Tasmanian Times

Economy

Pulp Friction – Fact not Fiction

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In 2009, at the height of a passionate public debate on the merits or otherwise of a giant pulp-mill proposed for the Tamar Valley, with articles appearing daily in the press and media a confusing mish-mash of spin, hyperbole, misinformation, technical jargon and too often, unmitigated nonsense, I lauded, in a letter published in the Examiner, the contributions of some senior academic staff – noting that they brought to the debate, objective fact-based commentary and analysis (independent of vested interests) and a depth of technical knowledge and expertise otherwise absent.

They acted in the best traditions of academic freedom, ethics, knowledge and public service. Names mentioned in the letter included McCall, Stokes, Wells and Gale, et al.

Now, an excellent book Pulp Friction in Tasmania, edited by Dr Fred Gale, tells the story of the Pulp Mill Assessment Process in great detail. It should be a ‘must-read’ for all politicians, business-leaders and bureaucrats – not just those involved in this odious example of corruption of democratic process. It should also serve as a prescribed text for future students of political science, economics, law, government and environmental studies.

The book, comprising a series of Chapters by experts in their respective fields, has been extensively researched; is informative and educational; and addresses the issues without fear or favour. In so doing, the respective contributors provide us with a much clearer picture of how our democratic institutions have been usurped by a form of crony capitalism based on nepotism, favouritism and corruption. And the same names of senior academics feature in this book. By being willing to go public in this way, they not only reflect great credit on their institutions and on themselves for contributing massively to the greater public good, they also provide a glimmer of hope that our parliamentary system, now so seriously in disrepute, will respond positively to being exposed to critical public gaze and censure in this way and begin the long road to reform.

One wonders in this respect if any of the public figures involved in the pulp mill fiasco feel any sense of remorse or embarrassment for inflicting on so many citizens (in the Tamar Valley particularly) a long period of uncertainty and stress associated with family plans and business investments having to be put on hold indefinitely; and for creating social division and economic dislocation unnecessarily. As noted by the authors (Gibson & O’Donovan) in their “pulp mill and business” chapter, “ its (the proposed TV pulp mill) affects on other businesses in the area could result in losses that are, in relation to the size of those businesses, many time the magnitude of the financial losses already felt by Gunns – in addition to social and environmental degradation. At risk were the activities likely to provide an income for hundreds of small businesses and their families in the area for generations because they are sustainable”.

That the TCCI enthusiastically and unconditionally supported the proposal from the outset (before the facts were known) is indicative of a lack of professionalism , and an abrogation of their responsibility to represent the interests of all businesses, large and small. They should forever be condemned for this conspicuous failure; as well as the fact that they had no hesitation supporting, unequivocally, an evaluation process that failed to quantify any costs or subsidies , infrastructure or externality cost (Wells, p 243). That is, this was to be a project without costs – a world first! Good old Tassie ! And good old TCCI – no wonder they went ‘belly-up” late last year and have since had to be reinvented.

Politicians are notorious for their lack of economic nous and business understanding, but how could professional bureaucrats (economic development) and a peak business body ( as well as business analysts in the press and media) ignore such a nonsense?

As for the Government’s role “by fast-tracking the review process, they promoted an assessment methodology that could produce only one result – the mill would increase Gross State Product” (Wells,ibid). Farcical! Any business with experience in major industrial developments would have insisted on a stringent independent review of the assessed financial benefits, to guard against any bias or error in the calculations.

As Stokes pointed out (p129) “ the willingness of the executive to intervene in an established and rigorous assessment process because it did not, ostensibly, suit the business timetable of a large company, and the weakness and lack of self-confidence which the parliament displayed in allowing itself to be bullied into passing the PMAA and accepting a permit which arguably did not comply with the weak requirements of the Act, indicated that there is a very low standard of governance in Tasmania”.

Of all the damning facts, observations and evidence produced in this well compiled and compelling book, this is arguably the most damning : a Parliament seen to be in thrall to a large corporation, bowing to its every demand.

The Editor (Dr Gale) homes in unerringly on the matters which, in essence, enabled the proposal to proceed as far as it did – all of which call seriously into question the extent to which our democratic systems operate to protect the interests of the public at large:

• “The approvals processes were seriously flawed”

• “Gunns used its corporate power (epitomised in the Gunns 20 SLAPP suit) to bully governments, contractors, environmentalists and the local community into doing whatever it believed was in its own corporate interests”

• “Lennon’s handling of the pulp mill, his close ties to big business and Gunns, and allegations that he may have lied to parliament have caused Tasmanians to question the degree to which the State’s political arrangements are delivering anything more than democratic formalism : the illusion of rule by the people”.

