submitted.
Federal Greens Senator, Christine Milne said Paul Lennon and John Gay were having dinner in a restaurant in Hobart.
“They left the documentation, the Gunns Ltd Pulp Mill Proposal, on the table as they were discussing it,” she said.
“That’s where it began and, essentially, that’s where it’s also ended. It has been the relationship between Paul Lennon and John Gay that has ended up bringing the RPDC [Resource Planning and Development Commission] process unstuck.”
The RPDC independently oversees major projects in Tasmania. An expert panel of four members was appointed to assess the pulp mill proposal and advise the government. The most recent head of that panel was former Supreme Court Justice, the Honourable Christopher Wright.
Lennon and Gunns boss, John Gay, blamed the RPDC process for costly delays to approval of the mill.
Contrary to Wright’s version of events, Lennon denied producing a draft timeline to end the process by July 31. He also denied that at the same meeting on February 27 he had threatened to legislatively accelerate the process if this condition could not be met.
On March 22, Wright issued a statutory declaration supporting his version of events.
He added that he had felt great pressure from Lennon.
The assessment panel conducts a judicial process and, as such, interference can result in criminal charges.
Wright was not the first head the panel had lost. His predecessor, Julian Green, resigned from the panel and his position as Executive Commissioner in early January. Attorney General and Planning Minister Steve Kons said the 60-year-old had decided to take early retirement.
But Green’s resignation letter also cited political interference, chiefly the “activities of the government-funded Pulp Mill Task Force” as his reason for leaving.
Dr Warwick Raverty from the CSIRO, lead scientist of the assessment panel, also resigned. He too has spoken of political interference and has actively welcomed an inquiry into the affair. Many vocal Tasmanians feel that only a Royal Commission would suffice.
The benefit of such a measure would be to circumvent power networks that seem to control Tasmania. Former head of the Pulp Mill Task Force, Robert Gordon, has been named by Raverty as a major source of political interference. He left that position to take over as head of Forestry Tasmania – an essential business associate of Gunns.
Another business associate of Gunns is Jaakko Poyry. Poyry are to pulp mill and forestry as News Ltd are to media. Poyry consultants have provided a number of key submissions for Gunns which, based on information provided to them by Gunns, are supportive of the proposal.
In June 2004, Poyry consultant Rob De Fegely wrote an article for Poyry’s magazine promoting a major increase in logging in Australia, favouring pulp production in Australia, and specifically mentioning Tasmania and Gunns. He has since authored the ‘expert witness statement’ on pulp wood supply for the mill – in excess of 3 million tonnes annually – for Gunns’ Integrated Impact Statement (IIS).
In his speech on March 15 announcing that assessment would be undertaken by act of parliament, Lennon assured Tasmanians that in partnership with Jaakko Poyry – “a world leading independent expert”, his government and Gunns would ensure a world’s best practice outcome.
Had the RPDC process not been scuttled, the proposal for a pulp mill would still be on a fast track. Since RPDC assessment is subject to a bilateral agreement with the Federal Government, no further assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act would have been required following approval.
Gunns spokesman Tony Harrison maintains that Gunns fully submitted to the process and has been misrepresented over its role in the matter – particularly over concerns that public consultations had been dropped.
“There’s been enormous public participation. This project has been public for four years. It’s normally two and a half years,” he said. “How much longer must we go on? In the time that this project has been considered, two pulp mills have been built in other countries while we’ve been sitting here considering this.”
But in June 2005 – on the final day for public comment on guidelines for the project’s impact statement – Gunns tripled the size of the proposed site to 650 hectares and added a new wharf. Another, less publicised change, was the request for 30-year access to native timber.
Major clarifications to Gunns’ economic impact statement regarding impact on local communities and industries, as well as effects of fluctuating world currencies and pulp prices – were withheld from the RPDC. Although required by the end of 2006, these were not supplied until February this year – shortly before Gunns abandoned the process.
And of recent pulp mills Tasmania missed out on, one has been linked to the death of roughly six thousand rare black necked swans. The endangered colony in Rio Cruces, Chile, has been destroyed by heavy metal poisoning and starvation linked to contaminated marine vegetation.
Asked if Gunns had received any federal assurances of priority for federal EPBC Act assessment, Harrison replied: “Gunns have been discussing this with the Federal Government but it’s not going to conduct its affairs through the media.”
It is not yet clear how Federal Minister for Environment and Water Resources, Malcolm Turnbull, will handle the proposal. In an area where environmental flows are already limited by the Hydro Project, it will consume 70 million litres of water per day.
Bob McMahon from Tasmanians Against the Pulp Mill (TAP) said the Federal Government needed to hold a Royal Commission or an independent judicial inquiry. “There’s so much that’s unanswered, so much that needs investigating. They can’t let this ride – this is a festering wound,” he said.
“This is not a pulp mill issue anymore. It is far more serious. It is an issue of how government is supposed to work and how it has wholly failed us here in Tasmania.”
McMahon runs a rock climbing school, has authored a number of books on mountaineering, and is a practicing tree surgeon. TAP’s consultants include master foresters, systems analysts, economists and scientists.
While local food, wine and tourism industries expect their businesses will be devastated if the mill goes ahead, mitigation of even these economic and social impacts is not compelled by new legislation.
Lennon’s office was contacted for right-of-reply about alleged interference with a judicial process, misrepresentation to the Parliament of consultants hired by Gunns as ‘independent’ and support for a process that excises both public consultation and legal challenge. After a week of not returning calls, spokesperson Sue Bailey responded: “I’m not going to speak to you after the tone of those questions.”
At time of going to press, Dr Raverty was returning to Hobart after delivering a speech in Launceston. It began “Tasmania’s twin towers of democracy are about to be knocked down by the terrorists of Tasmanistan”.
An hour before coming on stage, Raverty had received a call from his boss at the CSIRO. Les Baker, Gunns’ chief for the yet-to-be-built mill, had called to say that if the CSIRO would not compel Raverty to be silent, Gunns would be “less supportive” of the CSIRO in future. Perhaps silence could be legislated.