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As Gunns’ quest to build a massive pulp mill in the Tamar Valley languishes for want of investor capital, new ways and means of providing assistance to keep the project alive are being desperately pursued.

It is no surprise to hear from Andrew Wilkie (Mercury: Canberra ‘to pay for pulp mill’) that there is a proposal to finance the mill using public money through the federal Export Finance and Insurance Commission. 

A number of things are all now coming together.  They include the West report (The report Lab-Lib would rather you did not see and West’s Protest-Free Pulp Mill Vision: A Recipe for Escalating Conflict), the integration of a second bridge in Launceston with mill infrastructure, the move to shut down public opposition to the mill by using the ENGOs to create the illusion their voice provides a social licence for the mill, the elimination of any voices of opposition to the mill from the media.

At the same time as the release of the West report (which advocated, as part of the “solution” to the deliberately arranged trade-off for an end to native-forest logging by Gunns in exchange for cessation of opposition to the pulp mill), the Launceston City Council unveiled a submission for public funds to be made available for the construction of a new bridge across the Tamar.  The plan is for a bridge which would allow heavy vehicle traffic to bypass the lower end of the Launceston city’s busy arterial north-south connection.

According to reports in the Launceston Examiner (27-28 March), “Mayor Albert van Zetten says the council’s $107 million traffic management plan hinges on Gunns’ pulp mill”.  Whatever the merits of the proposal for Launceston’s development, the fact that the mayor made the link with the pulp mill is interesting.  There are many other arguments that he could have used to support the plan, and it is also possible that the Examiner skewed what van Zetten said.  But by linking the two the mayor suggests that the infrastructure would be of direct benefit for the mill itself.  The nature of the debate in northern Tasmania about the mill makes this question unavoidable:  Is the Launceston City Council working to make it easier for Gunns to gain a joint venture partner? 

The related question, given the West report, is whether it will be decided that the monocultural plantation estate “demands” that the pulp mill go ahead, and just how many sweeteners and how much public money are now required to get it built?  One thing is certain:  It would need a guarantee that any losses to private interests during the life of the project be socialised, in much the same way that Forestry Tasmania’s losses are socialised annually now. It is impossible for the mill to compete in the global marketplace, at any time into the future, without the support of public subsidies.  It will have absolutely no competitive advantages with mills in more favourable locations around the world.

One other interesting aspect of the current desperation is the increasingly strident attempts to close down the anti-pulp mill community voices.  This is apparent in the West conflation of the “community” with the ENGOs, and the deliberate elimination from the whole roundtable-SOP-IGA-West deliberations of a triple-line representation – meaning community, industry and environment.

The media on all sides has increasingly chosen to ignore public opposition to the pulp mill, and to try to marginalise it as “extreme”.  At the national level, in both the Fairfax and Murdoch stables, Tasmanian correspondents are now whole-hearted advocates for the mill.  In the Murdoch press at the weekend the whole focus of the “Tasmania correspondent” can be neatly encapsulated by this comment:  “Ta Ann is shedding jobs, a decision it blames on Markets for Change persuading Japanese customers to dump its veneers”. There is nothing said about the reasons for the action taken by Markets for Change.  Similarly, Chandler “withdrew a $150m investment in Gunns that would indirectly have helped progress its pulp mill, after meeting community groups and the Greens”. 

Well at least the writer thinks that there is some connection between the pulp mill and the forestry problems in Tasmania, even if the ENGOs don’t!  But in the end, this is how is according to the Australian:  “Reasonable voices in both camps lack the courage to stand up to their extreme fringes”.  That about says it all in relation to the quality of the debate in the mainstream media.  There’s not even the capacity to understand that community voices against the pulp mill exist separately from some sort of caucus control, or exist at all.

So?

The point of all this is that there is a congruence between the processes at work, as epitomised through all political decisions, by all sides, Labor-Liberal-Greens, and as epitomised throughout the media.  It is a congruence which marginalises, excludes and ignores community voices in total, as irrelevant, inconsequential and meaningless.  The community is actually written out of the story, just as a matter of course.  The community is invisible, not to be seen and not to be heard.

There is one other dimension to the discussion which is worthy of note, a dimension which always works to exclude public voices.  The Tasmanian polity is actually moving further to the Right with time.  The Labor Party, as Bill Hayden has just said, has probably run its race, and now stands for nothing, the Greens have shown they have little stomach for anything except helping Labor hold on to power for its own sake, and the Liberals are a nightmare waiting to happen.

Meanwhile forestry burns are prettifying the atmosphere and sterilising the land, and no doubt purifying our drinking water.  It’s now been about as long as the Second World War since the lovely Pulp Mill Assessment Act was passed.  It’s time to get on with Plantation Isle, GMO trees, a deal with Hexima for the same arrangements they have made with Monsanto for rust-free wheat, and some seeding money for Gunns to prosper.

