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


Throw away the dictionary

Throw away the dictionary.

A dictionary’s no help at all if you really want to know what words like “substantial” or “commencement” mean.

And heaven help us all if we try to give a meaning to the two words put together in a sentence, or even just as a stand-alone mini-phrase “substantial commencement”. In the Tasmanian political lexicon these words have no meaning that can be determined by recourse to any English dictionary. Much the same as “compensation”. Now there’s a word which is about as clear as mud in the refined use of language by Tasmanian politicians.

But at least we now know how Gunns has evaded the expiry of its pulp mill permits at the end of August 2011. It might seem more absurd than most of us expected, even though many of us have been curious for some time about how it would be done. But probably none of us expected that “expiry” could actually mean “commencement” in Tasmania, which makes us all look a bit silly, because we should be well aware that political Tas-speak has its own esoteric linguistic idiosyncracies beyond the reach of the most obvious and usual interpretations.

It transpires that the permits will remain in place until whoever is responsible for determining the meaning of “substantial commencement” is told what it means. It is that simple. The Environment Protection Authority (another deceptively labelled subsection of the bureaucracy), the authority (without authority, naturally) responsible for enforcing the terms of the permits granted to Gunns under legislation passed by the Tasmanian parliament in 2007, and amended in 2009, says it has no idea what the terms of the permits actually mean, and therefore feels entirely unable to do anything at all when the permits expire.

And no wonder. As they well know, dictionaries don’t predict how words shift in meaning overnight.


To make matters even more prettily grotesque, (oops, grotesquely inconvenient, actually) if that is possible, it appears that it requires a court to determine the meaning of “substantial commencement”, but that can only happen if a legal challenge is mounted against Gunns if the company starts “substantial commencement” after the expiry of the permits. If no legal challenge is mounted it would appear that the expiry deadline of the permits is not worth the pulp it is written on. And if a legal challenge is mounted it will be allowed to drag on for as long as it serves the interests of Gunns.


But hang about. To overcome the problem that Gunns had made no “substantial commencement” by the time of the permit expiry dates in 2009, the amended legislation stipulated that the permits would be “extinguished” if no “substantial commencement” had taken place by the end of August 2011. So we have the morally reprehensible (sorry, read that as normal) deception that it was possible to determine the meaning of “substantial commencement” in 2009, in order to pass amending legislation for Gunns, but it is not possible to determine its meaning in 2011, because that no longer serves Gunns interest.

The expiry deadlines written into the enabling legislation actually have no relevance at all. The reason for that is that everyone involved thought they’d always be irrelevant, and that’s that. Our far-sighted legislators considered (unwisely they would now all agree in camera) that an expiry date would never reach a point where the permits could be “extinguished”, because Gunns’ oft-expressed promise of a joint venture partnership eventuating tomorrow, next week, next month, next year ad nauseum, rendered the notion of having to redefine “extinguished” as unlikely. Oh dear. What a conundrum. Perhaps they could argue that what they meant was “never extinguished”, and that there’s a typo in the legislation.

We are being told by the Premier of Tasmania that the meaning of “substantial commencement” is not for her or for the government to determine, which is either a bare-faced admission that she and the whole useless collection of Labor and Liberal and independent (now there’s another term devoid of meaning in the Tasmanian political desert) neo-liberal visionaries didn’t know what they were voting for when they passed the 2007 legislation and the 2009 amendment, or they voted for legislation which they knew very well was deliberately designed to deceive the public. In other words, they had no understanding what they were voting for, or if they did, they wished to disguise the fact that they were merely lackeys of Gunns being paid from the public purse.

In short, the politicians – the vast majority of them – are putting on a brave front of interest to learn from someone what they actually voted for, because they haven’t got a clue, and if they have they’re not about to tell anyone because that would be tantamount to an admission that they should have “extinguished” the whole notion of an “expiry” date for the permits when they had the chance.

In the meantime, don’t forget that it is no longer extraordinary, or absurd, or beyond belief, or bizarre or farcical, or even beyond farcical, to hear the fork-tongued inanities of Tasmanian politicians.

Just remember that whenever you hear talk about “essential services”, it sure as hell means they’re looking for public funds from health and education and public infrastructure to be redirected into “compensation” or “substantial commencement”.

“Essential services” is not a useful phrase to use in the Tasmanian political lexicon, at least in terms of its well-understood meaning. As Lara would say, words like that have “complex” interpretations, probably opposite to any dictionary definition.

• ABC Online: Greens seek mill work halt

The Tasmanian Greens want work to stop on Gunns’ pulp mill project, as legal action looms over expiring project permits.

