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Pulped Uncut – mapping the political fiasco of Gunns’ election timebomb.

with 4 comments

Recent rumblings from Tasmania have revealed a chasm of accountability and due process so vast you could push a $2 billion pulp mill through it. This chasm will soon hit the federal election radar, forcing at least one major party to abandon their current strategy of issue neutralization.

The main powers have taken three relatively complicit positions. Tasmania’s Labor government has chosen NAP – ‘not any problem’. Even as the Liberal opposition unsuccessfully support calls for an ICAC, they endorse the project – as does former Liberal Premier and Gunns’ director Robin Gray. Federal Minister for Environment and Water, Malcolm Turnbull, is invoking NMP – ‘not my problem’, and the federal ALP have decided NOPE – ‘not our problem either’.

Gunns initially proposed building a $1.2 billion pulp mill in 2004. The Tasmanian Resource Planning and Development Commission (a commission established to be independent and free of political interference) deployed an expert panel to begin setting guidelines and conduct a rigorous assessment of the proposal in January 2005.


In December 2006, CSIRO scientist and pulp mill expert, Dr Warwick Raverty, was advised to resign from the panel by Tasmanian Solicitor-General Bill Bale. This was to avoid the tainting of any final decision by the perception of bias. In his capacity as Attorney-General, Steve Kons initially said this was because Raverty had previously advised Gunns on a ‘separate issue.’ Raverty, however, turned whistleblower and accused Premier Lennon’s Pulp Mill Task Force of political interference beginning in early 2005 and Lennon’s failure to honour assurances allegedly given to panel chairman Julian Green.


Green also felt obliged to resign from the panel, but his early departure as Executive Director of the RPDC was disputed. He was promptly replaced by interim head, Simon Cooper, a lawyer with strong family connections to the Tasmanian ALP. Task Force head, Bob Gordon, was also reassigned – to run Forestry Tasmania, Gunns’ major supply partner.


Retired Supreme Court judge, Christopher Wright, was soon appointed as permanent chair of the RPDC mill assessment panel.


But on March 14, Gunns withdrew their proposal from the federally accredited RPDC process which was anticipated to conclude in November. Nine days later, the Pulp Mill Assessment Bill first passed the Tasmanian Lower House following a 14-hour debate. I spoke with Christine Milne, federal Greens Senator from Tasmania, on that morning of March 23. In Senator Milne’s words,


Malcolm Turnbull has to conduct an assessment and that has to include the impacts on listed threatened species, and that means it will have to include the impacts it will have on the forests as well as the marine environment. That is likely to take much longer than the 3 months that is Gunns’ ultimatum. The cronyism and secrecy that has gone on in Tasmania and the complete abrogation of proper process means that it’s now fairly and squarely a federal election issue.


This seemed plausible at the time. The preceding day, Wright had issuing a statutory declaration contradictory of statements by Lennon. It detailed a meeting with Lennon on February 27, following Wright’s refusal to meet privately with Gunns’ chief John Gay. Wright alleged that Lennon pressured him to abandon further public hearings, to complete the assessment by July 31, and threatened to legislatively accelerate the process. On February 27, Gunns also told the ASX that they expected the assessment would conclude within a commercial time frame.


Upper House President Don Wing refers to the new law, enacted April 14, as The Gunns Dream Act. It calls for an ‘independent consultant’ to review Gunns’ 10000 page draft Integrated Impact Statement (IIS) relative to guidelines never intended for Tamar’s specific air and health issues. A draft report must be given to Planning Minister Steve Kons by June 30 – just before the tax year ends. State MPs shall make a final determination by late August.


I spoke with Dr. Warwick Raverty on the morning of April 17 when consultancy group, Sweco Pic, was announced as the Lennon government’s independent consultant of choice. He explained his scepticism as to whether they could complete this task at all, let alone in six weeks.


