Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Economy

Pulp mill permit: Three working weeks…

Many of us in Tasmania are intently watching the death throes of this controversial pulp mill project. The saga has seen the political destruction of two Premiers and we now witness the ‘rock bottom’ pit in which the present incumbent now finds herself. It has destroyed the state’s mightiest company and its chairman while already many workers have been bought, sold or sacked. Their futures are deemed expendable for the great cause – Gunns Impossible Dream.

The Tasmanian public has seen a succession of Ministers, who have toed the Labor line, who have bent the system to align with Gunns wishes, who have treated us, the public, so shamefully, for all these years. They have been rewarded with their moments of power, before being exposed for misconduct, lies and incompetence. We have seen so many come with fanfare and go in shame. And now we are forced to put new suits and new ties on those who replace our Konses, our Lennons, our Bartletts. We now have politicians who achieve high office from a standing start, thrown into a crisis ridden government and given immediate ministries. We are Paul Keating’s ‘Banana Republic’ – a Constitutional Monarchy with eucalypts, not bananas.

We have seen gross abuse of our most important social institution – our Tasmanian democracy. We saw the attempt with the first draft of Section 11 of the PMAA to give complete protection to Gunns and to completely prevent any legal challenge of any description that might have arisen in relation to the mill. Even today, as our governments negotiate and our Premier, while forcing budget cuts on our health system, our police, our schools, seeks a way to give Gunns $106m as compensation. Compensation for what?

THE PERMIT

Two years ago, the Pulp Mill Permit expired because there had been no substantial commencement to construction of the mill. When this was noticed, the Government immediately rushed through a ‘Clarification Bill’ which pretended that the Permit was still alive and kicking. They gave an extension to the Permit after it had expired. It gave retrospective life to the Permit by pretending that it had never expired. Our Parliament pretended that it is permissible and possible to grant extensions ‘posthumously’. They got away with it and gave us a Lazarus Permit. But even Lazarus’s second life is coming to an end – in 25 days or less, depending on when you read this. This present incarnation of a Permit expires at the end of this month unless Gunns has made a substantial commencement to construction of the mill project. The Permit, created by our Parliament, came into force on the 30th August, 2007, expired on the same date in 2009, and was later given a 2 year Clayton’s ‘extension’ which expires on 30th August – that’s 25 days away. To prevent it expiring, Gunns have to show that commencement of construction of the activities covered by the Permit, has been substantial.

Before we can make a proper assessment of whatever sham construction activities Gunns might try and conjure in the next three weeks, we should get clear in our minds what it is that comes under this Lazarus Pulp Mill Permit.

The Pulp Mill Permit includes 5 Land Use Planning Schedules which are spread across the municipal areas of George Town Council, Launceston City and West Tamar Council and also a section of Bass Strait. Other schedules (39 in total) involve 6 Govt Departments and some 23 pieces of Legislation.

ACHIEVED SO FAR:

Clearance of vegetation on one part of the Longreach site and construction of an internal road leading from the West Tamar Highway.

NOT BEGUN:

What construction works can we see that have commenced?

No site works to create a level site,
no quarry,
no buildings,
no installation of processing equipment and associated infrastructure, including infrastructure for water supply, power and natural gas,
no outfall pipeline,
no warehouse for pulp storage,
no pipeline to discharge stormwater into the Tamar River,
no new shipping berth facility in the Tamar River,
no infrastructure for solid waste disposal,
no other infrastructure to be used in conjunction with the pulp mill, including water supply pumping station and pipeline,
no road and rail infrastructure or the upgrade of existing road and rail infrastructure,
no temporary accommodation for construction workers,
no chemical plant,
no effluent treatment plant and
no constructed or upgraded woodchipping facilities and associated infrastructure

– not even a ‘level playing field’, not a slab, not a chimney, not anything more than just one more example of a clearfell operation (in which the company excels) and a bit of a dead-end road so the local businessmen and women can be driven in, given wine, cheese and more promises and then driven back out.

WHAT IS NOT A CONSTRUCTION ACTIVITY:

PLANNING: It must be stressed that the years of planning, the documents that comprise the Draft Integrated Impact Statement and Supplementary Information, Gunns Limited Preliminary Documentation, and Documents prepared to satisfy obligations under the Commonwealth and Tasmanian approvals can not be used as evidence to support a claim of a substantial commencement to the construction of the Pulp Mill Project. The activities which were listed above as ‘achieved so far’ and ‘not begun’ were sourced from the interpretation section of the Pulp Mill Permit, signed off by then Minister, Steve Kons, on the 21st of August 2007. Any of those activities would form part of the construction process, but not the planning.

