EFFECTS OF PROLONGED EXPOSURE TO GUNNS PULP MILLPROPOSAL
Since December 2004, Tasmanians and especially those people living and working in the Tamar Valley have lived with the uncertainty surrounding Gunn’s proposed pulp mill on the banks of the Tamar River in Northern Tasmania.
The area is home to a population of approximately 100,000 taking in Launceston and various towns and communities along both sides of the river. From the initial announcement on, the State Labor Government and Liberal opposition have supported the proposal wholeheartedly, ignoring the growing levels of community concern in the Tamar Valley and across Tasmania. Over the past 5 years the perceptions of collusion and back door deals between the government and Gunns has heightened already serious concerns based on very credible science and natural and human environmental impact assessment projections. Given the way these grave community and professional body (such as the AMA) concerns have been dismissed and marginalized by the local media, State Government and developer a formal survey was designed and initiated in September 2009 to document the nature and level of community and state resident concerns with respect to the proposed pulp mill and with respect to the impact assessment and community consultation processes which have taken place to date. The brief report highlights and discusses a number of key findings from this survey.
A statewide online survey was carried out over a four week period in September 2009. The survey methodology employed a snowball sampling procedure whereby information regarding the survey, including online survey form particulars, was sent out through a variety of sources including individuals and business owners, with recipients asked to forward the survey on to others. This request included a specific statement that the survey should be sent on to other contacts, regardless of their (if known) view of the pulp mill.
Notwithstanding some limitations with respect to this type of survey methodology, this procedure was deemed the most effective way to reach a broad and representative sample of people given the constraints of time and money. As with similar survey types, it is acknowledged that individuals who respond are more likely to be those for whom the issue is salient and important, through the description of the survey, its focus and the dissemination channels used were carefully thought through as to preclude or minimize any perceived bias or agenda.
This section includes only a brief outline of some of the more pertinent incidences that led to the development of the survey. Far more detail could have been included.
At the end of 2004, residents of the Tamar Valley read in the local newspaper that woodchip company, Gunns Ltd had put forward a proposal to the State government to build a pulp mill, the location to be decided between Hampshire on the north-west coast or at Longreach on the Tamar Valley next to the existing woodchip mill. Most residents were not too concerned at the time, believing the logical location for the mill would be at Hampshire in the middle of large plantation areas and the port of Burnie, not in the beautiful Tamar Valley, home to such a large population.
After only a few weeks deliberation, Gunns announced that they had chosen the Longreach site. This announcement occurred in the middle of January school holidays with many residents away on holidays. Gunns stated that the mill would be TCF technology, meaning that it would be totally chlorine free and use plantation timber only. The Federal Government gave them $5m based on this information.
Immediately after this announcement the local newspaper, The Examiner ran a 40 page spread entitled “Pulp Mill the opportunities” full of praise and support for the project but no substantive information regarding pulp mills. Understandably, residents began to express concerns. In addition, the State Government announced the creation of the Pulp Mill Taskforce to “sell” the proposal to the local residents. It was obvious that behind the scenes, this Taskforce had been established at least several months previously as staff had already been appointed and marketing tools such as pamphlets and a bus equipped with more pamphlets, but not more information were already in waiting.
At the end of January 2005, residents of the Tamar Valley received invitations from the Pulp Mill taskforce informing them that the taskforce representatives would be in their area for five days and residents were invited to contact them with questions. Taskforce members said they would be happy to come to homes to tell people all about the proposed mill but no public meeting was being held. By this stage, residents were beginning to feel very uncomfortable with the speed at which this all seemed to be progressing and the unfettered support not only from the State government and Liberal opposition, but also local councils, none of whom had held any meeting to provide information to the public. Residents of the Tamar Valley took matters into their own hands and organized a meeting at the small Deviot Hall at the end of the week during which the Taskforce was in the area. Originally, the taskforce representatives were opposed to attending this meeting repeating that they just wanted to meet individuals or small groups in peoples’ homes. At the last moment, approximately two hours before the meeting was to begin, they agreed to attend.
Residents came armed with intelligent, informed questions – it was not too difficult to google pulp mills and discover all the risks associated with them – none of which were adequately answered by the taskforce, leading to the creation of the first community group.
