Tassie Pulp Mill Approval 2007 – NOT one for the CV
originally posted July 11
The Tasmanian pulp mill powder keg to which Malcolm Turnbull finds himself bound by ministerial obligation is set to blow. Only so many scandalous certainties can fit into any political manouevre, and if this one hasn’t already begun imploding by the time 4Corners covers it in late July, it’s a sure bet that it shall soon after.
In March, shortly after Linda Hornsey, secretary to Paul Lennon’s Department of Premier and Cabinet, secretly informed logging giant Gunns Ltd that their submissions and impact statement were still inadequate and deficient, Gunns withdrew from a thorough, independent assessment process. This process had already run for over two years and was expected to run at least 9 months more.
Within a week, Lennon had replaced it with state legislation and a 6 week assessment process to be undertaken by two hired consultancies. The tricky bit is that in lengthy addresses to Parliament, public announcements, news interviews, and a 14-hour debate, it slipped his mind to mention that Gunns knew about this, or that his departmental secretary had told them, or that he, the Premier, knew about it.
What he remembered to mention was jobs, money, the horror of a future without a mill, and money. This nugget – the veritable smoking gun
n – has only been made public in late June at about the same time as the two new, improved reports were handed to the Tasmanian government – after having first been seen by Gunns, of course.
The environment-related review of Gunns’ existing documentation – described variously by consultants close to the process as ‘inaccurate’, ‘misleading’, ‘incomplete’, ‘unacceptable’, and ‘a dog’s breakfast’ – was always expected to be a tick for the development. Surprisingly, though, the review still places some hurdles for Lennon and Gunns to be seen to clear.
However, rather than putting a requirement on the company to prove it has the ideal plan for a pulp mill that will spew noxious chemicals while consuming 4 million tonnes of largely native forests and 23 billion litres of water annually, the expectation from Lennon, Gunns, and the environmental assessor is that these problems will be ironed out along the way. Even though Gunns maintains that “environmentally, it is safe to discharge pulp mill effluent into a river or lake,” they will be conscientious, competent, and trustworthy in these matters of environmental and public health.
Of course, if they’re not then the government – with legislation that Upper House president Don Wing has declared was partially written by Gunns’ own lawyers – has left itself the option of modifying the permits.
Essentially, the environmental report says that as long as nothing goes wrong, then nothing will go wrong, and that if anything does go wrong then at least it can be made legal. Now that is an industrialist’s fevered wet dream.
Even more surreal is the accompanying report on socio-economic impacts by Melbourne right-wing think tank, International Trade Strategies. Given that the report is largely based on assumptions, contradicts itself, and shows no grasp of how society works, it is little wonder that the authors remained anonymous and attached a significant disclaimer which essentially characterizes the report as serving no reliable function other than reading by politicians. Increased road deaths, uncosted major repair works, displaced communities and the increased types of violence associated with a largely male, hardworking guest population are acknowledged, but not significant, concerns.
The group’s founder, Alan Oxley, has written for News Ltd and far less balanced publications. Less than two years ago he wrote that “There is no reasonable certainty that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide from human activity cause significant global warming.” Furthermore – and this is painful to read – Oxley wrote that “the Howard Government is to be congratulated for forging a global policy on climate change that reflects the reality of our national interests”.
ITS is also proudly associated with the American think tank which recently financed ads equating carbon dioxide with the growth of flowers, “they call it pollution. We call it life”.
And in 2006, Oxley journalistically opined in support of Rimbunan Hijau – a global logging company allegedly responsible for the bulk of illegal logging in Papua New Guinea for more than a decade, as well as the hiring of soldiers and police to commit serious and documented human rights violations.
And now his consultancy – which advocates that there is still global poverty because trade is still over-regulated – has written in support of Gunns.
Little wonder that even as the Great Unbeliever, John Howard, finally makes tokenistic mentions of a greenhouse Emissions Trading Scheme, neither of these lengthy reports with their 20+ year projections even make mention of the environmental or economic implications of global warming or carbon trading or even the fact that forestry is greenhouse-intensive.
But at least ITS gave fair consideration to the 780+ public submissions they received. “Many of the submissions were highly emotive, non-technical and related primarily to conservation issues, making them irrelevant to this review.”
Interestingly, even though ITS acknowledge that Tasmania’s ‘branding’ or image as ‘clean, green’ is critical for the State’s agriculture and tourism industries, they found absolutely no reason to think that a $1.5 billion ocean-polluting mill would affect these industries or associated levels of employment and income.
This is despite the fact that a number of Melbourne restaurants have already cancelled their orders for wines from the region, and the talk of a European boycott of Tasmanian gourmet foods – before the mill is even officially approved.
Of course the approval is a no-brainer. Premier Lennon himself is the face of a new television advertising campaign promoting the mill. Remarkably, taxpayers are being billed at least $300 000 for the campaign which will run for the next 6 weeks until Tasmanian Parliament sits again to either approve or vote in favour of the mill. Cherry-picked quotes from poorly researched reports in hand, he spruiks the vision of “a united future with economic and environmental security”.
Legitimately, the mill proposals and assessments as they are promise neither. Many predict that when Lennon finally is excised from public office, he will go straight to work for Gunns. It would seem he didn’t want to wait that long.
Although passionate environmentalists may tend toward hyperbole, Tasmanian Greens’ leader Peg Putt is not exaggerating when she says “this is a stitch up job with political favouritism and the sweeping aside of proper process at its heart.”
And as the final big rubber stamp on the whole corrupt process, Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been handed a poisoned chalice. A statement on his website professed a desire to complete federal assessment of Gunns Pulp Mill by late August.
Coincidentally, this would be about the same time as state-level approval is being given, and just days before Gunns begin losing a partially notional $1.076 M/dy for every day that commencement of construction is delayed.
That particular statement was removed from that particular release in early June – at about the same time that Federal Court proceedings began in reference to the illegitimacy of the current assessment and approval process. Normally tight-lipped Department of Environment staff are now admitting concern over both the approval process and the potential pollution of Bass Strait.
It is uncertain what this indicates about Turnbull’s next move. DEH may be flying a flag to see what happens if they back away from supporting the mill, or demonstrating that simply by having doubts they did actually give the matter appropriate consideration.
What is sure is that Aussie politics increasingly means action for dollars, lip service for voters.