Christine Milne's speech today to the Federal Senate on Gunns Pulp Mill. (excerpts from leaked correspondence between Gunns and consultants in italics)
Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (1.29 pm) —As I stand here in the Senate today, Tasmania’s forests are still falling. That may well be news to people around Australia who have been hearing that there is a negotiation going on between the logging industry and the environment movement about ending the logging of high conservation value forests in Tasmania and that there had been an expectation that a moratorium would be in place by 15 March. It has not occurred. The logging goes on. It is absolutely disingenuous to say you have a moratorium when you continue to log coupes in identified high conservation areas and then pretend that somehow progress is being made. It is a real concern that what we have in Tasmania is the moratorium you have when you are not having a moratorium.
Worse still, as we continue to see these magnificent forests falling, are the reports in the media today suggesting that Mr Bill Kelty, who has been appointed as the mediator or to report on the status of the talks, has suddenly put the pulp mill on the table as being the price for conservation of forests in Tasmania. That was not, is not now and will never be acceptable. When the forest principles document was signed, it said there could be one pulp mill in Tasmania. There was a specific understanding between all parties that that was not the Gunns pulp mill in the Tamar Valley.
Senator Brown and I put out a statement last night making it very clear that we do not support the Gunns pulp mill and that it is wrong to now try and lob it into the middle of these talks, suggesting that forest protection is conditional on the Gunns pulp mill. It is not and it will not be. We will not be accepting that pulp mill.
I will explain why, especially in the light of the fact that this has been going on for seven years. People have lost sight of what the people in the Tamar Valley have had to put up with over that time—in fact, what all of Tasmania has had to put up with over that time. Gunns proposed in 2004 that they would build a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley. They said it would be 100 per cent plantation based. They said it would be totally chlorine free. Those two promises were made at the very start by John Gay, who was both the chairman of the board and the CEO of the company in 2004. That was the pledge at the time. The Tasmanian government then fell into line very quickly and ran around with their pulp mill task force. They appointed Bob Gordon from Forestry Tasmania to the task force to go out and run a propaganda campaign supporting the mill on behalf of Gunns.
Bob Gordon actually went on the radio and said that because there was an inversion layer in the Tamar Valley in the wintertime, which we all know, the stacks from the pulp mill would be so high that they would go up above the inversion layer and the pollution would go out into the atmosphere and not be trapped under the inversion layer in the wintertime—a patently stupid comment to make, but he made it in that capacity at that time. At the time he also said that there was no doubt that the effluent that would spew out of the pulp mill into Bass Strait would disperse. His logic and evidence for that was from a then recent shipwreck in Tasmania from which the lifeboats washed up somewhere on Flinders Island. He said that proved that the pulp mill effluent would disperse. That is the kind of nonsense we had to put up with in Tasmania at the beginning of the process. It was so bad that the chair of the RPDC, the appropriate body for assessing the pulp mill, wrote to the Premier at the time, Premier Lennon, and said, ‘Stop your task force going out there spreading propaganda. It is jeopardising a proper assessment of the process.’ That is how bad it was.
So I was amused when I saw the Australian taking exception to my statement that the Tasmanian government was a company quisling. Let me tell you that it certainly is a company quisling. There has never been a time when Gunns has said, ‘Jump’ and the government has failed to jump accordingly. They have never stood up to Gunns. Even former Premier Bartlett’s famous ‘line in the sand’ was washed away pretty quickly when Gunns insisted it be washed away.
Right back in 1989, there was a consultant’s report that said that the Tamar Valley was unsuitable for a pulp mill for two reasons: (1) that the atmospheric inversion in the wintertime would trap the emissions from the mill and cause pollution of the valley, and (2) that Bass Strait off the Tamar is too shallow to be able to achieve the dispersion and dilution that is necessary for the effluent. That is why it was unacceptable in 1989 and nothing about the depth of Bass Strait or the topography of the Tamar Valley has changed in that time. What has changed is the desperation of Gunns to get a pulp mill up. They wanted it there because of the transport economics. That is all it is about. It is not about the amenity of the Tamar Valley at all. They imposed that pulp mill on the Tamar because their economics wanted it there and they tried to fit up the environmental conditions to make it acceptable.
We know this now from leaked documents that have become available. One of these leaked documents says: - "The process is critical to the defence of the Bell Bay site. If we are seen to be pushing flimsy arguments I believe there is a real risk you could be asked to better justify the choice of sites (ie undertake a detailed site selection process) which will result in additional costs and time delays. The site selection documentation is already significantly deficient in what is required in the Guidelines, given that a detailed assessment process did not take place. We only have some flora and fauna memos, a heritage memo and a very brief desktop report conducted by JP to substantiate the claim that Bell Bay is the preferred site".
The leaked document goes on to say that the documentation falls well short of guideline requirements and:
"Drawing attention to these deficiencies would not be beneficial".
No, indeed it would not. It would tell the community there was never a proper assessment of the site in the first place.
In fact these documents say: - "As Tony Dale and Julian Green have repeatedly stated, Addressing Section 5 (Site Selection) of the Guidelines is a critical requirement … The assessment process undertaken and documented by Gunns falls well short of the Guideline requirement and assessment which would be typically undertaken for such a project. By tampering or attempting to enhance that process you run a serious risk of jeopardising the validity of the site selection and consequently threatening the project approvals".