Over the past five years, not only has it fallen upon the affected community to identify relevant source material and initiate their own research and investigations, but public trust and confidence has been completely eroded by the failed and transparent measures of Gunns and the State government to misinform and manipulate public opinion and support for the mill.
As the project was labeled a Project of State Significance, it was to be assessed by the Resource Planning and Development Commission(RPDC), involving a panel of experts and headed by Judge Julian Green. The process involved Directions Hearings at which various groups could put forward arguments and concerns, with legal representation if they chose. Various groups, both for and against the pulp mill were invited to attend. Hearings began in October 2006, three months after the release of the seven volume, approximately 7000 page, Integrated Impact statement. Given the volume and complexity of this document, individuals and groups were given little time to analyse and respond and despite this, a great deal of time, effort and fiancés were expended due to the serious omissions and flaws found in various components of the document. The community was committed to having their voices heard. The concerns included but were not limited to inadequate assessment of air pollution in the Tamar Valley (already a concern due to the inversion layer, making the valley fog and smog prone in winter); impact on the marine environment, use of and transport of toxic chemicals, the volume of public water and forest resources, impact on biodiversity, social impacts and lack of cost-benefit analysis on local residents and businesses.
By January 2007, it was evident that the RPDC had concerns regarding the location and type of pulp mill proposed and during that month revelations were made in regard to undue pressure being brought to bear by Premier Lennon, causing the resignation of the head of the panel citing undue government interference. Similarly, the replacement, Judge Christopher Wright also resigned within the month, publicly stating that he had been pressured to cease the Directions Hearings and approve the mill. Gunns also made public announcements that “unless the mill was approved within 6 months the project would be axed” (The Mercury, 9 January 2007). Paul Lennon also refused to rule out the possibility of a “new” assessment process and rushed from Hobart to Launceston to meet with John Gay, Managing Director and Chairman of Gunns. Mr. Gay said he was reassured by the Premier’s promise to continue “working on the process to do his best to make sure the pulp mill is built”
In March 2007, Gunns withdrew from the RPDC process and within 24 hours, Premier Lennon recalled parliament to announce that he would be expediting the pulp mill project via a special act of Parliament.
This led to unprecedented outrage by Tasmanians and even those who had supported the mill, could now no longer do so and were appalled at the lack of due process. The entire parliament, except for the Greens, went along with this betrayal. The Pulp Mill Assessment Act (PMAA) 2007 was prepared with the help of Gunns legal team leading the President of the Upper House to call it “Gunns dream bill” and a new term was being used, Tasmanians no longer had a democratically elected government, but a “Gunnerment”.
Throughout all this and the proceeding 2 years, in which both Labor and Liberal forge ahead with their obsessive support of the pulp mill, the lives of the residents and business owners of the Tamar Valley have been turned upside down. They continue to live with ongoing uncertainty, because despite the collusion and the large amount of taxpayer money, Gunns have not yet built their mill. Finance has been hard to get ($2billion is required), due to the global financial crisis and they are seeking a joint venture partner. However with a well organized local and international campaign against the company and the pulp mill proposal, none have yet signed up.
In a further display of unfettered support, the State government extended the State operating permits for the mill. Originally granted in August 2007 for a period of two years, the permits expired on 31 August 2009. Once again the State Labor Government and Liberal opposition, joined forces to grant a 22 month extension. This despite Premier Bartlett, last year saying that he was “drawing a line in the sand’ with respect to continual assistance to Gunns and that Tasmanians have a right to say “enough is enough” and should have answers by Christmas (2008).
This is the situation that residents have found themselves in – one where the goal posts change continually, always in favour of Gunns, the when an end has been in sight, the project is kept on life support by an acquiescing Labor government and colluding Liberal opposition, neither giving any thought to the effect this has on normal people just trying to get on with their lives. There is now profound distrust of government, environmental protection institutions (including Federal) and processes, resulting in reports of increased psychological effects such as anxiety, depression, relationship and financial difficulties and increasing levels of frustration with both State and Federal government’s complete and overriding support of the project despite continuous polls, letters radiotalkback and other feedback, reflecting that the majority of Tasmanians do not support the current proposal by Gunns to build an ECF technology mill in the Tamar Valley.