FINANCE: With the exception of the money spent on the logging of some of the Long Reach block and the section of roadway leading to it from the highway, the other monies that Gunns have expended over the years on the pulp mill ($200m?) do not count towards proving a substantial commencement of construction of the mill project. Neither do the trips overseas in the search for a JVP count as a substantial start to construction. You can fly 100 times around the world, but you can’t say that by doing so you have substantially begun construction of the mill. Just recently Greg L’Estrange promised to make a start and to spend $30m by the end of August (in order to keep the resurrected Permit alive). Could the company spend $30m on building the mill in the next three working weeks? And is $30m a substantial amount of money?

We have seen previously in TT [Gunns: The Final Death Throes? Share Price tanks. The meaning of ‘Substantial Commencement’ (John Lawrence: HERE)] that the High Court of Australia has dealt with the issue of ‘substantial commencement’ and has said that

“… [a substantial] commencement is not merely evident, but is substantial, that is, of considerable amount … A substantial commencement involves a commitment of resources of such proportions relative to the approved project as to carry the assurance that the work has really commenced … the construction of the slab was not a substantial commencement … the concrete slab was not a substantial part of the approved work of six town houses costing an estimated … ”

A full consideration of the High Court judgement leaves us with the certain knowledge that a “considerable amount” of the overall project works would have to be undertaken in the next three working weeks and that the “commitment of resources” must be proportionate to the overall cost of the approved project. Will some muddy earthworks on that bare land overlooking Long Reach represent a considerable amount of the overall project works? Clearly not. Where is the workers’ village? Where is the outfall pipeline? Where is the new wharf? Where is the water supply pipeline? Where is the storage dam, the solid waste garbage dump, the quarry? The works that if construction had commenced, would have been occurring in Bass Strait, in George Town, in Trevallyn and across many private and much public lands – where are they? There is not even a concrete slab at Long Reach. Not a building, not a shed. What could they do in the next three working weeks that would cost $30m. Would L’Estrange’s phantom $30m be considered to be a ‘considerable amount’ in proportion to the overall cost of $2.3b? Clearly not. Take $30m from $2.3b and you still have to do $2270m of construction to get a mill up and running. Gunns are like a mad dog which for the public good should be ‘put down’. We’d like to tell our Premier to resign, but ‘you know who’ is waiting, poised to take over. His mates must be happy.

FUTURE TREACHERY:

If Gunns survive their share price crash and trading halt, what can we expect? We can expect Bryan Green, as the responsible Minister, to tell us on August 31st that a substantial commencement has been made to the construction of the mill: he will tell us that a few bulldozers and trucks slithering in the mud do represent a substantial commitment of resources. Then Lara Giddings, our Premier-for-the-time-being will tell us, ‘gopher wheels whirring’ that construction has substantially commenced. We will hear it. It will come too from the mouths of your Ivan Deans, your Greg L’Estranges and your Michael Fields of this world.

We have been lied to for years now. The lies and spin won’t stop.

OUR WARNING:

We are not giving in – ever. We will keep fighting this perversion of process, be it in Hobart, or at the Labor Conference at the Launceston Casino, or on site, or on the roads and bush areas of this state. This is what we can promise in return for Labor and Liberal chicanery, for the arrogance of Gunns, for those who have been prepared to ignore our legitimate objections to this project. And Lara fiddles while Rome burns. $106m compensation for Gunns? Nuts!

Whatever Gunns do in the next three weeks, with regard to commencing construction, it will not be substantial.

Garry lives in ‘the Liffey’ and in Launceston. He has a day job and uses his outside-working-hours to support activism in the defence of native forests and against the proposed pulp mill. He struggles with pen and pix to record, detail and advance the cause.

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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Factfinder

    August 9, 2011 at 6:49 am

    Update: Australia – Transcript of joint press conference, Canberra, 8 August 2011
    Subject(s): Aged Care;… Forestry agreement; Malaysia agreement; Papua New Guinea

    http://www.isria.com/pages/9_August_2011_4.php
    PM: Good afternoon.

    JOURNALIST: Will you support any Federal Government funds going to pay Gunns’ compensation claim?

    PM: Well the funds that we’re paying are in the agreement that you received yesterday.
    ==============================================
    Q: Will GUNNS be able to get back to trading on the ASX – now?
    Time will tell

  2. Bob McMahon

    August 9, 2011 at 12:04 am

    Nice work Garry. In reference to your comment #12 you state that “They (the state govn’t) oughta know their own Act…”

    You have drawn a false conclusion based on a false assumption. It isn’t “their” Act. It’s Gunns. Gunns wrote it. All the parliament did was pass it unread. I guess most parliamentarians still haven’t read it.

