Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tasmania's 'Jekyll & Hyde' Government back flips on large projects policy: Keeping Hobart Green and Launceston Brown

The decision by the Tasmanian planning commission (formerly the RPDC ) to reject Walker Corporation’s Lauderdale canal development is a welcome one for the majority of Tasmanian's.

Compared to the scandalous spectacle that was the Gunns Tamar Valley pulp mill assessment, the Tasmanian planning commission was permitted to assess the Walker corp. relatively free from pressure and outside interference by government and industry.

And as they did when Gunns withdrew from the RPDC, Labor and Liberal are singing from the same song sheet.

However this time with no Paul Lennon or Gunns involvemend and despite the planning commission declaring the Ralph’s Bay project would bring economic benefits and jobs, Will Hodgman and David Bartlett are applauding the palnning commission's decision

In a federal election year Liberal and Labor are in open agreeance that they dont want Walker Corporation’s high impact canal estate development proposed for the increasingly green Hobart electorate of Franklin

It would seem that the RPDC has suddenly gone from villain to hero.

Premier Bartlett rightly applauded the planning commission’s decision to reject the canal estate proposal despite the commission's admission that the Walker Corp project would have created jobs and economic growth. However unlike his government’s attitude to the community on the Gunns pulp mill, Premier Bartlett also applauded the fact that the planning commission’s decision was in accord with community sentiment ......"The Tasmanian community has also spoken on this issue – with the overwhelming majority of public submissions opposed to the Ralphs Bay proposal. A ban on canal estates would give comfort to the community"(Premier Bartlett, June 22, 2010)

Indeed, in another stunning yet welcome back flip on government policy on large projects Premier Bartlett also declared the government would deliver certainty for potential investors by banning canal estate developments in Tasmania.

It is surely unprecedented for any Liberal or Labor government in Tasmania to argue that a statewide ban on certain developments is a way of providing certainty for business. Such a move would have been unthinkable during the reign of  David Bartlett's predecessor Paul Lennon who, as he did for Gunns went to extraordinary
lengths to enable the passage of Walker's project to the approval stage.

The Greens Cabinet secretary Cassy O'Connor rightly argued the ban is partly due to Greens members in cabinet.

"It's hard to imagine that six months ago, a year ago, six and a half years ago [that] we'd have a Labor premier announcing a move to protect Tasmania's beautiful coastline," she said.

It is likely however that political survival is the key driver behind the position taken by the Bartlett Government on Ralph's Bay.
Tasmanians may well be less than 3 months away from a  federal election at a time where polls are showing Labor & Liberal have been haemorrhaging votes to the Greens.
The last thing that the Bartlett government would want at this time is another large environmental stoush in the increasingly green Hobart electorates of Denison & Franklin where Labor are still licking their wounds from being belted in the March state election.

The question Launceston and Tamar Valley residents might now ask the Premier in an election year is how he reconciles such affirmitive reaction to the planning commission's decision on Ralph Bay to the sickening and shameful scenes in 2007 when, on behalf of the Gunns logging company, the entire Tasmanian parliament bar the Greens turned lynch mob on the very planning scheme it had created?

Tasmanians have not forgotten how adamant Will Hodgman, Paul Lennon and John Gay were that Gunns were blameless and how Gay, Tasmania’s most controversial CEO, regarded with suspicion and loathing in sections of the community, was framed by Liberal and Labor Parliamentarians as the victim of a fatally flawed planning system. Many would remember how apart from young Labor backbencher Lisa Singh, no Liberal or Labor politician would be seen criticising Gunns - in or outside the parliament.

The glaring contradictions between the government's stunning canal estate ban and its continued support for the inappropriately sited & unpopular Gunns pulp mill cannot be ignored.

How do Tasmanians make sense of  a premier who has flipped from opposing a ban on canal developments to legislating for one, yet who also flipped from virtually renouncing government support for Gunns pulp mill to championing it?

Nothing to do with the nimby factor or a looming federal election ?

How does the Mr Bartlett reconcile his public recognition of the communities right to have their position honored by government and the planning commission in the matter of the Lauderdale Quays proposal to the sheer contempt displayed by government towards opponents of the Gunns Pulp Mill?

And how does Mr Bartlett reconcile supporting Gunns Pulp Mill in the name of jobs, economic growth and investor certainty to opposing Walker's Canal estate proposal despite its recognised economic credentials and then banning such developments to create investor certainty?

Indeed, despite objections by the RPDC and the majority of Tasmanians to the corrupting of the mill’s assessment and its inappropriate siting in the Tamar Valley, Premier Bartlett continues to ignore this instead clinging to the Tasmanian government's tradition of patronage of Gunns. Just as his predecessor Paul Lennon did when he recklessly and stubbornly championed the economically, environmentally and socially unsustainable project to the point that it cost him his political career.

Canal estates are banned in NSW and Victoria because government has recognised the serious environmental & social problems associated with canal estates.

If the Tasmanian government is consistent, not only should it repeal the 2007 Pulp Mill Assessment Act which has been roundly criticised for having been written for and by Gunns but it should also specifically ban any future possibility of a bleached Kraft pulp mill in the Tamar Valley because of this type of industry’s ability to add large extra volumes of polluting wood smoke, noxious odorous gases & foggy vaporous emissions to the Tamar Valley air shed.

Launceston & the Tamar Valley are recognised as sometimes having the worst polluted air in Australia during winter mainly because of the inversion layer trapping pollutants in the valley. Indeed, the winter air quality in this area does not comply with the National Environment Protection Standard goal for PM10 because of unsustainable levels of pollution from domestic wood heaters and forestry burn offs.