Where to now?

Stokes (p282) argues persuasively ”that the PMP is invalid and that the privative clause in Section11 of the PMAA does not protect it from challenge in the Courts”. We can only hope he is right and that this matter is resolved sooner rather than later. Only then will citizens feel that the toxic dark cloud that has hovered over the Tamar Valley for eight long years has been swept away, and life can return to normal. A great day, if and when it comes, but we should never forget, nor forgive, the perpetrators of the blighted mill proposal and assessment process for their flagrant abuse of our assumed democratic system (revealing it to be in urgent need of restoration and reform).

We are all indebted to Dr Gale and his colleagues for their significant contribution to the wider community in producing, and publishing, a book which reveals how a few unscrupulous and unprincipled people in positions of power, can use and abuse our so-called democratic system of government in the interests of a favoured few, ignoring the voice of the people, science and the environment. In today’s world, that is a recipe for failure. Let us hope that lesson at least has now been well learned!

A heart-felt THANK YOU to Dr Gale and colleagues .You have championed the cause of the people when so many others opted to do otherwise.

Examiner: Fate of Gunns assets to be decided

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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Garry Stannus

    February 20, 2013 at 9:50 am

    My view of the TAP split differs from Peter’s #8.

    One of the catalysts for the split was the leadership clique within TAP trying to push the membership to support withdrawing from the No Pulp Mill Alliance. The Alliance was/is an association of individuals and also groups such as TAP, TWS and the TCT. The Alliance formed with the intention of where possible, presenting a united, and therefore stronger front, in the battle against the pulp mill.

    The rank and file of TAP had discussed the perceived pros and cons of joining the alliance, and we had joined. One of the principles of the Alliance dealt with independence and cooperation. Alliance members would …

    “Recognise that while groups will continue to work to their own strategies, Alliance members will encourage and support the activities of each other and the Alliance overall”.

    However, a group of senior figures, an ‘inner circle’ within TAP, viewed the Alliance with mistrust and animosity. In January 2010 they presented a motion to withdraw from the Alliance. Yet the meeting voted 34 in favour of staying in the Alliance and 17 against. That’s 2 to 1 to stay with the Alliance. The inner circle ‘wouldn’t take no for an answer’ though, these matters culminated in the ‘coup-by-management’ in early March 2010, in which the co-ordinating committee, whose role it was to give practical effect to the decisions of the general fortnightly meetings, was effectively shafted. What was rammed through was the installation of a hand-picked Board of Management which would be relied on to continue the obsessive war against the Wildos and the Greens.

    Looking back, it seems to me that the Co-ordinating Committee was the place of greatest friction, with the inner-circe/management group seeking to control the committee from above, while the committee itself was trying to act on and implement the decisions taken at TAP’s general meetings.

  2. john hayward

    February 16, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    #15. I’m leaving that determination to you. A Tas logging supporter’s concept of what constitutes “corruption” is probably radically different from mine and probably from any dictionary’s.

    John Hayward

  3. TGC

    February 16, 2013 at 1:16 am

    Just asked “is #13 suggesting ‘corruption’ in the High Court?” #13 doesn’t give an answer at #15.

  4. john hayward

    February 15, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    PS to #14. If you are still incredulous that such a thing could happen, put yourself in the shoes of two SC justices who are presented with a SC judgment that is so at odds with Australian law and the case’s facts and on so many grounds that you couldn’t seriously regard them as honest mistakes. You wouldn’t want to go there and bring your system into disrepute, would you?

    John Hayward

  5. TGC

    February 14, 2013 at 11:08 pm

    Is #13 suggesting ‘corruption’ in the High Court?

  6. john hayward

    February 12, 2013 at 11:26 am

    I agree with John Hawkins that corruption is on a roll.

    Though I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone with money to burn, a litigant undertaking an action against the Tas Govt needs to consider whether their opponent might be considered by a higher court to be too big, or too embarrassing, to fail.

    When i sought Special Leave to Appeal to the High Court against a Tas SC judgment, The two HC judges completely ignored all eight grounds of appeal, picked two other rulings from the SC judgment and used them as the sole evidence for themselves, without reference to any other legal authority.