I’ve not heard of them before. None of my colleagues at the CSIRO have heard of them before. Their reference list for the pulp and paper industry seems to be mainly around paper and cardboard manufacture. They’ve been involved in a minor way with four pulp mills, none on, as far as I can see, providing this sort of information on environmental suitability.


Raverty pointed out that Sweco had designed equipment for the Arauco mill in Valdivia, Chile – infamous for its contamination of a RAMSAR wetland and the mass killing of rare black-necked swans. He also characterized Sweco’s previous work sub-contracting to Gunns’ supplier of major mill equipment, Andritz, as a significant conflict of interest. The Tasmanian public may have expected better for their $500 000.


Federally, Minister for Environment and Water Resources Malcolm Turnbull must sign off on matters potentially affected under the EPBC Act and Australia’s obligations as a signatory to the Stockholm Convention. He was seen by many residents of the Tamar as the final hope in a process gone pear-shaped.


The mill shall consume 4 million tonnes of wood annually, with about 80% due to come from native forests. But the Minister has excluded forests from his deliberations. His spokesperson defined his role as limited to impacts on “threatened species, migratory species, and the Commonwealth marine area.” But forestry impacts, apparently, will be adequately considered by state assessment. This is at a time when Forestry Tasmania, joined by the Lennon and Howard governments, have lost their EPBC case against Bob Brown over illegal logging and impacts on endangered species in the Wielangta Forest.


The EPBC Act was gutted by 300 amendments in late 2006 – most crucially those eliminating conditions whereby the Minister can be compelled to consider a matter. Furthermore, the Regional Forest Agreements to which the EPBC Act refers were altered while Wielangta was under consideration. The Court accepted Brown’s proposition that ‘protection’ creates an obligation to enhance species’ prospects of survival. Under changes to the law, it may be held to mean ‘kill less’ as was essentially argued by Forestry Tasmania.


Importantly, the Howard government will appeal the ruling alongside Lennon and Forestry Tasmania. The NMP (Not My Problem) course of action, it seems, can be applied selectively.


Rather than applying the highest level of assessment possible under the EPBC Act, Turnbull has opted for desktop analysis of Gunns’ IIS.


According to Turnbull’s spokesperson,

The pulp mill will be assessed on the existing documentation developed by Gunns over the past year and will also include a public consultation period. This level of assessment is no less rigorous than an Environmental Impact Statement.

The RPDC panel has described Gunns’ document as inadequate and incomplete, and peer reviews by respected independent consultancy Beca Amec characterize it as inaccurate and incomplete.


As for ’a public consultation period’, Turnbull’s in-tray quietly accepted submissions for ten working days before closing again on April 18th. The public can still comment – to Gunns. Tasmania’s largest single landholder will duly summarise and report to the Minister.


When a concerned citizens’ group ighlighted Gunns’ practice of suing for damage to profitability, Turnbull was quick to respond. He advised that they shouldn’t be concerned. Federal resources, it would seem, are better spent fighting Senator Brown.


I also spoke with Gunns’ public relations officer Tony Harrison in March, well before Turnbull’s official involvement, to ask if they had secured any guarantee of prompt or preferential assessment given the scale of the project. Harrison said

Gunns have been discussing this with the Federal Government but it’s not going to conduct its affairs through the media.

He also complained, oddly, that Gunns’ public ordeal had already lasted four years. He may have been thinking back to June 2003 as the start of the assessment, when Lennon and Gay were reported dining in a local restaurant over a document entitled ‘Gunns Ltd Pulp Mill Proposal’.


Turnbull has stated a desire to conclude deliberations by late August. This not only coincides with the final decision legislated by Lennon, but promises a crisis for both federal parties just months, maybe weeks, from the election. Will the Liberals disenfranchise their unlikely CFMEU concubines by rejecting the proposal? Will the federal ALP ever again risk distinguishing itself on a matter of Tasmanian forestry?


