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Garrett gives Gunns the green light for pulp mill « Previous | |Next »
January 6, 2009

How do we interpret Garrett's statement on Gunns multibillion-dollar pulp mill at Bell Bay in the Tamar Valley in northern Tasmania? He has withheld final approval for the project's environmental impact management plan for a further 26 months.

My interpretation is that Garrett gave the logging giant Gunns the go-ahead for the project, and then gave the appearance of toughening the Government’s stance on effluent outfall in Bass Strait ( 64 million litres of effluent) by adopting a precautionary approach required by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. That toughening, in effect, was giving Gunns Ltd another extension.

The conditions Garrett placed on the go-ahead require the company to provide detailed environmental data on the effect of effluent runoff into Bass Strait before the mill will be allowed to begin processing woodchips and to impose fines of up to $1.1 million if Gunns exceeds environmental limits. Garrett has given two years to Gunns to provide effluent data through hydro dynamic modelling.

So Gunns can go ahead and build the mill and muddle along on the modelling. All the modules except for the effluent disposal are approved. Isn't that a green light? isn't that a blow to the tourism, wine-making and fishing industry groups in the Tamar Valley? Why invest given the threat posed by the mill?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 5:47 AM | | Comments (13)


Gunns has consistently missed deadlines and failed to provide adequate information yet it continues to be rewarded with special deals and extensions of extra time. The hydrodynamic modelling should have been done at the outset as part of a Environmental Impact Statement.

What Garrett said is that should the ocean impact studies show a problem, Gunns would be required to upgrade the treatment of effluent to be released into Bass Strait.That could
include tertiary treatment. Souldn't the key component, the impact on marine life,be properly assessed, before allowing Gunns to build the mill?

Labor has yet to realize that the pulp mill is not a net vote winner in Tasmania, given that the mill's proposed location, the initial consumption of native forests and the scandalous state fast-track process.

For once The Australian poses a core issue. Its editorial says:

But the mill represents another crossroads in Tasmania's economic dilemma of recent decades, concerning timber cutting and processing, and hydro-electric expansion. This is whether to concentrate on exploiting the state's green brand name as a place to live, visit and produce goods for human consumption - to make Tasmania an island state in more ways than one in an often polluted world. Or whether to let traditional industry continue to grow where it can, although with tougher environmental conditions than used to apply.

Gary, a thousand thanks for this thread.
Last night I mentioned a news report about Garrett opposing the mill. No sooner had I mentioned it here ( so shocked was I that comon sense might belatedly be manifesting itself ! ), than I espied another report that balaced the previous fantasy out along the lines Gary and the rest of you are. To me there is an appalling recidivism involved with politics in this country; a backwards movement to the nineteen-fifties fifties that has developed momentum since the early nineties.
Truth is, we never moved on from the sixties, seventies and eighties. It seems with aging, the demographic bulge of the bay boom has lost has lost its youthful energy and idealism and retreated into an isolationist nostalgic fantasy underpinned by notions of permanent and timeless cornucopia directly at odds with the new ecological realities ( thanx, Mr. Media for the ongoing role youhave played in this process!!).
No one epitomises this more than the once free-spirit, turned Judas; Garrett.

Watching Garrett on the 7.30 Report last night the last shred of respect for him withered away. He basically said it's his duty to do what Malcolm Turnbull told him to. No indication that he could care less.

An article in the Canberra Times says the following:

Although making much of the need for further work on the hydro-dynamics of effluent dispersal in Bass Strait, Mr Garrett has approved nine ''modules'' or sections of the mill's environmental management plan. This includes clearing 92ha of bushland and if you read the detail of the relevant ''module'' creating ''a short-term sediment plume'' in the Tamar River which may have ''localised impacts'' on fish. Could that be weasel speak for ''killing'' those fish?
Will the missing modules even matter, if the land is cleared and major earthworks are underway to carve out the site?

The title of the article is "Clayton's tough talk mere weasel words".

The preliminary hydrodynamic modelling work on the effect of effluent runoff into Bass Strait --- Preliminary Hydrodynamic Modelling of the Bell Bay Outfall--- by the CSIRO's Dr Michael Herzfeld, a member of the Pulp Mill independent expert group, cannot be released under Freedom of Information. The CSIRO is happy for the Herzfeld report to be released.

