BOB McMAHON
Four years after a Chilean court determined that the CELCO pulp mill near Valdivia in Southern Chile caused the ecological collapse of the Rio Cruces Wetlands Sanctuary, the Santiago Appeals Court has thrown out CELCO’s appeal, finally putting an end to that company’s delaying tactics.
For those unfamiliar with this case read my The Swans Are Dead, written in 2006 and recently published on TT: HERE. The company involved, CELCO, has a similar reputation in Chile to that which Gunns has in Australia. CELCO is the Gunns of Chile.

With one major difference: CELCO actually runs pulp mills in Chile, though not very well.

Implicit in this decision against CELCO is the concomitant guilt by a troupe of Tasmanian politicians of the crime of mendacity. Why ‘mendacity’? Because the Chief Censor, Brenton Best, has determined the word ‘liar’ is no longer acceptable. Is ‘mendacity’ a little harsh? Well what word would you use to describe the actions of someone willing to be lied to and willing to repeat that lie, but ‘mendacious’?

With the honourable exception of Ruth Forrest, the politicians who were chaperoned by Gunns on their 2007 trip to Chile, and Jim Wilkinson who was not, all returned aglow with enthusiasm for Chilean pulp mills and denying that the CELCO pulp mill near Valdivia had been responsible for the pollution of the Rio Cruces, despite the fact that CELCO had been found guilty of that crime in the Chilean courts the previous year.

It was the Chilean government that took CELCO to court. Can you imagine the Tasmanian government doing the same should the hypothetical pulp mill ever be built and it hypothetically pollutes as it is hypothetically bound to?

There are no provisions in the PMAA and the operation of the regulations and permits for that to happen. Furthermore, it was the Chilean government that suspended operations of the Valdivia mill several times while the pollution was investigated. Could that happen here? No. Significantly, it was the police who shut down the CELCO pulp mill north of Valdivia near the Mataquito River following the death of fish and livestock in and around the river in 2007. Could that happen here? No. The police have no powers to do that. They would be fully engaged protecting the pulp mill from protesters and doing the bidding of the government or Gunns. What’s the difference you may ask?

We may be smug when making economic comparisons between Tasmania and Chile. But in other areas the comparison is not so flattering. Despite the economic indices favouring Tasmania, our democracy, vis a vis polluting industry v peoples’ rights, has nothing like the safeguards that are built into the Chilean model.

But wait, it gets worse. It pains me to recall the public performances of the politicians on their return from Chile. Gutwein, as one has grown accustomed to expect, did his Lord Haw Haw routine sticking it up the community he expects to vote for him, Jim Wilkinson proved how ethically challenged he was, but it was Sue Napier who caused the most fuss.

First a little background. Sue Napier is a contradiction. Her rationality and common sense as the shadow Minister of Education is admirable and refreshing compared to Bartlett’s cant and bureaucratic mangling. By contrast, her handling of the pulp mill issue has been obtuse in the extreme and she has been prepared to accept whatever the Labor and Liberal parties, the pulp mill proponent and its fellow travellers, here and overseas, have dished up.

When TAP brought Professor Eduardo Jaramillo (cited in the Santiago Times article) out to Tasmania for a lecture tour in late 2006, I arranged for a meeting with Sue Napier. He briefed her on the ecotoxicological research that he and his doctoral students from the Universidad Austral de Chile in Valdivia had done in the Rio Cruces Wetlands, which proved pollution from the CELCO pulp mill had caused the ecological collapse. He also talked about the lack of economic benefit to the Valdivia region accruing from the pulp mill.

On her return from Chile the following year, Sue Napier’s public statements and media work, accessed on the Internet in Chile, caused something of an international crisis which few people knew about. Both Dr Jaramillo and the University wanted to take legal action against Sue Napier because of the perceived damage from her statements to Dr Jaramillo’s professional reputation and the perceived damage to the scientific credentials of the university in international academic circles.

Dr Jaramillo wrote Sue Napier a letter, which I recall as being excellent. I think she replied. I don’t know the contents but as a consequence of Jaramillo’s letter, I presume, she did a bit of back pedalling here.

Once the heat of the moment passed, the issue faded away. Dr Jaramillo and the University dropped the idea of legal action. It was just too difficult mounting a legal challenge in a foreign jurisdiction. In addition, viewed from Chile, Tasmania is of little importance: a very rich country’s appendage no doubt, but without neighbours and influence, nearly as isolated as Chile’s Tierra del Fuego. Dr Jaramillo knew quite a bit about Tasmania – he had spent time here and had gained insights into Tasmania’s government, bureaucracy and legal system. Was Tasmania’s legal system independent of government and independent of the influence of the pulp mill proponent and did it possess the sophistication to fairly assess relatively complex scientific material? Probably not would have been his consideration in both cases.

Which brings us to our mendacious politicians. Don’t expect an apology in the light of the Chilean verdict. After all, the Chilean Appeals Court decision is a travesty of justice as we understand the workings of justice in Tasmania. In Tasmania, the Pulp Mill Assessment Act, Section 11 in particular, would have prevented the case ever coming to court in the first place. No case to answer. History would record, by way of explaining the minor ecological glitch, a suspected increase in sunspot activity resulting in the decline of an aquatic plant and the starvation of some swans.

The local newspaper would run a short two paragraph story on page 17.