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Gunn's pulp mill « Previous | |Next »
August 25, 2007

I'm in Hobart and a lot of the talk in the newspapers is about Gunn's proposed $1.7 billion pulp mill in the Tamar Valley near Launceston. The debate opens up the conflict between the 1960s and 1970s culture of heavy industrialization and big resource development and a more sustainable development on smaller tourism projects that also provide flow-on benefits and jobs to small businesses.

It is highly unlikely that increasing concentration on one heavily-subsidised industry is a sustainable development strategy for Tasmania, especially when there are around 41 new pulp mills (excluding Gunns and Protavia in SA) that are due to come on line.

An economic report handed to Tasmania's Legislative Council members last week in a special briefing claimed the pulp mill, which is expected to create 280 jobs, could cost 216 lives through respiratory disease and log truck accidents. The report, commissioned by the Tasmanian Roundtable for Sustainable Industries (TRSI), and funded by the Launceston Environment Centre along with agricultural, winery and fishing businesses, said the mill would also cost 1044 jobs and a $1.1 billion loss in the tourist industry.

The Roundtable's economic analysis was led by Graeme Wells, an economist at the University of Tasmania.

The economic study of the costs and benefits of the planned pulp mill north of Launceston was commissioned by the TRSI after businesses in northern Tasmanian were shocked that the State Government had asked for a benefits-only analysis as part of its fast-track mill assessment process. This indicated an economic bonanza for Tasmania should the mill be built.

The assumption in the debate had been that the mill project was worth trading off some environmental costs and loses. However, that assumption had not been examined in terms of the hidden cost , such as subsidies, lost agricultural product, lost jobs in tourism and fishing and human health issues.

The Wells economic analysis points out that the tourism industry contributes $1.3 billion to the state economy each year, only slightly less than the forestry industry's contribution of $1.4 billion, yet the former industry employs 3 times more people.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:41 AM | | Comments (23)





Will Malcolm Turnbull insist that a proper public hearing be implemented
before he decides on the building of one of the world's largest pulp mills
in without due process, a pulp mill in one of the most beautiful wine growing
areas in Australia?

Pulp mills are famous polluters of air and water. But not this one
according to the Tasmanian Government. Is that why it closed down the
public hearing process - after the pulp mill company, Gunns, complained?

Or was a deal done behind closed doors?

The Federal Minister can insist on all voices being heard.
But will he? So many questions, so far no answers.
Please join all the following citizens who urge the Minister for the
Environment to allow a full and just public hearing.

Who in all good conscience could possibly vote for this man, or this Federal Government, based on his/their current performance (non-performance!) on this issue?

I see that Malcolm Turnbull, the commonwealth Environment Minister, has not given any approval for, or made any decision to approve theGunn's pulp mill. He is to allow ten days of public comment before making his final decision. If Turnbull is shifting ground, if so slightly, then the political pressure is on. The lack of due process is good way to apply the pressure on top of the Tamar Valley not being an environmentally and politically acceptable site.

The political compromise is to shift the mill to an alternative site at Hampshire, near Burnie, about 100km to the west.

This issue is beginning to work against the Liberal Party.

Even after all these years I never cease to be amazed at what's gone on in Tasmania over the last decade and more.
Is it because I can't understand how the mistakes of 1997, let alone 1987 can be repeated in 2007?
Flying in the teeth of now overwhelming evidence on various fronts, as to the wisdom of Tasmanian old growth woodchipping and pulp mills, the farce continues. Even to the extent of total corruption of environmental and health safeguards and ( respect for ) the legal system.
Odd. I was looking at a recent 4Corners on just this subject just last night.By the end I just wanted to wrap my hands round the throats of Lennon, Turnbull, Gay and others, as much for their infantile stubborness as their arrogance, greed and irresponsibility.

The collusion among powers has been terrifying on this, so it's amusing to think that Geoff Cousins of all people could do what nobody else has been able to.

I see that Senator Heffernan has said that shifting the controversial project to Hampshire, near the port city of Burnie, would remove key concerns over air pollution affecting public health in the vastly more populated Tamar Valley. He adds that the Hampshire site's proximity to plantation forests would also provide an opportunity to reduce the mill's proposed initial reliance on native forests.

Senator Heffernan realizes that Hampshire is a much better site from an environmental perspective. He probably knows that polls show strong opposition to the project in the marginal seat of Bass, and overwhelming support for the Hampshire option in marginal northwest Braddon.

In this post in the Tasmanian Times Online John West says that Senator Bill Heffernan has become “Mr fix-it” for John Howard on the proposed pulp mill:

Heffernan will be trying to negotiate with John Gay and the Gunns Board to entice them to delay the construction, review the mill technology and perhaps reconsider the siting for the mill. This will take considerable heat off Howard in Tasmania but it will come - as usual - at great cost to the taxpayer!