Permits for Gunns’ Tamar Valley mill require substantial work to begin by Wednesday.

Exactly what that means remains unclear but there are calls for work to stop anyway.

The Greens’ leader Nick McKim is seeking legal advice.

“Certainly once the permits have expired, I think work should stop until the legality has been tested,” he said.

Gunns only recently announced contracts for earthworks at the site.

But it has been reported that the Environment Protection Authority has given the go-ahead for construction to continue beyond Wednesday.

Corporate governance lecturer Tom Baxter says that raises concerns.

“The risk is that if the permits have lapsed Gunns work would then be unlawfu,” he said.

Legal action would be an added blow for Gunns which last week posted a $355 million loss.


• Mercury: Mill faces ‘substantial’ fight

ANTI-PULP mill campaigners are exploring legal options to apply for injunctions to stop earthworks on Gunns Ltd’s Long Reach site.

Tasmanians Against the Pulp Mill spokesman Bob McMahon said: “We’re investigating injunctions. We have plenty of legal names looking at it. As we speak we are looking into it.”

On Friday, Gunns awarded the earthworks contract to a Tasmanian joint venture between John Holland and Hazell Bros for $20 million of work to begin this month.

“The question is whether Hazell Bros and Holland will actually be paid by Gunns or the work will be self-funded until they get finance for the mill,” Mr McMahon said.

Environment Protection Authority director Alex Schaap will allow Gunns to do work at the site north of Launceston until it is decided what constitutes a substantial start.

He said that definition may be a matter for a court to determine.

The Pulp Mill Assessment Act 2007 says: “The pulp mill permit lapses if the project is not substantially commenced before the end of the period of four years commencing on the date on which the pulp mill permit comes into force [August 30, 2007].”

Mr Schaap said he did not yet have cause to take advice on the substantial commencement query.

Mr McMahon said he was dubious of the use of such a broad term.

“That term ‘substantially commenced’ just smacks of the Tasmanian way,” he said.

“There has been legal precedence on the mainland of what substantiates the term ‘substantially commenced’ work. From that there was a case involving a block of flats where even up to the slab being poured it was not considered substantial commencement, so I can’t see how Gunns think they’ll get enough work done by the date specified.”

Gunns says it has spent more than $200 million on the mill. The firm has $628 million of debt, of which $593 million is payable in the next 12 months.

“Gunns is a corpse. If, after seven years, they haven’t got a cent to back this mill surely the company is in the gutter,” Mr McMahon said.

Mercury HERE

• Matthew Denholm, The Australian: Doubt on validity of Gunns $2.3bn permit, HERE

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. mike seabrook

    August 31, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    ref #21


    you did not say regarding the earnest & hard-working who for & on behalf of whom

    would not call looting of the treasury to favour special mates like proponents of a big stinker , pokies operators & mainland footy clubs & hunting a non-existent tassie fox over the past 10 or so years as being ethical or proper legitimate behaviour

    polling less than 20% – ridicule & worse is fully deserved – there is no legitimacy – as to motives they are deluded time wasting idiots, shonks & worse

    we are all thankful that we have wilkie battling away, attempting to mitigate the damage caused to peoples & their families lives.

  2. Trevor Burdon

    August 31, 2011 at 12:07 am

    I don’t applaud the travesty made of the laws and in fact find it deeply disturbing to see the political process so debased in Tasmania. And here by ‘critical thinkers’ I meant those raising valid and considered objections not merely negative.

    Yes, my post was insensitive in that it did not acknowledge the genuine concerns and efforts made by you and many other exceptionally good people to influence the process and outcomes for the better. I have done that before.

    However it does also reflect the strident censorship I experienced on first commenting in this forum. Over many years now I have seen political and earnest, hard-working members of the community mercilessly lampooned, berated and portrayed as idiots or worse of sinister intention. That is not my experience of people.

    If you had seen my earlier posts you would know that I implored people to think of the motivations of individuals rather than demonise them. My experience is that I can be more effective if I start off facing in the same direction as my opponent – especially if they are bigger and stronger.

    I agree with Steve #9 that the Government casualness is most concerning as if nothing else the forestry industry has surely needed competent regulation.