From the first round of written submission to the RPDC in May 2005, when over 200 submissions were received (a record for Tasmania) it is the community who have read, written and learnt about pulp mills, cutting through the blatant misinformation and misrepresention of both Gunns and the government.
The current survey was conducted in an attempt to expose the effects that the ongoing uncertainty has on individuals and to give voice to the community whose concerns continue to remain unheard and to expose the contempt with which the community is held by so many of our politicians.
The online survey was live over a four week period, during which time anyone could complete the survey. The survey link was distributed to a wide variety of individuals and businesses with a request to forward it on.
In total there were 537 respondents, 56.9% living in the Tamar Valley with the remaining 43.1% being Tasmanian residents. Ages ranged from less than 20 (1.4%) to over 71 (5.7%), with the majority being between 41 to 60 years (55.8%). 52.8% were male, 47.9% female.
Of the total respondents, 81.8% were residents of the Tamar Valley and 18.6% owned businesses. These business include, but are not limited to, bed and breakfast accommodation, farms, vineyards, organic produce,and restaurants/cafes.
Respondents were asked if they had delayed making business decisions as a result of the uncertainty surrounding the pulp mill, 25.5% answered yes and of those 70.8% were due to concerns that the mill would be built.
Similarly, residents were asked if they had delayed renovating or making changes to their homes. 34.2% responded that they had. In the past five years 16.9% thought about trying to sell their home and move; 5.6% did sell for a much lower price (before the GFC) and 7.8% have tried but have been unsuccessful. 53.9% answered that if the mill were to be build they would try and sell and move away, 27.7% said they would move to another part of Tasmania with 26.2% stating they would move interstate.
Respondents were asked if they had been or currently are, experiencing various psychological effects. 66.1% reported feeling frustrated, 56.3% anger; 49.8% anxiety/stress; 27.5% depressed;18.3% reported a deterioration in physical health. In total 72.4% of people who answered yes, believed that it was due to concerns about their future if the mill was to be built.
78.8% of people answered that they believed that their overall quality of life would get worse if the pulp mill goes ahead with only 21.2% believing that it will get better.
Of those who believed that their quality of life would improve the main reasons given were that ‘the pulp mill will increase the chance of employment for family members’ (73.4%); ‘the pulp mill will increase job opportunities for me (60.6%).
Of the 78.8% who believed that their overall quality of life would deteriorate, the main reasons given were: ‘the pulp mill will lead to a rise in health problems due to odour and air pollution (89.6%); lead to more accidents on the road (84.8%), that the pulp mill will lead to unemployment in existing clean/green employment sectors (80.1%); and lead to increased deaths due to air pollution (76.4%).
Respondents were asked whether they believed that the best interests of the community had been taken into consideration by Gunns: 55.3% did not believe they had consulted at all; 80% do not believe that Gunns is concerned about the community at all, while 81.5% don’t trust any statements or information released by Gunns in relation to the pulp mill.
The same question was asked with regard to the State government: 52.2% do not believe that the government consulted with the community and 87% do not trust the the government. Only 7.8% agreed with the approvals process undertaken by the government and only 1.98% believed that the government were concerned for residents of the Tamar Valley.
68.1% of respondents reported that they had undertaken their own research to find information relating to pulp mills. Other sources of information included media, attending community organized information sessions and meetings.
As emotions in the community are high people were asked to indicate what level of action they might take, if necessary to stop this mill. 77.4% responded that they would participate in protest action, 60.1% would provide financial support to groups opposed to the mill, while others would continue to agitate politicians, contact the media etc. 16.1% said they would actively support the building process.
The final question reflects the deep division within Tasmania over the pulp mill. Respondents were asked to indicate their level of support: 76.2% strongly opposed, 4.0% moderately oppose, 1.0% slightly oppose, 1.2% slightly support, 2.4% moderately support and 16.4% strongly support the pulp mill in the Tamar Valley.
The current survey was conducted to determine the psychological and social effects that prolonged exposure to uncertainty surrounding Gunns pulp mill is having on Tasmanian residents, especially those living and working in the Tamar Valley.