West says that the formal play through Turnbull's office. Turnbull is delaying his final decision for as long as is politically possible; all the while ‘behind-the-scenes’ deals are going on continuously.

Using plantation timber at Hampshire is better than using old growth native forests. The mill is already subsidised through the rock-bottom price Gunns pays for its wood supply from public forests. The future of pulp mills and paper production depends on plantations.


Is that part of the story getting a run in the paper and broadcast versions of the news?

Interesting what the commenters had to say about timber sources, comparable mills around the world and viability.

It's one thing for governments to prop up industries that people would like to see preserved, it's another to fund something that's a dud before it starts and as widely loathed as this one.

Don't peole get it?
Gunns doesn't WANT to use plantation timber. It ONLY wants old growth. It sees it as a cheap( fed by Lennon ) immediately harvestable form of pre-grown plantation. Thats why it has rejected all attempts at a saner resolution. It is all about fait accompli.

It's well known in Tasmania but it doesn't really travel across Bass Strait to the mainstream papers. There's a lot of knowledge about forestry in Tasmania amongst citizens, as you might expect. This knowledge is usually expressed on Tasmanian Times Online.

The pulp mull is a white elephant requiring government subsidies to survive. Forestry is in trouble because the international price has dropped. That’s the risk you take when you compete in an international commodity market against low cost producers in a global market.

if so then the industry is in trouble because that clear felling and burning old growth rainforest is not sustainable. Once it’s gone and replaced by plantation the rainforest is gone.

That is not sustainable forestry and presumably ordinary people and buyers of Tasmanian woodchips increasingly understand this.

The bizzo with the dead possums, maimed 'devils and thingies, y'know: napalm, poisoning etc; THEN monocultural plantations. That's where the fresh lot will eventually come from lot. It will grow while they use plantations, deliberatelt kept further away from the mill earlier in the growing process because old growthis conveniently "closer". Funny that!
The tassie Mafia are actually very good at conservation, except that they conserve plantations, not old growth.
Noted comment, "the pulp mill is a white elephant...".
Exactly what Bob Brown and apparently many ecologists and economists alike have been saying for ages about woodchipping and dioxin pulping.
In fact the thing is "retro". Labour intensive and value added timber industries connected with selective logging go down the drain. A brilliantly appreciating resource is trashed decades short of its maturation in economic terms ( if we must be utilitarian ) and secondary industries from wine to food to tourism are gutted through water and air pollution.
And if subsidies and breaks of various kinds are being pilfered for vested interests, isn't this at the expense of schools, hospitals, etc?
On a different level we recall Cubbie Creek cotton in terms of its rorting potential, so one supposes it is exemplary of the norm rather than the rule. Perhaps the prototype came with the annihilation of the American Buffalo and thus Indians, in the nineteenth century.

I see that Wilderness Society has been granted leave to appeal an Federal Court decision earlier this month which rejected a challenge by the Wilderness Society and business group, Investors for the Future of Tasmania, to the federal government's environmental assessment of the proposed mill.

According to The Wilderness Society pulp mill campaigner, Paul Oosting, the Bell Bay Gunns mill will, at start-up, source 80 per cent native forest---4.5 million tonnes a year coming from Tasmania's native forests.

Mr Oosting said Gunns claimed the native forest would be wound back to 20 per cent by 2017.

However, the company had broken all its undertakings made in 2004 It had not built a plantation-based, chlorine-free mill, and had not abided by the decision of the independent panel, the Resource Planning Development Commission (RPDC).

It looks as if there the core issues are three: source of timber for the mill; the environmental impact in the Tamar Valley; in the environmental assessment process.

Garrett addresses the latter issue and ignores the other two. He and Labor have sacrificed environmental stewardship on the altar of political expediency.

As I understand it the pulp mill ball is now in the court of Malcolm Turnbull, Minister for the Environment. The Environment Department recommendations made in relation to the mill said that there are indications that levels of pollutants that may accummulate in Tasmanian waters may be of concern. The department recommends that the Gunns mill be required to keep the level of dioxins in its effluent below the strict guidelines.---what Turnbull is calling world's best practice.

Public comment submissions close on Friday.

However, the minister has asked chief scientist Dr Jim Peacock and a panel of scientists to assess recommendations made by his department. Turnbull has a delayed a decision, beyond the closure of a public submission period on Friday, to seek advice from a scientific panel. He says that he has concerns about the toxic components in the 73 million litres of effluent pumped into Bass Strait.

The panel is understood to be considering whether hydrodynamic modelling, to predict the impact of the mill's daily release of 64,000 tonnes of effluent into Bass Strait, should be done before approval is given.

Then, Turnbull says, he will decide.He is unlikely to have the advice he needs before late next month.