    When I sought an explanation for the breathtaking anomalies in the refusal, the Deputy Registrar referred me back to the refusal itself.

    The courts are generally not unlike the Vatican in their regard for the status quo.

    John Hayward

  7. john hawkins

    February 12, 2013 at 10:21 am

    When Hume Forests or for that matter any Plantation company appears in evidence tendered to an ICAC over a suggested payment to a State Minister of Forests of 330,000 dollars for carbon credits we have a serious problem.

    Abetz and his Liberal party were happy to accept more than 50,000 dollars from Gunns when Abetz was made Minister of Forests.

    Money buys access and a serious problem.

    The plantation Ponzi schemes promoted and protected by Abetz proved a big winner for Gunns and a disaster for the taxpayer.

    Few records other than press releases survive in the National Archives relating to the Plantation Ponzi schemes protected and promoted by Abetz. I have searched under FOI.

    This scheme cost the taxpayer over a billion dollars.

    Have they all been shredded when the Liberals lost office?

    The Tasmanian EPA decided that the Pulp Mill had been “Substantially Commenced” an obvious nonsense.

    This a political decision poses the question were favours called or did money oil the wheels of crass stupidity?

    The people at their own expense now have to challenge this obvious lie through the Courts.

    Ta Ann stands to profit from the surrender of Logging Quotas granted over the people’s Forests by Forestry Tasmania when Rolley was CEO at FT.

    Rolley is now CEO of Ta Ann a company that stands to benefit by some 50 million over this matter.

    Harriss has by his own admission recieved money and favours from Ta Ann and he is the Chair of the IGA Reviewing Committee that will make the decision that gifts the money.

    Those in the closed world of the LC can see no problem and if they do they will not utter.

    What we see here is I suggest a pattern of corruption relating to the Forest industry in this State a pattern protected by the Pollies who create toothless Quango’s to defeat the interests of the people.

    The Integrity Commissioner soon discovered her limited and pathetic powers and how Tas Inc kept her tethered, the Tasmanian way.

    The Liberals are as much part of the problem as Labour,one big happy family screwing the people they are meant to serve to keep a much despised industry on the drip.

    We need a Royal Commission but we will never get one.

    We need a proper Independant Commission Against Corruption, we will never get one.

    We need Pollies who work in the interests of the people not their re election we will never get them.

    We need an Act of God.

    We will never get one.

  8. Steve

    February 11, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    10; I’ll be considering life after pulp when the permits are burnt, buried and have had a stake driven through them, perhaps with a Gunns hard hat on it to indicate a suicide.
    The current state of play is that the permits are still alive, there’s a vast estate of E.Nitens growing, some of it very poorly, but it’s still growing, and I’ve yet to see any change of heart in our revered leaders. Elections looming all over the place. This matter needs to be put to bed, not argued over who did the most to delay it, so far!

  9. Karl Stevens

    February 11, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    Life after pulp.
    Maybe the Abt railway could be re-branded as ‘Thomas The Tank Engine’. It could make regular trips past a deep ravine where tourists could throw away their iPhones for ever. Then mass-same-sex weddings could be performed by the Governor General…. Why hasn’t Scott Bacon thought of this?

  10. john hayward

    February 10, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    The main problem with the campaign against the pulp mill was that it was generally described by most of its critics treated as wrong-headed or arrogant, rather than as a systematic fraud and theft .

    Whether from politeness or fear of retribution, the same reticence continues to hinder an examination of the whole affair.

    John Hayward

  11. Peter Henning

    February 10, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    #7 John, thanks for your reply. At the time that the Greens/ENGOs were talking up “a pulp mill” as opposed to “the pulp mill” there were already many people who were challenging all the rationalisations for a mill at Hampshire “as a workable alternative”, in disagreement with Raverty, including the position of TAP throughout.

    Personally, I have always disagreed with Raverty on this matter, but Raverty has never lost his capacity to engage about the issues, which is entirely different to those in the political arena. In late 2012 he was a guest speaker at an event which announced the TT Tasmanian of the Year,

    http://oldtt.pixelkey.biz/index.php/article/ttof-year

    where many TAP members were present, but there were no anti-mill activists present who were supportive of the shonky roundtable-IGA-TFA process and of the Greens/ENGOs alliance with Ta Ann.

