Image for Hobart health risked by cruise ships? Background Briefing’s shocking report

Three cruise ships dock in Hobart, as captured by ABC ... as ominous clouds of woodsmoke creep toward the city ...

Every Cargo Cult has a dark underbelly ... and Right-wing zealot Alan Jones has exposed the latest. Which immediately raises the question: What damage is being done to the health of Tasmanians living near visiting cruise ships? In summer the exhausts of cruise ships blows in and around Sullivans Cove - including Salamanca - and over existing hotels.

AND ...

• There is no greater Cargo Cult in Tasmania than Forestry ... the millions devoured by this Neanderthal is the stuff of nightmares. And it’s about this time of year ... the time of crisp, clear blue autumn skies when Forestry decides it’s time for a good “regeneration” burn ...

The Reports ...

Alan Jones backs Balmain residents’ battle against cruise ship pollution

The conservative radio commentator Alan Jones has thrown his weight behind a campaign to reduce pollution from cruise ships in inner-city Sydney, which is reportedly causing widespread health problems.

Balmain residents say they are being exposed to carcinogens from the cruise ships for about eight hours a day, 130 days a year, because the White Bay cruise ship terminal, which opened in April 2013, does not have shore-to-ship power that would allow cruise ships to turn their engines off.

A NSW parliamentary inquiry into the Environment Protection Authority this month found that the decision to build the $57m terminal at White Bay, rather than Barangaroo, was a “serious error” by the then Labor government, and said the EPA “could have taken more proactive and persuasive action” to prevent it.

The independent Leichhardt councillor John Stamolis has been campaigning against the White Bay terminal since it was first proposed six years ago. He does not think the terminal should be there under any conditions, but said the high-sulphur fuel used in Australian cruise ships made it particularly hazardous.

Cruise ships in Australia are allowed to use diesel that is up to 3.5% sulphur. In Europe and the United States, sulphur levels must be kept below 0.1%.

“You have the worst levels of sulphur dioxide over the suburb; then there’s nitrogen dioxide, toluene, benzene, and two types of particulate matter – PM-10 and PM-2.5,” Stamolis said.

“All that’s pumping out of ships’ funnels at the same height as your front door, and probably 40 metres away.”

Balmain public school and Father John Therry Catholic primary school are about 500 metres from the White Bay cruise ship terminal. If a ship berthing coincides with a northerly breeze the fumes are blown up and settle on the playground.

Read more here

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• Forestry Tasmania burns planned for harvest areas across state

FORESTRY Tasmania plans to set 150 burns during autumn aimed at regenerating forests after harvest.

The burn-offs will dovetail with a program of fuel reduction burns promised by the incoming Liberal Government in the wake of the Dunalley bushfires in 2013.

Burns have been contentious in recent years, with complaints that the smoke causes asthma and other respiration problems.

Forestry Tasmania said its 150 burns would range in size from a couple of hectares to approximately 100ha and would be undertaken in coupes across the state’s permanent timber production zone.

It told the Mercury that autumn was the safest time to do regeneration burns and it also stimulated the germination of seeds.

Read the full Nick Clark story, Mercury here

• The Autumn of Respiratory Distress Gets Underway

Cassy O’Connor MP | Greens Health spokesperson Media Release

With Forestry Tasmania announcing 150 planned burns and the State Government confirming 27 000 hectares of bushland will be burned this year, Tasmanians suffering from respiratory conditions are again in for a stressful period, Tasmanian Greens’ Health spokesperson, Cassy O’Connor MP, said today (Tues).

“Every Autumn, our clear sky days are clouded with dirty smog from forestry burns and this year, there will be even more burning as a result of government policy, which means even more respiratory health risk for Tasmanians,” Ms O’Connor said.

“The state’s estimated 55 000 asthma sufferers must dread this time of year.  These burns can, and have, caused considerable respiratory distress, yet they continue unabated and now there will be increased ‘fuel-reduction’ burning that distress will almost certainly be compounded.”

“Forestry Tasmania says it plans 150 ‘regeneration’ burns this season.  That is, on average, more than one a day but because not every Autumn day will be a suitable or safe fire day, there will be some periods in the burning season that are much more intense and much more of a health risk for asthma sufferers and Tasmanians with other respiratory conditions.”

“Large scale burning in the name of industrial forestry and the Liberal party’s poorly conceived burn off policy will have a negative impact on the health of Tasmanians.  It is time we rethought these approaches to landscape management in Tasmania,” Ms O’Connor said.

John Lawrence: Further comment on the article, Things that can’t last ... FT fails the test, says Examiner

Peter, Frank,

My position on the problems of the forest industry is well known and hasn’t changed.

When I referred to the current FT GBE model I meant the specific legal structure, not its modus operandi.

Up until the last few years FT has pretended that government assistance has been compensation for lost resources and/or funds for non commercial activities (research etc) and community service obligations.

It was always obvious to close observers that FT’s problems ran far deeper. But the financial statements under the Kloeden-Gordon regime tried to gloss over the fact FT was selling timber below cost.