I see that Premier Lennon is flexing his muscle in the face of national campaign against the Gunns Ltd pulp mill and a softening of federal support.He is reported by The Australian as saying:

It is not a decision for millionaires in the electorate of Wentworth in Sydney -- I haven't seen anyone who has publicly associated themselves with Geoffrey Cousins who isn't a millionaire -- and what affinity do they have with struggling Tasmanians? I've had to sit here and watch debilitating debates about Tasmania in federal election after federal election going back over 20 years (to the 1983 Franklin Dam dispute). We've been used as cannon fodder during campaigns. Of course, it happened during the last one. And here we go again. It's time for someone to take a stand. And I'm prepared to take that stand, even if it comes at great political cost to myself, because I believe in this state.

Lennon is paying a high price politically for his backing of the Gunns project.His personal approval rating has slumped to 24 per cent, with 67 per cent disapproving of his performance.

Oh dear. So they'll even give up using dioxins if that's the price they have to pay for chopping up the rest of the hated old growth.
I notice with the Greek fires that vandals operating on behalf of the "developers" started the fires. I wonder if the Tasmanian pathology extends to burning Old Growth if the rest of Australia tries to take their toy off them?

as it is pretty clear that Gunns plans to destroy more, rather than less, Tasmanian native forest, then there is the need for this kind of resistance.

Martin Flanagan, in his "Out of Control: The Tragedy of Tasmania's Forests" article in issue 23 ( May 2007) of The Monthly magazine says:

To evade the ever-growing public anger, the woodchipping industry has had to exercise an ever-stronger control over Tasmanian life. Both major parties in Tasmania, and much of the state’s media, frequently give the appearance of existing only as clients of the woodchippers. The state’s interest and that of the woodchipping industry are now so thoroughly identified as one and the same that anyone questioning the industry’s actions is attacked by leading government figures as a traitor to Tasmania. And it is not only the forests that have been destroyed by this industry. Its poison has seeped into every aspect of Tasmanian life: jobs are threatened, careers destroyed, people driven to leave. And in recent years, its influence has extended further, so that now its activities are endorsed nationally by both the prime minister, John Howard, and the Opposition leader, Kevin Rudd.

I cannot see a Rudd ALP standing up to the corrupt Lennon state Labor Government at all.Can you?

the next paragraph in Martin Flanagan's "Out of Control: The Tragedy of Tasmania's Forests" article in The Monthly magazine describes the recation to the criticism of Gunns/Lennon alliance:

To question, to comment adversely, is to invite the possibility of ostracism and unemployment, and the state is full of those who pay a high price for their opinion on the forests, the blackballed multiplying with the blackened stumps. It is commonplace to meet people who are too frightened to speak publicly of their concerns about forestry practices, because of the adverse consequences they perceive this might have for their careers and businesses. Due to the forest battle, a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) fear has entered Tasmanian public life; it stifles dissent, avoids truth.

Flanagan says that the great majority of Tasmanians appear to be overwhelmingly opposed to old-growth logging, and only by the constant crushing of opposing points of view, and the attempted silencing and smearing of those who put them, can the practice continue.

I see that a report by CSIRO forest management scientist Chris Beadle concluded that Tasmania had insufficient plantation stock to feed the mill's annual consumption of four million tonnes of woodchips in the long-term.

Dr Beadle, who was not speaking on behalf of the CSIRO, said plantation stock would run out within 10 years. He says:

There does not appear to be enough wood to meet what the proponent is saying will be sourced from plantations.If I'm right, there will be further pressure on native forests over and above that which they say.

More in Beadle's op-ed in the Canberra Times.

A very angry Premier Lennon was on ABC Radio National this morning talking about the lack of due process by Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull is bungling things. He is allowing his personal conflict with Cousins in Wentworth to interfer with due process.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

Gary, thanks for cheering me up.
Confirms no way will they be satisfied with a smaller pulp mill more in tune with sustainability?.
Then they wouldn't have the excuse of necessity in future grabs for yet more old-growth. Wouldn't you like to STRANGLE John Gay and his greedy pigs of fellow-travellers, sometimes?
And the great intellects of the ALP (I won't even bother with the Tories)- Gillard, Rudd, Tanner, Garrett or if you like Conroy and Mar'n Ferguson; let alone the geniuses at the Oz Institute, who also suddenly reckon this is all "grouse", too?
Nan, you sound like you are on my wavelength. Which is a shame- you must feel awfully frustrated a lot of the time, in that case.

Reading the FAQ at Gunns web site, I find the claim that the mill will employ ECF and TCF bleaching processes which will not produce dioxins and furans (a contrary claim is made in th epetition text of The Wilderness Society). The Gunns FAQ also maintains that "No old growth logs will be used in the pulp mill". Is this a plain lie, or have Gunns changed their plans in response to protests?


well the dioxin claim is different from what the AMA says. I'd go with the AMA on this.

On the claim about the use of old growth forests Gunns has promised that the wood supply for the mill will be 80 per cent plantation growth within 5 years and that no native forest will be used at the mill. This is different from what experts such as Chris Beadle or Bill Manning say. No one seems to believe Gunns.