  3. john hayward

    August 8, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    Anyone who invokes legal provisions to argue what Tassie authorities are obliged to do might find it more effective to pray to the Almighty.

    In the past few weeks we’ve apparently seen Bryan Green make a spirited effort to turn the Triabunna chip mill over to a phantom and, most recently, to gift the State Forest Wood Supply over to some Malaccan pirates.

    Bryan knows how the Tassie system works. Truly might he say “What? Me worry?”.

    John Hayward

  4. Barnaby Drake

    August 8, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    5.I checked the audio of Bryan Green’s interview with Leon Compton, and he implies that the LEGISLATION has been changed to require only ‘substantial progress’ by Gunns on the pulp mill by 30 August.

    Is this a change to the Planning Laws and is this a precedent for ALL future planning applications? If so, the preparation of the plans and the lodgement with councils takes both a considerable amount of money, time and effort, so under this new precedent, these plans should automatically be granted ‘substantial commencement’ status and obviating the necessity of a this time-wasting clause once the initial permit has been granted. It also appears that planning laws can be changed retrospectively as well, if you are Gunns and permits extended beyond deadlines. Does that also apply to others or only to the favoured few?

    Being ‘equal under the law’, will these new principles be added into our new planning schemes that are about to be launched?

    Perhaps Bryan could elaborate for us?

  5. C.Green

    August 8, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    The PMAA, s8(3) still uses the language of ‘substantial commencement.’ In saying that there could be an amendment somewhere, I’m still looking.

  6. Scott

    August 8, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    Interesting read, Garry. I’d like to think that Gunns lack of progress will spell the end of the Mill project at the end of this month. Unfortunately, I can’t see the government letting it go without still more skullduggery.

    Here’s the Pulp Mill Assessment (Clarification) Bill:

    http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/legis/tas/bill/pmab102o2009384/pmab102o2009384.html

  7. Garry Stannus

    August 8, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Tassie Gold (#1) and lmxly (#5): Here is the current legislation, called the Pulp Mill Assessment Act (2007) – the current version of the act as amended and noted in my article:

    Section 8 (4)
    “The Pulp Mill Permit lapses if the project is not substantially commenced before the end of the period of 4 years commencing on the date on which the Pulp mill Permit comes into force”

    Bryan Green is incorrect. He should know better. They oughta know their own Act, which has caused us so much grief.

  8. William Boeder

    August 8, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Thank you Mr Gary Stannus for your up to date synopsis of where that improperly improved proposed Pulp-Mill is at.
    There are some substantial proven accounts of deception that have lately arisen from within this State government in its strongly supportive role in keeping alive and breathing this dreaded threat of a poisonous Pulp-Mill to be built by Gunns Ltd.

    “This company of Gunns Ltd has created a history for itself as undeniably the most reviled and hostile to the people business operation to ever conduct itself, (exception given to the early Whaling industry and the clubbing of seals industries,) upon the shores of Tasmania.

    Yet we are still witnessing in abject dismay, how the States elected ministers doggedly continue to go against the will of the people, by engaging in all manner of “stealth, sleight of hand and behind the scenes string-pulling manoeuvres,” to aid this ruinous colossus to formally establish itself upon the riverbank of the State’s highly populated Tamar Valley?

    The latest Weasel Words from the States disappointingly anointed Deputy Premier and arguably-incompetent forestry minister, Bryan Green MP, sees this same person wanting to alter the approval permit wordings, to allow a mixed bag of land-vegetation clearance, unwarranted equipment expenditures, the expenditures of organized propaganda campaigns, then the expenditure upon many inadequate superficial consultant reports of praise and hallelulah for their proposed poisoning Pulp-Mill, as a form of substantial committment to the construction of said Pulp-Mill?

    A very dangerous game of deception is being played out upon the people of this State by this present State government minister, by his State minister colleagues and its subservient opposition minister members of government.

    I believe it can only be but a short moment in time before this entire improperly enacted then suspiciously conducted proposal, comes a’tumbling down upon the heads of all participating parties and dies a horrible lingering squalid death.

  9. Karl Stevens

    August 8, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Please Note. Gunns shares are in a trading halt until the State Government finances Gunns legal challenge against the State Government over Gunns non-payment of $40 million to Forestry Tasmania.

  10. salamander

    August 8, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    And we shall see Labor and Liberal jump in the hot tub together, they will expect the displacement of water to swamp any protests or cries of corruption.

