Gunns, once the billion dollar super company of Tasmania, is today on its knees and needing its pulp mill to simply stay in existence.
Ironically, Gunns now desperately needs the support of conservationists—the much-vaunted social licence—to get a funding partner that will help finance the mill.
The worst kept secret of recent months is that Gunns have played those negotiating the Forest Principles on behalf of the environment movement like a cat with a mouse.
The secret deal the conservationists have been offered is staggering: in return for the ending of native forest logging they are to run dead on the pulp mill.
I hope that handful of negotiators representing the many have not, through naiveté and out of fear, succumbed to the arguments of Gunns and signed off on such a sickening deal.
They can prove they haven’t by stating that they will resume strongly campaigning to stop Gunns pulp mill and continue for as long as it takes.
I don’t belong to the Wilderness Society, Environment Tasmania, or the ACF, or for that matter any group or party. And here are four reasons why, whatever deal has been struck, I won’t be supporting the Gunns Tamar Valley pulp mill.
1. Gunns and Greg L’Estrange have spent much time telling all who will listen that their mill proposal is better than John Gay’s original proposal.
John Gay frequently said similar things.
Perhaps they will only use plantation stock.
John Gay said that too in 2004.
Perhaps the odours and water pollution will be reduced.
But who can say? Even if the Federal Government revises some levels down, are they safe? Is the mill safe?
There is a very simple way Gunns can prove to the Tasmanian people that all that they say is true—take their new plans back to the RPDC and have the mill properly assessed.
Let the mill be fully tested in its entirety by an independent and expert process not subject to political interference.
But of course Gunns haven’t.
And Gunns wont.
2. Let’s presume Greg L’Estrange and the new Gunns are genuine, that they build the new mill with fine hopes and pure hearts.
But on day one, there are problems with water pollution.
In week two poisonous odours settle over Launceston.
In year three depressed market conditions lead Gunns to begin to use a certain percentage of native forest in their feedlot.
And about all this, what can Gunns and the pure hearted Mr L’Estrange do?
Well, little or nothing, because they have a mill to run, money to make, and if remedial works fail they cannot shut the mill down because that would be the end of Gunns.
At which point many Tasmanians might look to their legal rights.
Except under Section 11 of Paul Lennon’s Pulp Mill Assessment Act, drafted under the supervision of Gunns lawyers, they have none.
The Gunns mill exists above and beyond the law.
So if Greg L’Estrange is genuine, insist to the Tasmanian government—whose support for Gunns remains their one and only principle in running Tasmania—that they repeal Section 11.
But of course Gunns haven’t.
And Gunns wont.
3. The bad faith displayed by the forest industry over recent months makes it clear that they are not people who can be trusted.
The chainsaw Camorra on big pay packets are still there in key positions in the bureaucracy, the government and the industry.
Who is to say that if a pulp mill were given away for the native forests, that they will keep their word?
Who is to say that they won’t be back chainsawing and burning old growth forests next month or next year, renaming old growth as regrowth, and regrowth as plantations?
That legislation wont be retrospectively altered?
Because without the old rackets what purpose or power or paypacket do the old men have?
4. Gunns history in Tasmania is one of recorded corruption, intimidation, and coercion.
At various times it has used bribes, lawyers, politicians and media to get its way and its will, which is simply more money.
In consequence of Gunns determination to get their mill built, Tasmanians from 2004 onwards witnessed a debauching of public life that was sickening and without precedent in our island’s history.
Parliament was perverted to the point of near irrelevancy, the public service cowed and neutered, while intimidation, legal thuggery, character assassination, threats, the wrecking of careers, the overriding of processes, and cronyism became the order of day.
To agree to this mill is to say to everyone in Tasmania—every politician, every businessman, every citizen—that in the end might is right, that the only law is the dollar, and that the corruption of our public life is not only acceptable but the only way to get anything done in Tasmania.
If we are ever to escape the hopeless cycle of environmental destruction subsidised by our taxes leading into yet another financial crisis, we need government by politicians engaging with the very real issues that confront Tasmania with a sense of responsibility to the people, rather than servitude to Gunns bottom line as their only purpose.
Not the cake Lara Giddings, in a Marie Antoinette moment, described Gunns mill as, but the bread of real government.
Some years ago I spoke at a rally of fifteen thousand Tasmanians opposed to the Gunns Tamar Valley pulp mill.
I said if it came to it, I would stand between the machinery and the site and go to jail in an attempt to stop the mill.
I then asked those who would stand there with me, who would also go to jail, to raise their hands.
An overwhelming majority raised their hands.
No matter what deal has been done, I haven’t changed my mind.
Nor, I strongly suspect, have most of those who raised their hands that day.
The one certainty that Mr L’Estrange, Mr Kelty, and any prospective financing partner need to understand is this: whatever the backroom deal, there is no social licence.
What there is, in consequence of Gunns ruthless determination to build this mill, is a fundamental social betrayal.