The results show a community that has been through an extraordinary time, and many feel that they are literally fighting for their livelihoods, if not lives. Many of the comments made as part of the survey responses show a community, that is deeply mistrusting of the State government and Gunns. Despite a barrage of pro-mill propanganda, despite the local media generally siding with Gunns, despite running on donated funds and pro bono or in kind generosity, the community has, against all odds fought this pulp mill proposal and has, so far, prevented it being built. As John Gay was overheard saying at a gathering in July 2005 – ‘they promised there would be no opposition”, or Paul Lennon telling a business community forum in November 2004 when announcing that a pulp mill would be built that if he had to stand in front of the bull dozers and shoot the greenies then he would!” This from the Premier of a State, that, as the community has found, had an obsessive desire to get it built at all cost.
However, all this comes at a cost, be it emotional, physical or financial and although the community is determined, perhaps more so than ever, the effects that such a prolonged exposure to uncertainty is having, is pronounced.
The Battle for the Tamar Valley has also had positive effects as some residents will say. It has forged a stronger community along both sides of the bank of the river, individuals have been empowered to stand up for what they believe in, there is a growing awareness of the destruction of Tasmania’s old growth forests and the effects of aerial and other chemical spraying used in the forestry industry.
Some of the comments from the survey sum up the general feeling within the community:
“I feel sicked by the proposed pulp mill. I have always been an easygoing person but am finding myself filled with hate and anger. I love Tasmania but feel I have lost my home….”
“Our plans to build holiday cabins in Beauty Point …has been put off”
“I am usually a really positive person, but the threat of this project hangs in the air like a perpetual cloud. It has been the wrong project from the start, both socially and environmentally and is destroying this beautiful island.”
Many respondents expressed thanks for having been given the opportunity to have their say, something that has been missing from this entire process. *
“So whatever the guidelines are, what will happen at the end of the day is that John Gay will say “jump” and Paul Lennon will say “how high”. (Senator Christine Milne)
This has been exactly what has occurred and despite Paul Lennon’s resignation due to an approval rating of only 17%, the current Premier, David Bartlett and is Labor team, as well as the Liberal opposition, continue to conduct business the same way. Ordinary Tasmanians are disgusted and appalled by the demolition of democracy and the way their right to question has been treated with contempt by politicians telling them to “go and have a cold shower and get over it”, that they have the right to expect representation as a community by their elected representatives, to have their concerns listened to and treated with respect.
One of the biggest cause for concern has been the PMAA 2007, and especially Section 11 which prevents people being able to receive compensation for loss or damage either during construction or operation of the pulp mill. So, if, for example an organic farm loses its organic status, or the quality of wine is effected, or you simply can’t enjoy a beautiful day because today is the day the pulp mill is having an “odour event”, and you are stuck because you can’t even sell your home and move then that is just too bad. This is just one of the reasons that residents are stressed and anxious because the question that everyone wants answered is if this pulp mill is as good and problem free as Tasmanians have been told, why is this Section even nececessary? Politicians continue to argue this is not the case, but a recent legal action by a group of residents to have the government provide information could not go ahead because, as the Judge stated, Section 11 precluded him from doing so.
Tasmanians and in particular those who live in what they term to be “the sacrifice zone” are living daily with the uncertainty of what their future holds. They have suffered losses already, the loss of relative certainty for the future, plans they have made for retirement, decisions put off, and as a result, higher levels of frustration, anger, anxiety and stress impacting on relationships and finances in some circumstances.
However, on 3 November, the State government with the Liberal opposition once again, joined forces and voted to grant Gunns a 22 month extension to their construction permits. Another example of Gunns being given special treatment at the expense of ordinary Tasmanians and a reinforcement of the belief that the people of the Tamar Valley are expendable.
This brief paper attempts to highlight just some of the social and emotional impacts that the pulp mill process has had on Tasmanians experiencing this process on a daily basis for almost 6 years. Whilst there is a weariness there is also a commitment to ensure that the pulp mill never gets built. There are people being trained in peaceful community protest and more and more willing to be arrested.
In the words of one of the ‘spiritual” leaders of the community movement:
“We will never, ever, ever give up!”