    Backtracking to 2009, the explanation for this can be traced to the time that TAP splintered, because the Greens/ENGO supporters in TAP were totally opposed to any independence within TAP to top-down decisions emanating from the Greens/ENGO hierarchy.

    It would be interesting to know if there was any connection between the decision by the Greens/ENGOs to sacrifice the Tamar Valley back in 2009 due to questions asked about the nature of the problems associated with the monocultural plantation estate by people in the Tamar Valley and elsewhere. One thing which is beyond doubt is that anyone who asked any questions about the nitens plantations was immediately attacked by the Greens/ENGOs or ignored.

    All locally-based anti-pulp mill organisations had always been regarded by the Greens/ENGOs as de facto branches of their own organisations, and they were dumb-founded and outraged – simply outraged – that any anti-pulp opponents would have the temerity to put independent views into the public domain which argued for a different position which they had already determined. This was particularly the case when individuals broke “tribal” ranks in their view, even though many people who asked questions were not members of the Greens/ENGOs anyway. Those who were were given their marching orders in no uncertain manner.

    What is now underway is a deliberate campaign to assign credit for the success of the anti-pulp mill movement to a select few, which excludes all those who have been critical of the events which have occurred during and since 2009. In the wash-up it wouldn’t surprise me that the real agents of successful opposition to the pulp mill will be identified in the mainstream record as those who played no role at all.

  12. John Biggs

    February 10, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    #3. Sure Karl, I’ll add corruption to the list. If you mean by that that individuals have made a packet for for cosseting particular industries, I think/hope that would be limited to a few individual pollies. But if by corruption you mean corruption of due process then everyone who voted for the pulp mill was aiding and abetting a corrupt process.

    #4. Peter, you are (literally) much closer to the action on the Tamar valley mill than I am but I have spoken to a couple of ENGOs and find it difficult to believe that they encouraged that particular mill, given the lack of assessmnment, the disruption and likely destruction of an already working community that would is economically many times more valuable than anything the pulp mill would produce, not to mention the environmental and health fallout. “A” pulp, say at Hampshire, was thought then to be a workable alternative, even by Raverty. However the thinking has changed as you say. Any such mill would lock us into a plantation driven industry and that is now recognised as being out of keeping with holistic approach toforestry, with which I agree absolutely. A compromise with Ta Ann is a betrayal and I am astonished that the Wilderness Society can contemplate that for a second. BTW, at least one of the major fires recently was originally reported as being fed by plantations going up, but strangely that line fell silent soon after.

  13. Karl Stevens

    February 10, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    I agree with Peter Henning’s account of how events unfolded. The proof of his assertion is the Wilderness Society has just completed a trade mission to Japan selling veneer products sourced from Tasmanian native forests. The Labor Party were caught-out completely on pulp and paper. Kevin Rudd blew Australia’s surplus building school libraries just as books were becoming obsolete. At the same time Lennon, Bartlett and Giddings were giving money to Gunns and Norske Skog. Why don’t Lara and Will have a big ipad burning festival in Tasmania?

  14. Peter Henning

    February 10, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    #2 John, may I add to my previous comment by saying that you are among those many people who added their voices in speaking against the pulp mill, through your book and through your other contributions as an individual and in collaboration with others, in particular Tim Thorne and the late Max Bound.

    My point is however – and I repeat it – that since 2009 the landscape has shifted, and those who hold a holistic view of how things need to be reformed in Tasmania are at odds with those who would justify an alliance with Ta Ann as a “compromise”, or in my view adopting a position whereby the ends justify the means, which is a stark contradiction to a worthwhile holistic approach to the issues.

  15. Peter Henning

    February 10, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    #2 John, while it is true that the Greens and the ENGOs opposed the PMAA in 2007 and opposed the building of a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley using native forest feedstock and lacking closed-loop technology, they were not opposed to a mill using plantation-based feedstock and closed-loop processes.

    At some point during 2009 there were discussions taking place between industry players and Greens/ENGOs for a plantation-based pulp mill. These secret – commercial in confidence? – talks were transformed into the forestry roundtable in May 2010. It’s well documented that among the various meetings which occurred before May 2010, the ENGO leadership had said behind closed doors that the Tamar Valley could go to hell, or statements to that effect. Flyers were distributed by the Greens/ENGOs to anti-pulp mill groups and individuals requesting that they support a plantation-based mill.