  3. Peter Henning

    August 30, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    Critical Thinkers indeed!
    How right you are. The last thing we need is “critical thinkers”. A pox on them and their challenge to conformity, ignorance and navel-gazing insularity. Between you and me Gunns really wanted to build their stinking great pulp mill at Hampshire but were hamstrung by the people of the Tamar Valley and the strident anti-pulp mill movement there. They’re the ones to blame (sorry, applaud) for Gunns’ “irrevocable” decision that the Tamar Valley was the place to be – a nice inversion layer, lots of winter fogs, a nice fishing ground to dump healthy nutritional dioxins, plenty of high quality vineyards and other boutique agricultural enterprises to soak up any wonderful atmospheric emissions, and a population so excited about the improved air quality for their children and the unimaginable heights to which real estate values will soar with such a clean, green, air and land purifying industry to sustain it all well into the future. What bliss.
    Oh, and you have reminded me of the idiocy of the Tamar Valley residents “to lose a voice at the table” of influence at the highest levels of the Tasmanian government, at cabinet level, at DPAC (can you imagine?), at FT (good golly gosh), at ET (who?) and at other acronyms of supreme importance, known and unknown to the world at large. How appalling. As you say they have “marginalised” themselves overnight, or over the last weekend. Perhaps they’ve had too much influence on the candidate selection processes for Labor and Liberal parties at state and federal levels for too long, and it’s time for them to be shunted aside. After all, they are responsible for the failure to implement a proper cost-benefit analysis of the pulp mill project, because they didn’t advocate at all on behalf of their community why a cost analysis should be an essential component of such an analysis.
    As you say, let’s be fair. If the people of the Tamar Valley can’t be relied upon to argue for proper base-line studies to be done about the impacts of the mill, when there are precedents around the world for this essential task being undertaken by national governments (such as Chile), then they deserve section 11 of the PMAA. It only costs $20,000 for a base-line dioxin test – each sample – to mount a credible challenge if your life investment is destroyed. If you can’t afford that, in whatever annual multiples are required, why should you exist if you can’t prove the pulp mill destroyed you? So get lost.
    Just ain’t it true that the anti-pulp mill “critical thinkers” had years and years of influential voices in the inner sanctums of power in the Lennon-Gay-Gray era. You had to see it to believe it! It was so awesome. They had a major impact on Michael Aird, that’s for sure. They had no trouble convincing him that people who bought residential property in the Tamar Valley knew the risks of buying homes close to an established “industrial zone”, and that was their problem. Especially if they bought a house at Rowella years before Gay-Lennon dreamed up the idea of a pulp mill!
    This is the essence of the argument that Trevor Burdon is putting forward. It is not only fallacious and fatuous. It is an obscene distortion of the truth. It is not only a contemptible dismissal (unforgettably) of the rights of the people of the Tamar Valley, but a convincing reminder that it doesn’t take much for some Tasmanians to applaud unjust laws as acceptable tools for government action.

  4. Keith Antonysen

    August 30, 2011 at 11:30 am

    There’s somewhat of an irony in relation in to the surname of the Director of EPA, Mr Schaap.
    “Schaap” in Dutch means sheep I believe. The Premier et al have been trying to pull wool over our eyes while Mr Schaap is being sheep like in his decision making.

  5. Mike Adams

    August 29, 2011 at 11:40 pm

    I think Mr Burdon is channelling Arnold of Yes, Minister.
    Were Tasmania to be in a politically stable condition, such advice might be of interest. With affairs on a knife edge it’d be a very courageous Minister to move to extend the permits, or in the case of water (thanks Garry) to revive them.
    The pulp mill was only ever going to be a highly subsidised pipe dream. The plotting and planning, the spruiking and fiddling, the money spent, the schemes peddled all have collapsed embarrassingly for both major parties under the weight of Gunns indebtedness and taken state premiers with them.

  6. Trevor Burdon

    August 29, 2011 at 6:57 pm


    Unfortunately a big Longreach Mill may be the one you get when you don’t want any mill/forestry and lose a voice at the table.

  7. Trevor Burdon

    August 29, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    I find the incredulousness here a little surprising(!) – especially given TT’s recent coverage of populism and the authority of a mandate. While the details of the permit process are inconsistent, history will show predictable behaviours and a dysfunctional polarisation in the community. Compromise has come to be seen as lose-lose.

    There clearly is no ‘substantial commencement’ as planning authorities would normally require, however the Government is placing greater weight on their mandate and their personal beliefs. The majority of Tasmania’s politicians support a pulp mill and believe that a majority of their constituents do as well. The Government has Federal support and approvals for the mill and arguably a democratically representative social license.

    No-one thought it would take this long. What else are they to do but delay over enforcing the permit deadline?

    If they desire it a rationale can probably be found for its further extension. The case against might return to an investigation of the purpose behind expiry date(s). Are they principally to allow for competition?, confirm intent?, review design suitability?, other? …. With a Government hat on there is nothing compelling here – there are no competing proposals, the company’s intent is clear, and the design has been improved and is subject to more stringent controls.