    If the legislation has been changed, it echoes what happened over Wielangta, when legislation was changed retrospectively to allow the continued destruction of native forest habitat.

    This government will never change its spots.

  11. Rod

    August 8, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    Greg L’Estrange, from his statements, has obviously believed all along that construction would have to start before 1st September 2011 if the requirements of the permits are to be met and he has indicated his confidence that Gunns will comply. If he now turns round and says that they have already complied then his immediate resignation would be appropriate: A businessman who cannot be trusted to keep his word will not find it easy to get employment in the future. Government ministers have no such problems!


    Editor’s note: edited for legal reasons – please read TT code http://www.oldtt.pixelkey.biz/index.php/pages/legalbits section on “Some legal red flags”

  12. Valleywatcher

    August 8, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    Beware the weasel-words, folks! Rest assured that Greggy Le Strange is right when he stated (several times) that the money spent to date by the company already fulfills the requirement to have made a “substantial” start on the project.

    Having said that, the company is in no fit state to even survive too much longer, let alone build such an enormous chemical forest digester….they haven’t even purchased the plans and blueprints yet! So even if they start digging foundations and laying concrete, it ain’t for no pulp mill! It would be generic – a helipad, maybe? A brick shithouse, perhaps?

  13. Mike

    August 8, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Kim Booth has promised to move a vote of no confidence if the permits are extended on false pretences for this would clearly amount to a corruption of proper processes.

    When it is clear to all and sundry, (as Gary has so clearly outlined) that there is no substantial commencement, the state govt lie to our faces.

    Sick em’ Kim.

  14. lmxly

    August 8, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    I checked the audio of Bryan Green’s interview with Leon Compton, and he implies that the LEGISLATION has been changed to require only ‘substantial progress’ by Gunns on the pulp mill by 30 August, not ‘substantial construction’. He uses these terms and obviously knows the difference between them.

    Does anyone know when the legislation was changed, and where the new version can be found? If Green is right, then Garry’s arguments are ‘substantially’ weakened.

  15. Karl Stevens

    August 8, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    Thanks Garry for a detailed account of the ‘state of play’ in the pulp mill farce. The role of the 3 political parties is very interesting. Starting with Labor, how can a party that is prepared to spend $billions on preventative health such as a $100 million indigenous anti-smoking program, then have such a massive blind spot concerning dioxins, triazines and heavy metals? Why only tackle cancer rates in Central Australia and not Tasmania? Why does Labor tolerate absolute recklessness and homicidal behavior from the corporate sector and nobody else? Why have Labor only defined ‘terrorism’ along religious lines and not on resource extraction? The Liberals have atrophied mentally to the age of an 8 year old, still living in the golden age of land clearing on an island they took by force. The Greens are keeping the Bryan Greens of Tasmania in power in some Neanderthal, Stalinist pact with the Left of Labor. Would they have kept Paul Lennon in power if they had 5 seats in the HoA back then? I think they would. We are not getting clear explanations of the thinking behind decision making in asmania. The politicians don’t have to explain why they allow Gunns to spend 7 years partially clearing a bush block in the hope they will one day resurrect a Ponzi tax avoidance scheme that the politicians can gorge on.

  16. Russell

    August 8, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    “Their futures are deemed expendable for the great cause – Gunns Impossible Dream.”

    It think that should read “Their futures are deemed expendable for the great CURSE – Gunns Impossible Wet Dream” Garry.

  17. phill Parsons

    August 8, 2011 at 11:48 am

    As investors flee to the safe havens of the financial markets the long promised JVP fails has failed to materialize. Gunns owes its bankers a heap and may also owes creditors. According to Green it is not getting a bigpayout for its sawlog ‘licence.

    Therfore one can conclude many more years will pass before the pulpmill commences but the State government, as a non cash reward, will extend the permit declaring substance something else than the high court definition.

    Hayward can explain the likely success of a Tasmanian Supreme Court challenge to the governments interpretation of its Acts.

    A cloud of fear will hang over the Tamar valley thwarting growth of the exiting economy whilst the forestry industry has a smaller input into the State’s economy.

    The only real option is for the State to kill the mill and realease more community energy into building Tasmania’s economy bu clarifying the direction of development in the Economic Development Plan.

  18. TassieGold

    August 8, 2011 at 11:48 am

    Yesterday morning (~8.50 a.m.) Bryan Green told Leon on the ABC morning show that the requirement had been changed from Gunns having to show substantial construction to substantial PROGRESS,and he added that they have already done (given all they have spent to date).

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