    When you say that Lara Giddings “was foolish enough to say and apparently believe that the whole Forestry Agreement was “about getting the pulp mill up””, she was merely reiterating the reason why the roundtable was established – to get Gunns a social licence for the mill. In September-October 2010, when the initial “statement of principles” were made public they were in complete conformity with the shift in Gunns’ whole strategic direction to put all its eggs into the one basket of a plantation-based pulp mill. You will recall that at that time Paul Lennon was called in to the roundtable group because this fundamental change by Gunns was guaranteed to destroy hundreds of jobs, which it did.

    What I have always found most interesting about the whole sequence of events since 2009 has been the failure of many people to realise that the establishment of the roundtable was based on the premise that the only participants in the process be those willing to “compromise” about a Tamar Valley pulp mill. Again, when in late 2010 the roundtable agreed to “pulp mill”, all the industry players, the state and federal governments, the business community and Gunns itself all argued that a “social licence” for the mill had been delivered. The ENGOs did not demur when those statements were made.

    It was only due to public outrage that the Greens and the ENGOs decided that they had gone too far, and said “a pulp mill” was not “the pulp mill”.

    But tell me the difference? How would a pulp mill somewhere else not have the same disastrous consequences as one in the Tamar Valley? Same feedstock, same damage to the water catchments in perpetuity, same effects in every way except location.

    Tell me how the events of 2006-7 are different to the events that have taken place since 2009? Since 2009 we have seen the abandonment of due process just as in 2007. We have seen secret deals all over the place, all designed to help Gunns. It didn’t work, but it is working for Ta Ann.

    There are plenty of people willing to turn a blind eye to what is now taking place because it involves their own “tribe” behaving exactly as their “tribal enemy” behaved in 2007.

    What I also find interesting is that everything that has been written in the Gale book was said by others much earlier – people like Mike Bolan, Frank Strie, Pete Godfrey, Bob McMahon, Alison Bleaney, Bob Loone and others. They’re the ones who should be getting the credit in all of this. They and all the ordinary people who were in the firing line when the heat was really on – too many names to mention.

  16. Karl Stevens

    February 10, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    John Biggs puts it down to ‘incompetence and arrogance’ but it goes further. The corruption is bankable in Tasmania. Just like the Obeids couldn’t explain how they came to own $2 million houses. Interesting that Simon Overland couldn’t even walk through a Tasmanian park with his wife without being robbed. The place is rotten but some are only here to exact revenge.

  17. John Biggs

    February 10, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Thank you Anthony John for bringing this book to our attention; and thank you especially to the editor and contributors for reinforcing what many of us have believed with facts, figures and the authority of experts. What the general public has known has mostly been from a flawed media — always excepting the TAP and like contributors to Tasmananian Times. I have argued in Tasmania Over Five Generations that the pulp mill episode is a perfect example of what is wrong with contemporary Tasmanian politics and here we have full authoritative support for that proposition. It’s not just the Labor Party, although Lennon’s behaviour in this was critical and thoroughly reprehensible, but all politicians except the Greens and a few independents enthusiastically participated in the scandal. It’s as if an extraordinary mass madness overtook our governance. And still does: Giddings was foolish enough to say and apparently believe that the whole Forestry Agreement was “about getting the pulp mill up”. And Hodgman and his lot were still bellyaching about that years after it was clear it was an economic nonsense. Don’t they all squirm with shame in reflecting back on this appalling episode?

    But it doesn’t stop just with the mill. The Three Capes Track is another example (Lennon inspired by the way) of ordinary people with no expertise in anything much making expensive and reckless decisions in areas where the real experts say it is a dumb move. (See letter by Rovert Campbell of Tasmanian National Parks Association in today’s Mercury on this).

    Another example is in John Lawrence’s current lead article on Federal: the Jim Bacon/David Crean decision to wipe the licensing fee in exchange for Saffire as ranking “amongst the dumbest public policy decisions ever.”

    It all comes down to that wickedly poisonous combination of incompetence and arrogance, so deadly to the public good, and so evident in present and immediate past political decisions.

  18. glennis

    February 10, 2013 at 9:39 am

    I know 4 corners did a programme on the pulp mill some years ago but it would be good if a copy of this book could land on the director’s desk and they could do a real expose of the whole corrupted process and messy business.Maybe then the toothless integrity commission would not have an excuse to probe deeper in the activities of those pollis involved.

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