Aug 302007

This Tamar Valley pulp mill saga has, more or less, washed over me to a great degree. I don’t live in Tasmania, and aren’t directly impacted by the proposal. I have sympathies with the likes of Peter Cundall who lives in the valley, but without definitive evidence being available for analysis, it’s a bit difficult to form an opinion either way.

Having heard this morning that Malcolm Turnbull has now declared that he’ll reserve his recommendation as to approve or not approve under Federal legislation for a further six weeks, I started to smell something unpleasant in the issue. I noticed this article in today’s Oz, which apart from casting aspersions at Turnbull’s fortitude in the matter, also outlines some damning detail from the CSIRO’s senior scientist. A ten year lifespan doesn’t seem all that viable from an economic perspective, unless Gunns Limited plan to tap into native timber once the plantation timber runs out.
There’s the issue of environmental impacts as well. From what little I’ve read or heard, Gunns plan on pumping effluent 3 kilometers off-shore into Bass Strait, which to me sounds potentially disasterous. I’m left to wonder why, when the Maryvale mill in Victoria has a reputation for recycling it’s effluent and treating to extremely high tolerances. Perhaps I’m missing something because there seems to be plenty of anecdotal evidence around claiming that these mills aren’t, and can’t be made to be as non-environmentally damaging as industry sources say they can.
There’s the matter of Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon’s personal intervention into a process which any government ought to be completely divorced from. The abandonment of the usual Resource Planning and Development Commission of Tasmania assessment process and the insistent lobbying from Paul Lennon on behalf of the proponent, Gunns Limited, certainly do tend to raise doubts over the validity of the Tasmanian government’s position. Four Corners looked hard at the matter and frankly, I came away from that broadcast with a jaundiced view of the government’s actions and a feeling that Gunns Limited were conducting an exercise of buying political favours on their way through the approval process. Maybe that was just left-wing ABC bias showing up again, however I suspect otherwise.
A read through Malcolm Turnbull’s public comment post reveals the good, bad and ugly of the project, if one cares to read through the facts as presented. Certainly, Gunns Limited are looking to create an opportunity for massive commercial profit from this mill, along with job creation and the associated flow into Tasmanian government coffers. Opportunities which must be very attractive to a State Premier preciding over the highest unemployment rate in Australia. There’s the high-points of effluent treatment, but the low points of the outfall modelling not having any appropriate example to be measured against. The industrialisation of what is currently pristine forest-clad riverscape with surrounding vineyard and farmland is clearly of great concern to those who have chosen to live in those surrounds.
I’m guessing that at day’s end, this decision-making process is one which is all too hard for Turnbull, and the Howardian’s in particular when we’re less than six weeks off the naming of a federal election date. Hence Turnbull’s procrastination. Gunns Limited, on the other hand, have already made their decision and plan to start turning sods this Saturday, pressurising Paul Lennon even more by hinting at lost productivity and compensation claims. Definitely hardball tactics. I have to wonder just why Gunns have the impression that all would be tickerty-boo, when clearly proper assessment processes weren’t……and still aren’t complete. A mental voice asks, ‘Who’s Zoomin’ Who?’
Surely, it’s not that hard a decision to make when one considers all of the pros and all of the cons? But just where can someone like me find all of those pros and cons? I don’t live in the Tamar Valley so don’t carry emotive baggage. I haven’t much knowledge of pulp mills in general, and would like to learn. I’m wondering how many other Australian’s are just like me? Virtual mushrooms on the subject. I understand greenies have legitimate gripes against business and industry from time to time. I also understand that some people will defy industrial development because they can and deny business any form of profit out of ideological hatred of capitalism. Conversely, it’s reasonably well understood that Gunns Limited aren’t virgins at the game of political manipulation in Tasmania, and like a lot of major corporates, will strive to achieve maximum gain for minimum outlay. That’s business, but it’s also not to say that business can’t be made to be socially or environmentally responsible.
Too many questions and far too few definitive answers for mine. A lot of pushing and shoving by vested interests and not enough factual objectivity. If it were up to me, I’d can the whole idea. Not because of the greed aspect of Gunns Limited, nor because Paul Lennon appears to have been bought. Not because the Feds are Gunn-shy, and not because of the environmental outcries of inhabitants of the Tamar Valley. I’d can the thing because it’s all too vague and there’s insufficient objective data available to make a judgement from, and isn’t that how these issues should be judged? Instead, what we’re going to see is a legal battle over inconsequentialities. What kind of decision-making process is that?
UPDATE: There’s some interesting facts and figures in the Recommendation Report issued by Turnbull’s department under the Environment Protection and Conservation Biodiversity Act provisions. If you like technical mumbo-jumbo. There is also a non-technical version. Of concern in both is recommendations for additional hydrodynamic modelling to be performed on the effluent outfall, AFTER the plant begins operations, to determine the actual impact of the effluent plume, it’s direction and spread. I find that factoid just a little disturbing.

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