Last but not least, there is the proposal – put nice and bluntly by the West report – that protests against the pulp mill must cease.  We all know exactly what the next step in that direction will be.

Come on, get on with it!

First published: 2012-04-01 05:45 AM

• Lucy Landon-Lane, Pulp the Mill:

In response to the latest information in a document released by Andrew Wilkie, stating that the Federal Government is considering funding the Tamar Valley pulp mill, spokesperson for Pulp the Mill Lucy Landon-Lane said:

“How can the Federal Government spend money on a private company that is on the brink of bankruptcy, while the health, education and police sectors have been cut back severely across the nation?

“It is ridiculous for the Federal Government to even contemplate funding this pulp mill when the ANZ bank and international pulp and paper companies have found the project to be unviable. Richard Chandler Corporation pulled out of investing in Gunns when it did due diligence on the company and its pulp mill.  It has been proven time and time again that there is no social licence for this mill.  Why does the Federal Government want to foist this upon the people of Tasmania?”

• Anne Layton-Bennett, Friends of the Tamar Valley: More good money after bad if the Federal Government provides funds to build Gunns’ pulp mill

Reports of possible Federal Government funding that would enable Tasmanian logging company Gunns Limited to keep alive its hopes of building the controversial Tamar Valley pulp mill were today condemned by community group Friends of the Tamar Valley.

Tasmania’s Federal Independent MP for Denison, Andrew Wilkiehas suggestedfederal funding may be made available from the Export, Finance and Insurance Corporation, a Government organisation that claims to practice: ‘responsible lending in both financial and ethical contexts. We uphold best-practice environmental and social standards in the transactions we support and in managing our business.’

“Since the pulp mill has repeatedly failed to meet either best-practice environmental or social standards it’s difficult to understand how or why the Federal Government can possibly justify directing millions of taxpayer dollars towards a development that has never received social acceptance, and has consistently and repeatedly been widely condemned by the broad scientific community as being dangerously flawed, and environmentally harmful. The risks to human health especially are huge,” said FTV spokesperson Ms Layton-Bennett.

“Lack of public support for the pulp mill is evident in the results of every poll and survey ever taken, while the risks associated with allocating taxpayer funding for the project were clearly set out several years ago by the Economic Unit of the Federal Government’s own Environment Department.”

“When schools, hospitals and public services generally are being forced to undergo massive budget cuts, or potential closures, how can any government possibly believe providing millions of dollars to a company that’s involved, directly or indirectly, in a number of serious legal challenges, is public money well spent?”

“It’s about time that all Federal and State politicians - regardless of their party affiliations – understood why the community will never accept the pulp mill being built in the Tamar Valley, and why Tasmanians will never stop fighting to stop it ever being built,” Ms Layton-Bennett concluded.

References:
http://www.efic.gov.au/about/Pages/aboutefic.aspx
http://tapvision.info/node/413http://www.environment.gov.au/epbc/notices/assessments/2007/3385/pubs/att-b9.pdf (page 4)

• Download Outline of facts and impacts relating to the proposed Pulp Mill in the Tamar Valley, Tasmania:
FTV_Dossier_3rd_ed_(November_2011).doc

• Loretta Johnston, The Examiner: No federal funds for Gunns: Burke

BY LORETTA JOHNSTON
02 Apr, 2012 04:00 AM

THE federal government is not providing further assistance to Gunns for its proposed Tamar Valley pulp mill, Environment Minister Tony Burke says.

Denison independent MHR Andrew Wilkie told the media on Saturday that a trustworthy source had seen a draft cabinet submission relating to federal funding for the project through the Export Finance and Insurance Commission.

Yesterday Mr Wilkie said there was no doubt in his mind that such a document existed, despite senior ministers saying they had no knowledge of it and a clause in the Tasmanian forests intergovernmental agreement precluding federal funding for Gunns’ pulp mill.

Point 42 of the agreement states: ``The Commonwealth’s position is that no Commonwealth funds will be paid to progress the Bell Bay pulp mill project.’‘

Mr Burke said yesterday that he had already given the environmental approvals for the pulp mill to go ahead.

``However, we’re not providing further assistance nor are they asking for it,’’ Mr Burke said.

A spokeswoman for Regional Development Minister Simon Crean said Mr Wilkie’s claims had come as a surprise and a Gunns spokesman said the company had not applied for funding through the Export Finance and Insurance Commission.

Mr Wilkie said he had not seen the document himself, but that a source he trusted had told him about it.

``It’s a single source but it’s someone I trust,’’ Mr Wilkie said.

``I don’t know how recent it is or how far it has progressed.’‘

The Examiner here