Absolutely right. That is correspondence between Gunns and the consultants. The consultants were clearly being told here, and the consultants were also telling Gunns, that they were on very flimsy ground indeed. Interestingly, they go on to say: - It is the marginal difference in rankings of Hampshire vs. Bell Bay the greens will run a hundred miles an hour with. They will quote ... saying that Hampshire is a better site from an environmental perspective based on—
that is blacked out in this— and not Gunns. This is a Gunns project where we have everything at risk and you have not. It will be the Gunns staff that defend this position in he hearings and ... Your people are clearly not taking note ... Please make the changes in accordance with our instructions".
General Manager - Bell Bay Pulp Mill Project,
Executive Director - Gunns Plantations.
Very clearly, there was never a process to assess the site. Then in March 2007, Gunns insisted that they pull out of the process because be RPDC was taking too long—in other words, it was too detailed. They knew they could not meet those site selection guidelines so they pulled out, making up a pathetic excuse that it was taking too long, that they had to have a fast-tracked process—an abuse of the process—and it would cost a million dollars a day while the deferral went on. That was in March 2007. It has cost them many millions of dollars and we are now in 2011. That was merely John Gay and Gunns instructing Premier Lennon at the time to blow up the proper assessment process, to put a fast-tracked process in place because Gunns could not withstand the assessment rigour which was going to be required.
The Australian then launch into this and suggest it has been a seven-year process involving deliberations by three federal ministers, and so on. They go on to say that there is a proper democratic process—there was not a proper democratic process; there was a fast-tracked process by a government, there was a quisling of the company and it corrupted the process. From that day onwards there was no community support because they saw what had gone on.
There is also discussion about social licence. Why are they so desperate to get the environment movement or the Greens to say something positive about their Gunns pulp mill project? It is because there is not a single, respectable joint venture partner anywhere in the world who will touch this toxic project as long as they recognise that the community is opposed to it. And there will be protests against it because it is not in an appropriate site for a pulp mill and because it will pollute. It will put organochlorins into Bass Strait. Far from the promised totally chlorine free process, we now have an elemental chlorine free light process, which we are supposed to welcome. Well, I don’t. They promised it would be totally chlorine free and it should be totally chlorine free.
Secondly, it is a craft process which is a sulfur process. There will be fugitive emissions of rotten egg gas in a valley famous for its food, wines and tourism. That is just unacceptable. Yesterday we had the Western Australian EPA rejecting a coalmine in the Margaret River area because it is seriously a conflict of interest between Margaret River and what it stands for and a coalmine. They can see that clearly in Western Australia and this is precisely the same. There are 30 vineyards and a wine route in the Tamar Valley which the federal government put $100,000 into promoting. You cannot put a stinking pulp mill into the middle of a winegrowing area and expect to maintain your reputation. Margaret River understands that, the Western Australian government understands that and the Western Australian EPA understands that; the Tasmanian government and the Tasmanian EPA clearly do not understand that, but the people of the Tamar Valley understand that absolutely, which is why they continue to oppose this project.
It is absolutely imperative that we get some clear understanding about what is going on and this notion of social licence. That mill will never have a social licence in Tasmania because the process approving it was corrupted. It goes right back to the time of the Howard government when Minister Turnbull was the federal minister. In the original discussions with the Tasmanian government, there was a deliberate decision to minimise the level of oversight the Commonwealth would have of this project and left the rest to Tasmanian knowing full well that the Tasmanian government would never pursue a rigorous assessment. Tasmanians got that message loud and clear when the RPDC process was abandoned at the behest of Gunns and the premiere of the day fast tracked the project at the behest of the company and foisted this onto a valley where it is not wanted and where there will never be a social licence.
For the benefit of the Australian, who does not understand the concept of the social licence, in order to make any timber or paper product today you need FSC—Forest Stewardship Council certification. Part of that is community support through the social chamber of the FSC. Gunns are never going to have that for a project like this. Joint venture partners need to be on notice that the community does not accept this pulp mill. We have had nothing but double-talk from the company and from Forestry Tasmania throughout this entire process. We now have a forest agency in Tasmania which is on its knees in spite of the millions the Commonwealth has provided to it over time. It gives away the Tasmanian forests and the Tasmanian people have had enough. They want their high conservation value forest protected. They want the logging industry out of native forests. They want to make sure that downstream processing in Tasmania is ecologically sustainable and appropriately assessed, not what we have had put on the table as a result of this Gunns proposal.
It is lazy, disingenuous, disrespectful and abusive of people in the Tamar Valley to say, ‘This has been going on for seven years. For goodness sake, get over it. Just accept the pulp mill.’ You would not accept a development which was shoved into your backyard and undermined your industries when there was not a proper assessment process and for which, as these documents demonstrate, they did not do a proper assessment of the site in the first place. It would not have met the site selection guidelines. That is something the Commonwealth clearly needs to get into its head in terms of supporting this particular project and Bill Kelty needs to get the idea out of his head at once that protecting native forests is some kind of trade-off for agreement for the pulp mill. There is no social licence, no support, and Senator Bob Brown and I have made perfectly clear, from the point of view of the Australian Greens, that we will not and do not support the Gunns process. It was corruptly approved and has to go back to square one if they want there to be any hope of getting social approval for this mill.
..........................The Australain Newspapers Editorial referred to by Milne (below)
........"Accusing the Tasmanian government of being a "company quisling" may get brownie points with the GetUp! crowd but it's an undergraduate comment from a mature politician. And what exactly does Senator Milne mean when she says Gunns does not have a "social licence" to operate a mill? Under our system of government, companies must conform to specific legislated requirements in situations such as these. Those requirements are formulated through a democratic process in which elected governments decide the economic, social and environmental trade-offs for development. The Greens should respect the decision".......Full Editorial Here