It is pretty obvious that a chlorine dioxide bleaching pulp mill would pollute Bass Strait, and that tertiary treatment would be required. Gunns has had since 2004 to prove otherwise but has failed to do so.

The Achilles heel of the Gunns' pulp mill project is the impact of its toxic effluent on Bass Strait. Hence Gunns' blocking the release of the Herzfeld report, since it is rumoured to show that the proposed Gunns' pulp mill cannot meet its effluent targets in the mixing zone.

If that is so, then Gunns will need to spend at least $50 million on tertiary treatment for its waste streams.

Richard Farmer in Crikey says:

Putting off a decision was the best way of reconciling the irreconcilable pressures to be both green and pro-development. With any luck, Minister Garrett will not have to deliver a final verdict until after the next election and he might even avoid the need to do so altogether. The financial pundits seem to think there is every chance that Gunns Limited will not be able to arrange finance for the project. Certainly it would be a brave financier who committed the necessary multi-millions while uncertainty remains about the impact of emissions from a mill in to Bass Strait.

Farmer says that Garrett, with perhaps the most difficult job in government, is handling the issue of the northern Tasmanian pulp mill with consummate skill.


Anon,et al.
It seems the issue is, why not have Gunns adress the issues raised here BEFORE permission is granted.
This was the gist for an article in the Oz today also, that alluded to an internal split between Gillard and Garrett on this issue.
As has be mentioned elsewhere, Gillard is a Victorian and former staffer to Brumby and intimate of Michael O'Connor, the CFMEU official. I suggest Brumby and Gillard are much more the problem, even than Garrett.
The Victorian ALP has been whore and captive to the forestry industry since the mid-nineties and was responsible for a family First senator being elected before a Greens senator in 2004, when forestry workers scabbed for

Potential investors in the mill would be aware of the need for 'at least $50 million' for treatment on top of whatever is already being sought? Yes? No?

Just trying to work out the strategy here, whether it's purely political or not. According to the article Nan links to, just building the thing is already known to carry environmental consequences.

It seems as though, given the green light for building, the choice between industry and environment Peter refers to has already been made, at least to some extent.

Garrett's approval of nine other modules (he has approved four others previously). allow Gunns to build the mill and wharf facilities and the infrastructure that supports them, including the effluent pipeline and ocean outfall.

Stephen Bartholomeusz in Business Spectator says that:

Gunns would argue that the remaining governmental obstacles to the project aren’t an issue – the remaining modules revolve mainly around the development of a plan for monitoring discharges from the plant and strategies dealing with the environmental impact of a breach of the plant’s environmental standards rather than ensuring a breach doesn’t occur. It always envisaged that it would begin building the mill before the final modules were approved.

From his perspective the real obstacle is finance:
This is a very difficult time for a company with a market capitalisation of less than $750 million to be raising funds for a $2 billion project that is as controversial as the Bell Bay mill. If – and it is a very big "if" – Gunns can raise the funding, however, Garrett’s approval of nine more modules means the plant will be built.

Garrett has given the green light as we knew that he always would.

The market will decide. John Gray should chat up a few hedge funds still touting for business.

Bob McMahon in The Age says that around 2004:

State and federal Labor endorsed the pulp mill before it was even assessed, as did the Howard government and the Tasmanian Liberal Opposition. The support of the Gunns mill was locked into Labor and Liberal policy. They also accepted a "benefits-only" view of the project that excluded any assessment of costs, risks and impacts to the public.

He adds that:
The public was deliberately excluded from consideration, as were other irritants such as the wood supply to feed the mill (Tasmania's forests), availability of water, the existing businesses in the Tamar and the Tasmanian fishing industry.

The Tamar Valley was set up to be the sacrifice zone for one of the world's biggest pulp mills under an industrial policy of propping up of favoured industries.

So the call by the National Association of Forest Industries for the Australian Government to provide infrastructure funds to help Gunns fast-track the $2.2 billion pulp mill is nothing unusual.

Following uo, an Interesting Report in Oz, if that's possible.
A poll just out has 60% of the public opposed to any go-ahead of the rotten Gunns pulp mill BEFORE Gunns at first complying with conditions layed down involving environmental concerns ( contrary to Garetts approval given a couple of weeks ago ).
Garrett apparently brusquely dismissed it.