So far, the Federal ALP has taken the NOPE option – Not Our Problem Either. According to Senator Milne, Peter Garrett had his wings clipped on entering the shadow environment portfolio. Responsibility for forests policy was shifted to pro-logging Tasmanian Senator Kerry O’Brien. Garrett’s office did not respond to this accusation, but pulp mill related releases on his website do come from O’Brien.


Since Rudd’s closed door discussions with Lennon at the recent national conference, Lennon has launched more public criticism of the Howard government than at any time since 2004. How Rudd can avoid jeopardizing this new found loyalty without Garrett being seen as hogtied on native forests and the obvious relationship to greenhouse emissions, let alone endangered species (including Greens preferences), remains to be seen.

The situation is still extremely volatile. On 2 May, Les Baker, General Manager of the Gunns Pulp Mill Project, let slip on a Christian website that ANZ will be securing finance for the mill. There is speculation that this would conflict with ANZ’s obligations as a signatory to the Equator Principles. And on 17 May, the Wilderness Society (TWS) launched a Federal Court action against Turnbull and Gunns. Led by a highly experienced legal team, TWS’s challenge alleges Governmental bias, abrogation of due process, and seeks delay of the current process until its legality can be determined.

At the time of writing, Gunns have yet to formally announce either of these developments to the ASX.

But the company has recently announced a $332 million takeover bid for South Australian and Victorian pine products company, Auspine. If successful, the bid would secure an increased supply for Gunns of pine for pulping alongside native forests, while increasing its massive landholdings, and introducing its political influence to mainland electorates. On Tuesday 22 May, Gunns announced it would be ‘happy to discuss a pulp mill proposal for Victoria’s south-west,’ as well as a ‘second pulp mill’ in Tasmania around 2012 or 2105.

Almost lost in all of this, are the voices of ordinary Tasmanians. Despite heavy media purchasing by Gunns in Tasmania, polling shows an increasing groundswell of popular opposition to the pulp mill project. Paul Lennon may simply be a Premier who deeply cares about his State’s future. But this does not explain the increasing use of state law to funnel resources, rights, and property away from citizens and into profit for one company.

The Franklin River changed the face of environment-related politics in Australia for well over a decade. Tasmania produced the world’s first Green political party. Despite all the current focus in Canberra on education, industrial relations and economic reliability, it is likely that both Labor and the Liberals are going to have to secure Tasmania — a State where the politics, like the climate, can prove unforgiving.


Thanks to Jose Borghino & New Matilda – for turbo-boosting and running a punchier version of this piece, for freeing access to the article on the NM site, and happily letting this more meandering pre-version go out at the same time. See previous post for more.

Thanks also to Lindsay Tuffin & Tasmanian Times for sustaining interest through endless weather changes.

8 D


Written by typingisnotactivism

May 28, 2007 at 8:51 pm

4 Responses

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  1. I strongly support all of the concerns as listed here.
    However, I see no salvation through the forthcoming federal election. The two major parties are too similar on these issues and the bulk of the Australian population is currently too gutless and too unimaginative to opt for a real change.

    The likely scenario is Labor campaigning hard on industrial relations and the Liberals running on economic management, with both of them avoiding the pulp mill as much as possible. Once elected though, whoever the victor is will claim a mandate for supporting Gunns, even if it’s only ever been alluded to in the fine print of their policy detail, or maybe not even mentioned at all.

    (For more on the political problem, part 1, look at:
    Part 2 should be in print soon, if the editor allows it.)

    Gregor Watson

    May 31, 2007 at 4:59 pm

  2. is it common practice to prostitute people who are in ‘supposed’ police protection.

    Benjamin Jardine

    June 3, 2007 at 10:59 am

  3. are the a team up to much kidnapping and extortion???

    Benjamin Jardine

    June 3, 2007 at 11:01 am

  4. […] from Typing is not Activism squeezes the acid pulp from mixing politics with forestry. In Pulped Uncut – hiking the political fiasco of Gunns’ election timebomb, Roger suggests that, “Tasmaniacs in Tasmanistan are so hard to understand. This longer […]

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