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Just mere squatters on a plantation site

By David Leigh - posted Monday, 14 March 2011

Tasmanians are just mere squatters on a plantation site - or at least that would appear to be the judgement made of the Tasmanian people last week, by the Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, by approving the Gunn's paper mill, the latest of many blows to depopulate the North East.

Following a battle, lasting many years, the Tasmanian people have been served yet another blow, by the Federal Government. The Tamar Valley Pulpmill was dead in the water, Gunns share price in a downward spiral and many Tasmanians ready to celebrate the inevitable demise of Gunns Timber Ltd.

Most timber workers are disillusioned with the company they have faithfully served for years, dumping them like a waste product, to see their time out on the dole. The same company that has closed so many sawmills and created so many lay-offs has now been given a free reign to destroy what is left of Tasmania's economy and its pristine environment.


Tony Burke bent over backwards in a sham of mock environmental concern and approved a pulp mill that will pollute the Bass Straight and destroy the fishing industry, sequester Launceston's drinking water and poison tens of thousands of hectares of land in the surrounding areas. Log trucks, already responsible for 25% of all fatalities on Tasmania's roads will increase in frequency to feed the largest pulp mill in the Southern Hemisphere.

Taxpayer and investor-funded this mill will drain the resources from Tasmania's North East and employ just 294 people, mostly from overseas. It is little wonder residents of the beautiful Tamar Valley are enraged; they have once again been ignored by the very politicians they voted for and fear they will have their livelihoods destroyed, along with their house values.

In recent polls it was established that almost 90% of Tasmanians do not want a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley and even less, destruction of their native forests for woodchip to make paper. The Tasmanian State Government has ignored the polls and the wishes of the majority in favour of the big end of town.

The outfall pipe, a major environmental concern, will carry effluent from the mill in Bell Bay to a point close to Tenth Island in the Bass Straight. This island is a colony for endangered fur seals and there are concerns by environmentalists that these animals could be wiped out. Gunns Timber Ltd has decided to put the outfall pipe under sand dunes, to lessen its cosmetic impact on the environment but still intends to put effluent into the sea. Mr Burke claims the mill will be chlorine free and therefore pollution-lite. Gunns has insisted, right the way through the process that this would not happen because of cost issues.

The pulp mill was originally assessed by the State Government and approved in a fast-track process, despite protestations from the CEO Christopher Wright and Chief Scientist, Dr Warwick Raverty. There were concerns for the safety of residents from toxic fugitive odours, for the impact on regional forests, water toxicity and air pollution, from particulates. The State Government removed the decision-making process from the body set up the study the mill's impact, the Regional Planning and Development Corporation (RPDC) and instead pushed it through a special all night sitting of parliament. There was no public consultation and no scientific input. The fast-track process also included section eleven, which is complete denial of democracy to the Tasmanian people. Under that clause no compensation for injury or damages can be sought from any court as a result of injury or death, from either Gunns or their contractors, from operations concerning the pulp mill. This draconian piece of legislation was rushed through and this week it is set to have a repeal read in Hobart, by Greens Leader Nick McKim. It is hoped that the Liberals will back this repeal, as their stance has been one of criticism for the Labor Government on the pulp mill process. Green MHA for Bass, Kim Booth has stated that if a decision to repeal the act cannot be reached, following this reading of the bill, it could force a separation between the Greens and Labor, removing the joint minority position and therefore Labor's right to hold government.

Organizations such as Tasmanians Against the Pulpmill (TAP) and Pulp the Mill have vowed to fight on and never allow the mill to be completed and claim the mill has no social license.


It is interesting to note that despite the announcement, by Gunns, that the pulp mill is back on track, share prices did not rally in the same way as with previous announcements. Currently they are down to 59c a fall of 6.35% following a rise of just 5.88% after the Federal Government Decision. It would appear that even the stock market is unimpressed with environmentally unsound decisions.

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About the Author

David Leigh is a film maker and novellist who currently lives in Tasmania.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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