Even the Auditor General has pointed this out.

FT didn’t do much competing, it simply handed over timber at below bargain basement prices.

From 2009 onwards FT has been insolvent necessitating the Letter of Comfort.

Gunns probably became insolvent in the months leading up to the sale of the Triabunna mill in 2011.

The decline of Gunns’ native forest woodchipping coincided with FT’s rise as an exporter.

At one point Gunns accused FT of stealing its customers. I have since heard that Gunns even contemplated legal action. Whether this meant trying to restrain FT using provisions established under national competition guidelines I’m not sure.

Suffice to say Gunns accepted $23 million in IGA funds and moved on, not very far as it turned out.

FT also started competing against whole log exporters.

From an accounting viewpoint the recent funds pouring into FT have been labeled deficit funding. This makes it impossible to argue the government wasn’t contravening the spirit if not of letter national competition guidelines. It became no longer possible to argue the funds were to support FT’s non commercial activities.

The latest tranche of money earmarked for FT has been characterised as an equity transfer not deficit funding.

It’s not deficit funding, the government has simply recapitalised FT, is the smart-arsed interpretation. I get a sense the government/FT is pre-empting the possible application of national competition provisions.

The state of the State finances is not improving, so finding $30 million each year to deficit fund/recapitalise FT will become harder.

Woodchip exporting on its own account has helped FT’s bottom line I suspect. And whole log exporting is continuing. But both these are wide open for challenge if aggrieved parties in the private sector competing against FT start stepping forward. I briefly covered the statutory definition of aggrieved party in a Tasfintalk blog ‘FT and the economic regulator’ in December 2014 ( HERE ). I understand from others that the definition may be broad enough to include taxpayers whose electricity bills have risen as a consequence. Treasury issued a paper in December 2014 which discussed limiting the competitive neutrality complaint provisions. A flood of complaints about FT might raise $110 a pop but would clog the system.

The other thing that is not helping FT is its large unfunded superannuation liability. Half the stumpage return last year went to pay pensions of retired FTers . This is before any employee costs or overheads.

Part of the current discussion within government is about transferring the super liability to Finance General, in effect part of Treasury.

If the super liability is to be transferred to the general government, then why not the whole box and dice?

That is what is being canvassed right now I suspect.

If FT’s activities once again become part of general government then the full cost attribution rules will need to apply. These rules do not apply to a corporatised government business which instead is required to pay income tax equivalents and guarantee fees. Being profitless means FT pays nothing.

Competitive neutrality guidelines are designed where government or government businesses compete with the private sector. In the past FT hasn’t done much competing, it’s just shifted the benefits of our assets to others.

But now things are changing. FT is trying to compete to survive. FT needs cash and that is getting harder to find.If it wishes to compete long term FSC will be needed.

On the matter of fixing our degraded landscape one can be sure FT won’t be fixing it. 100,000 hectares of hardwood plantations are now owned and managed by the New Forests Group. Having acquired the timber at somewhere between $5 and $8 per tonne they have plenty of scope to help fund damaged ecosystems. It seems likely that not all plantations will be replanted.

Then there’s 14,000 hectares of MIS on crown land, about 35,000 hectares on private leased land and a bit over 20,000 on FEA land which is still in the hands of BRI Ferrier after almost 5 years. New Forests are likely to end up with some of these remaining plantations, which when it’s softwood estate of almost 50,000 hectares is taken into account, means that New Forests are the dominant plantation owner/manager.

Now is the time to talk to New Forest about their broader obligations. To date they’ve give every impression of being amenable.

I’m certainly not confident about meaningful changes, many of which were pointed out by Andrew Ricketts, occurring in the near future but change in the legal structure gives a slight glimmer of hope.

• phill Parsons, in Comments: Following on #10. The NSW election has spurred all the major parties to promise action. In other places the cruise ships are required to burn low sulphur fuel and this is the Liberals solution flagged for June 2016. Tasmania should have at least the same requirement. Is the Tasmanian EPA as fast asleep as the NSW one was when they approved Wide Bay after they gave Barangaroo to Packer?. … The Guardian reports that only 24 hours after Alan Jones flagged making cruise ship pollution an election issue the Liberals announced their phase out by June 2016 policy. Does this speak pf the power of Alan Jones or the closeness of the election according to internal Liberal polling?

SUNDAY ...

Anne Connolly, Background Briefing: Cruising’s Dirty Secret Residents of the Sydney suburb of Balmain say they’ve been suffering health problems ever since a new cruise ship terminal opened at nearby White Bay in 2013. ‘We realized over a number of months that a lot of the neighbours were becoming sick and we started talking to each other about the fact that we had unusual headaches that we’d never experienced before,’ says Kate Horrobin, a Balmain resident. ‘Little kids were getting sick with asthma that they hadn’t had before or those with asthma are having worsening symptoms. All of these things were unusual symptoms. People were experiencing respiratory problems, even nausea. ‘We started to put two and two together and think about the cruise ships as being the new entrant to the local area, and we started to do some research. We were pretty horrified by what we found.’