    Does the Government then have a responsibility to exercise its mandate? even if it means letting Gunns try AND FAIL?

    The recent Gunns ASX yearly review still reports a strong Net Present Value for a Pulp mill and at a fire-sale share price I’m wondering whether Ben Gray’s mention in the press is coincidental. A private buyout may be in the offing here, which would go some way towards explaining the apparent complacency of Gunns management. The contention that there is only sustainable feedstock for 5 years may challenge the feasibility or scale of the mill and should be investigated.

    But where to with any findings? Apart from limited and wavering Green support, the critical thinkers of the anti-mill groups are now so marginalised that they are unable to directly influence Cabinet, the AIRC, ET, the Roundtable, DPAC or Economic Development.

    I thought Hampshire receiving interstate chips rather than logs at Burnie worthy of consideration. Unfortunately a big Longreach Mill may be the one you get when you don’t have any mill/forestry and lose a voice at the table.

  8. Barnaby Drake

    August 29, 2011 at 3:59 am

    Perhaps they could argue that what they meant was “never extinguished”, and that there’s a typo in the legislation. PH.

    No Peter, the error was that it was supposed to say ‘Contacts Extinguished’, not ‘Contracts’.

    This has mostly happened so they can legitimately claim that this clause has been concluded and the contacts have been legitimately extinguished. A brief look at some of the names will tell you this is so. Lennon, Llewellyn, Putt, Bartlett, Gay, Gray, Pillonen, Rudd, Turnbull etc., all gone.

    All new faces at the helm and a whole new ball game, but of course, the one stablisining factor in all this is that no matter who is in charge, the game is still the same.

  9. Barnaby Drake

    August 29, 2011 at 3:39 am

    I think they are getting a little confused with the legal jargon, MP’s not generally being versed in the ‘niceties’ of the English language.

    What they are talking about is LUPA sub-section 93(a), which states ‘Once a ‘Substandard Commination’ has been seen to have been made, all subsequent Planning Regulations will be waived in exchange for the usual Parliamentary endowment procedures.

  10. Daniel Ferguson

    August 28, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    I know it has been raised before, but to date the EPA have not answered why, if two years ago they could assess the mill as not being ‘substantially commenced’ (hence the need for the clarification bill), why now can’t they seem to find the same logical reasons they so easily found and assessed then. Alex Schaaps arrogant stance is unbelievable.
    This continual moving of the goalposts does nothing to stop the public opinion of the integrity of politicians from going ever further down into the mire.
    Its no wonder the general public lose so much faith in due process that they decide to take matters into their own hands.

  11. Mike Adams

    August 28, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    I suspect that the major problem facing the Tasmanian Integrity Commission is that they don’t know where to begin. So they don’t.

  12. William Boeder

    August 28, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    Another excellent article presented by Peter Henning.
    I wonder if the carefully concealed co-operation of this State government toward the Gunns Ltd proposed Pulp-Mill, as now shown by their incapacity to explain the inexplicable to that of which they most all voted to accept, is going to set a legal precedent for future use by this government?

    A possible scenario at that time, how about “Well yes, I did vote for it to be accepted because nobody else seemed to understood it at the time as to what it meant, so yes it seemed such an itzy-bitzy tutti-frutti all encompassing expression at the time, so we all then thought OK, yeah, who gives a bugger, why not, yeah, let it all happen!”
    Perhaps the silver-tongued Bryan Green MP, (I just love pulp-mills,) can offer an interpretation to the dilemma faced by each and all?

  13. Bob Kendra

    August 28, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    Who needs old definitions, let alone a dictionary?

    Certainly not Launceston’s only daily newspaper. (Recent “reporting” may have redefined that word as well).

    Three centimetre headline sprawling across front page Friday August 26 proclaims: “Gunns makes move on mill”.

    Has enough excitement been generated? If not, the sub-headline tests the English language to its limits: “Bold announcement despite $355.5m loss”.

    That announcement could not have been rash, could it? – The headline might have been a tad contradictory…

    There’s no doubt as to The Examiner’s stand.

    They have done the Premier’s job for her; pre-empting any EPA decision and any court challenge.

    The earthworks ARE substantial because the front page proclaims: “Timber company Gunns is about to move heavy machinery in to start substantial earthworks at its Bell Bay pulp mill site”.

    So, the newspaper has chucked in the spin for its favourite company.

    Now for some more Gunns/Examiner redefinitions.