And if it takes thousands of Tasmanians going to jail to stop the mill then we will go to jail, and we will keep going to jail until this mill is stopped.
Because only then will this shameful period of our history be ended and Tasmania finally be able to move forward.
This article is published today in Saturday Mercury. First published: 2011-03-05 05:05 AM
Sue Neales, Mercury:
TAMAR Valley residents are ready to “man the barricades” to stop the Gunns pulp mill amid claims they have been betrayed by mainstream environmental groups.
Anti-pulp mill group leaders Lucy Landon-Lane and Bob McMahon confirmed yesterday the battlelines were being drawn for a community campaign “bigger than the Franklin Dam”.
Protest action may start as soon as this weekend against Gunns’ plans for a $2.5 billion mill at Long Reach near Launceston.
The pulp mill’s likely start this year also threatens the stability of the State Government.
The Tasmanian Greens delivered an ultimatum yesterday to its Labor minority government partners, threatening to “bring down” the Government over the pulp mill.
Greens MP Kim Booth vowed to withdraw his support for the Labor-Greens government alliance if any public money was used to fund the mill
Mr McMahon, spokesman for Tasmanians against a Pulpmill, said he had seen the “great betrayal” by environmental groups of the Tamar Valley developing over the past three years.
“We will never agree to the Tamar Valley pulp mill, most definitely not,” Mr McMahon said.
“We can promise an awful lot of noise and disturbance - even if we have to fight this pulp mill alone, without those environmental groups that have their own national agenda and don’t represent the local community at all - we will.”
Ms Landon-Lane, spokeswoman for Pulp-the-Mill, said she shared similar concerns about the stances of national environmental bodies.
“I feel those people who have been involved in the [forestry roundtable] talks from environmental groups are naive in trusting Gunns and the forest industry,” she said last night.
“They’re certainly not speaking on behalf of the people of the Tamar Valley in those talks, when they say this pulp mill is central to any forestry agreement.
“That’s why it really feels now the battlelines are coming to a head and people are ready to go to the barricades.”
Mr Booth said he would move a no-confidence motion in the Giddings’ Labor minority government or block money bills, if either direct or indirect funding for pulp mill-linked finance or infrastructure was included in the June state Budget.
Such a move, if backed by the Liberal Opposition, would bring down the Government.
“I would hope the Government will be thinking very carefully about what it does because I am not pussyfooting around here,’ Mr Booth said.
“Surely [Labor] doesn’t think enough of this corrupt project that that they would be prepared to risk government over it.
“This is my principles at stake here and I have always fought against corruption and the squandering of public taxes on politicians’ pet projects.”
The Greens MP for the Bass electorate, where the pulp mill would be located, said he believed the four other Greens members of the Tasmanian Parliament, including Greens leader and government minister Nick McKim, would join his walkout.
Mr McKim could not be contacted yesterday.
Greens retreat from threats
06 March 2011
THE Tasmanian Greens yesterday launched a dramatic retreat from threats by Kim Booth to move a no-confidence motion in the Government or block the State Budget over the Gunns pulp mill proposal.
Party leader Nick McKim said the five Greens MPs, including Mr Booth, had attended a scheduled party-room meeting during the day where they had unanimously reaffirmed their commitment not to block supply or move a no-confidence motion in the Government.
As part of the show of unity, Mr McKim said the Greens had agreed to table a Bill to repeal the Pulp Mill Assessment Act 2007.
Mr McKim’s statements were in stark contrast to threats by Mr Booth on Friday, when he said if the Government tried to use any public money to fund the pulp mill, he would withdraw his support for the Labor-Greens alliance.
Mr McKim yesterday said Premier Lara Giddings had been clear that there were no plans to offer further financial support for the pulp mill and he would not speculate on hypothetical scenarios.
“Mr Booth is passionate about refusing to support the Gunns pulp mill, as we all are,” he said.
“Mr Booth has made his position clear in the event that Labor offers additional support for the Gunns Tamar Valley pulp mill and I am relaxed about that.
“The Greens do not seek to muzzle our MPs, or prevent them speaking out on issues they are passionate about.”
Mr McKim called on the Liberals to support their Bill to repeal the Pulp Mill Assessment Act and force Gunns back into a public planning process for the pulp mill.
“The Act was a dodgy process to approve an unacceptable project and we will give both Labor and the Liberals the opportunity to correct one of the worst decisions the House, and indeed the Parliament, has made in recent times,” he said.
Ms Giddings yesterday said she noted Mr Booth’s views but would not deal in hypotheticals in relation to the mill.
“It is important that we take each step as it comes and not get ahead of ourselves regarding this project,” she said.
She said the proposed pulp mill was no different to any other major project in Tasmania in terms of possible public infrastructure development that may be required.
Opposition Leader Will Hodgman said Mr McKim would destroy his own party for his own self-interest.
“Kim Booth’s position is categorical but it looks like Nick McKim will weakly wimp out and excuse himself from Cabinet when the pulp mill is discussed to protect his ministerial salary,” he said.