I’d like to explore how federal Labor’s self-positioning will be affected by the ongoing battle that many Tasmanians are fighting to have their views heard on the pulp mill issue, indeed to be represented at all by their “paid representatives”.
Here’s a view of the forestry industry as it exists in Tasmania today:
The logging industry in Tasmania is a self-policing, self-regulating monopsony (monopoly buyer) (PDF 555KB) that profits from removal of public resources but is exempt from resource, planning and accountability laws that apply to everyone else, thereby helping them to dominate any competition for scarce resources. This same industry sits on panels that control the use of those resources, gets control of land “in perpetuity”, hears and judges public cases against itself, and has enormous impacts on water supplies but is unaccountable for them.
The industry currently costs the public an average of $280 million per year (Tas) in mixed subsidies, cost relief and exclusions, but only returns some $70 million as profits to it’s shareholders. Their activities include clear felling Tasmania’s forests, napalming and poisoning wildlife, releasing large amounts of carbon, converting scarce food producing land to trees, contaminating water supplies and increasing road risks.
In Tasmania, the logging industry is effectively a law unto itself.
The industry’s activities are now set to be massively expanded following the approval of a “world scale” pulp mill in a process that excluded public inputs. New requirements, such as water, are also to be subsidised, raising the total recurrent costs to around $350 million each year, and placing other industries that rely on the same resources (land, fresh water, forests and sea) into unknown jeopardy. The actual “approval” process used did not assess the socio-economic impacts of the proposal, instead a pulp mill supplier, associated with the project (Sweco Pic), was paid to “approve” the mill.
This is pretty scary stuff and it’s hardly surprising that severe problems have developed between the forestry industry and everyone else who relies on the same resources that forestry activities impact.
The most alarming oversight has been the sheer quantity of impacts left out of state government consideration while Paul Lennon diverted taxpayer’s funds to market the proposal. All opposing or differing views were ignored and the proponent, Gunns, was the sole group charged with identifying adverse community impacts. As you’d expect, they chose to ignore many of the mill’s impacts (e.g. by declaring them irrelevant) and the government placidly accepted their IIS (Integrated Impact Statement) as definitive.
In October-November 2006, RPDC (Resource Planning and Development Commission) consultants CSIRO, Beca Amec and Uniquest described the IIS as variously “overly simplistic” and “severely flawed” and that it failed to deal with health, odour and pollution risks.
At about the same time log trucks were reported to be unstable and Tasmania’s roads too narrow for their safe operation. Shortly thereafter two RPDC commissioners were induced to resign by the government.
Gunns then refused to supply requested information to the RPDC after Justice Wright was made Commissioner. After being told by the Premier’s Department of a withheld RPDC letter telling Gunns that their proposal was “critically non-compliant” (e.g. for the reasons mentioned earlier by consultants), Gunns “withdrew” from the process. This was facilitated by the Premier who created a truncated process (apparently with Gunns help) that eliminated any much-feared public hearings.
Both major political parties, at state and federal levels, supported the proposal before it had been evaluated (I believe this was a critical mistake). Although state Liberals and Labor had stated they’d support a mill conditional on it meeting the Guidelines, the government and opposition approved the mill even though it had failed to meet No.8-13 of the Guidelines (Sweco & Martin/Miotti) and despite massive community opposition.
The problem with all of this was that large numbers of impacts were left from everyone’s consideration. They were neither named, studied nor discussed, yet they represented over 70 per cent of all of the probable impacts on Tasmania. It is this omission that presents massive risks to everyone, not least Gunns and the federal government.
For tiresomely predictable reasons, the entire episode was marred by the artificial division of opinions: Green/conservationist v pro development/jobs - as if this was the full spectrum of issues. Perhaps as a consequence, politicians came to believe that once the federal government approved the proposal (i.e. Malcolm’s credibility hari kiri), the issue was settled.
Sadly, that view won’t work for the tens of thousands who will be impacted in their homes, workplaces, lifestyles and futures.
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