From the Tasmanian Government’s own Air Quality Strategy.....“At times, Tasmania experiences the country’s best air quality, as measured at the Cape Grim baseline station on the North West Coast. However, there are some areas that suffer from poor ambient air quality during some periods of the year. The problem of poor air quality in Launceston relates to elevated concentrations of particulate matter, PM10 (particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter of less than 10 μm). It is believed that other areas, such as some suburbs of Hobart, may also experience elevated levels of particulate matter during winter. Whilst the issues around poor air quality have been largely driven by the problem in Launceston, this Strategy focuses on Tasmania as a whole”. (

Despite the compelling case against the use of the Tamar Valley as the preferred site for what would be the world’s fourth largest Kraft mill, the Tasmanian Government are still backing a project that will burn approximately 500,000 green tonnes of bark, fines, sawdust, wood waste and other forest residues to supply steam and power for the pulp mill.

Dr. Warwick Raverty, Australia’s foremost expert in Kraft Pulp Mill odours has stated regarding one aspect of the mill’s emission in the Tamar Valley...”This is a real issue with a tonne of water vapour expelled into the atmosphere for every tonne of pulp produced. In Alabama, USA, there is a drying facility that produces water vapour in similar quantities and this produces 'white-outs' on local highways that have been responsible for multiple pile-ups and deaths. These 'white-outs' are most likely to occur on the East Tamar Highway as it passes the Longreach site”.

Indeed, late night and morning fogs occur in autumn and winter making driving in the Tamar valley dangerous. With no rail plan in place, degraded local roads and a general doubling of log truck traffic it is almost certain that a continuous stream of water vapour from the mill will exacerbate these already dangerous conditions.

Arguably the most important issue in terms of emissions facing local residents is odour.

Kraft pulp mills the world over still smell badly because they emit, amongst other compounds, a gas called
hydrogen sulphide (HS). HS smells of rotten eggs and can be detected by the human nose at concentrations below one part per hundred million. A typical odour footprint of a large mill is 50 kms which means that people may be affected as far away as Launceston airport. In Finland they call Kraft Pulp Mill odours “the smell of money” and people get used to it - but they don't have a large tourism and iconic wine industry like the Tamar Valley does.

Again, Dr. Warwick Raverty on Kraft Pulp Mill odours....“The odour from the Kraft pulp mill at Tumut took five years to control. The Tumut mill is one fifth the size of Longreach and was built and is operated by a firm, Visy, that have years of experience in running pulp and paper mills. Gunns have no experience with pulp and paper mills at all. There is no such thing as a Kraft pulp mill that does not smell and to build one in a valley with an inversion layer where 100,000 people live does not seem a very sensible decision. There are over 400 places in a mill that can cause odour and so it is difficult to pin the cause down. The very latest high technology mill at Stendhal in Germany has developed odour problems in its second year of operation, probably due to all of the many thousands of plastic pipe and pump seals becoming saturated with odour over the course of the first 12 months of operation. Finns and Swedes, like Jaakko Porry's experts, considered odour-free would be quite unacceptable to the noses of most Tasmanians”.

Before the RPDC was dumped by Gunns & the Tasmanian Government they stated:.... 'While they are extremely smelly and can be detected by the human senses at extremely low levels, they can be controlled but cannot be eliminated entirely given the nature of the process.' ........ AND...... 'The commission is advised that the odour-free Kraft mill does not exist' ....... AND....... 'Selection of a site that minimised the nuisance should be a prime consideration because complete odour elimination from Kraft mills was not possible”.

Former Gunns CEO John Gay who was forced out of the woefully underperforming company by angry investors was along with Robin Gray & Paul Lennon the brains behind the Gunns pulp mill. (Gay, Gray & Lennon all lost support and ultimately their jobs largely because of their obsession with the pulp mill).

Gay’s view on potential emissions from the mill was as follows.. 'Issues surrounding mills of days gone by, such as odour, noise, emissions, effluent and containment, have been addressed by international engineering experts”.

With the Bartlett Government’s recent progressive policies on Hobart’s waterfront development, canal estates, animal welfare, sustainable transport and cycling infrastructure he clearly has a green vision for the backyard of Tasmania’s political and business elite, whilst his vision for Launceston & the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ Tamar Valley is to remain Tasmania’s dumping ground for brown development, ultra heavy industry and the home of the bogan vote.

The Bartlett government remain beholden to Gunns, the who's who of the Tasmanian logging industry, powerful forestry unions and that shared view of the world which is orientated around creating the continued circumstances that enable them all to remain in power.

However today the Bartlett government derives a good chunk of its credibility from its alliance with the Tasmanian Greens who are clearly behind some of the progressive policies, programmes and decisons that have been laid out since the March election.

The world is changing and is catching up with the Tasmanian Government and the logging industry.
The three great champions of the Gunns pulp mill, John Gay, Robin Gray & Paul Lennon lost their respective careers largely because of what the market & the community percieved was an indecent obsession with pulp mill and the abuse of power to realise it.

The Bartlett government's backflip on the pulp mill was a factor in its near loss in the recent state election but for the Greens coming to the rescue.

The Premier of Tasmania now has a fresh opportunity to break the hold that Gunns has over his party and to break with the past. If he fails again, with Nick Mckim and Will Hodgman now more popular than ever with voters and Labor more on the nose than ever, David Bartlett may not get another chance.


1 comment:

  1. It's true, I've been to "best practice" kraft pulp mills that are spruiked as not stinking. They still fucking stink. It's practically their job to stink. A long, industrial-strength fart of a stink you never get used to.