    Try: “close to securing” equity finance.

    Try “settlement proposal” for exiting native forest.

    Try the suggestion that Gunns are “to meet” the August 31 deadline.

    So, it’s all done and dusted for Gunns on one front page.

    Then the cunning extension of the pulp mill permit to read like “bold” last minute compliance by the “timber” company. Never mind any controversy surrounding the term “substantial commencement”. The Examiner has taken care of that in the hearts and minds of the people on behalf of their favourite company.

    We leave the front page with a solid reassurance in the words of the CEO himself:

    “Management is focused on completing the restructure of the business to create a sustainable business model in a new operating environment”.

    Just for good measure, the $23m state payout to Gunns as a “settlement proposal” is on page two. The Examiner would never enquire whether it was money for re-diversion to back “substantial commencement” on the mill.

    Now, for the newcomer to Tasmania who hasn’t read the bold headlines scrawled across The Examiner over past months, the letters pages have continued to shore up the diehard forestry message. Try last Wednesday, August 24. Out of thirteen letters published, five plugged for the mill or the existing forest industry with swipes at greens and without even a token gesture for “the other side”.

    As Peter Henning writes with incisive wit, it’s all in the terminology.

    In a word, let’s hear it again for Gunns at The Examiner. We know we will.

  14. Steve

    August 28, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    I think the most concerning thing about this whole mess is the extreme casualness with which is treated by the Government, the EPA, Gunns and just about everyone else.
    This attitude obviously indicates that all concerned are quite comfortable that they will find a way to circumvent the permit expiry. They want the mill dream to remain alive and if that means bending, or ignoring, the rules, then that’s what they’ll do. None of them appear to give the slightest thought to the ethical, or even legal, position.
    It’s obvious that there is a very real question as to whether substantial commencement has taken place, which means that there’s an obvious question mark over the permits. If Alec Schaap feels that the issue needs to be clarified by a court, he needs to take the obvious step of ensuring all work under the permits is suspended, pending clarification.
    Has any politician outside of the Greens raised this obvious point?

  15. Rob

    August 28, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Gunns are spending $20 million over seven months on the earthworks.

    Approximately $100,000 per day.

  16. mike seabrook

    August 28, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    $593 million payable in the next 12 months to 30 june 2012 i presume.

    how much of that is payable before 31 aug 2011
    how much is payable before 30 sept
    before 31 oct…………..

  17. John Biggs

    August 28, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Witty, incisive and deadly. Thanks once again Peter for clarifying the issues so devastatingly. I couldnlt believe my eyes when I read in today’s Mercury that Alec Schaap of the EPA ruled that Gunns could continue until “substantial commencement” has been defined. That defeats the whole purpose of the legislation! As you say, Peter, words mean what Tas pollies and bureaucrats want them to mean.

    One effect of this, with Gunns so hugely in debt and shares so low and a sitting duck for a takeover, will be to string the whole thing out so that such a takeover, likely by a foreign firm, can be concluded.

  18. Karl Stevens

    August 28, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    Congratulations Peter on a first rate article. You revealed here that the Premier votes on legislation she latter admits she does not understand. This is very dangerous in my view. What else has she voted on that she didn’t understand? The premier has much of Tasmania’s public service using electricity from Queensland. Why then is bauxite shipped from Queensland to Tasmania so they can smelt it with our electricity? There is too much that doesn’t add-up in this incompetent and devious regime.

  19. Philip Lowe

    August 28, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    Dave Groves No1.Ball juggling?Have you tried tight legged boxer shorts?They have changed my life.

  20. Barnaby Drake

    August 28, 2011 at 10:51 am

    If the pulp mill collapses due to the unlikely scenario that someone actually says that there is NO substantial start and the permissions to build have now lapsed, will the PMAA lapse with it?

    This means that the dreadful Section 11 is no longer law and the public can have recourse to class actions and personally suing Gunns for all the past damage they have done to the Tamar Valley and to individuals?

  21. Barnaby Drake

    August 28, 2011 at 10:28 am

    Had they spent a little more on education instead of diverting the funds to Gunns and Forestry, then possibly they, and all their minders, would be able to understand relatively simple English, rather than having to resort to the courts to have them decide it for them.

    Or is it just the Nuremburg Defence – ‘I was only following orders’?

  22. Dave Groves

    August 28, 2011 at 8:51 am

    A beautiful piece Peter, and a preamble perhaps for the next part of the show.

    Every bigtop has a clown and Tasmania has the biggest show on earth, with an extended volume of ball jugglers.

    Here we go again….

Leave a Reply

To Top