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Pulping the facts

By Mike Bolan - posted Wednesday, 5 September 2007

The phoney “debate” about the Tamar pulp mill can be seen as a difference between the statements of those who would benefit from the allocation of Tasmania’s limited resources of forest, land, water and sea, and those of independent experts and communities who do not have any conflict of interest in the matter and who may also rely on access to those same resources.

Of course those who would benefit support the proposal: how could it be otherwise? But what about everyone else, the reported 55-65 per cent of Tasmanians (from a range of published polls, for example see Tasmanian Times) opposed to the proposal?

Many locals believe the saga is a manipulation by the pulpwood industry to have easy conditions under which to operate the mill, thereby cutting their costs.


Recent revelations from Chile suggest the pulpwood industry has a record of dishonesty (for example, totally forged reports), in order to mask their likely impacts on the surrounding population so as to help to gain approval for developments and/or avoid penalties.

The pulpwood industry has always rejected negative independent assessments of their work, constantly reverting to consultants, whom they have paid, to support their claims. In addition they have consistently attacked people who have criticised their proposal, apparently not understanding that their behaviours and statements are creating the very resistance they complain about.

The problems started at the beginning of the process, when a $1.6 billion pulp mill investment in Tasmania was declared. Savvy readers will know that the mill is to be purchased from Finnish supplier Jaakko Poyry, consequently the bulk of the investment will actually be in Finland, with only a tiny proportion spent to assemble the mill in Tasmania. Gunns will need to borrow the money and repay the debt with trees from public forests, or plantation trees that have been subsidised by taxpayers.

It’s the involvement of tax dollars and Tasmanian-owned public resources, like trees and land, to pay off a private sector debt that makes the proposal of concern to Tasmanians.

The economic case for the mill was carried out on a computer model that government economists showed was not able to calculate impacts on other industries such as tourism, fishing and agriculture (Department of Employment and Workplace Relations EEU minute (PDF 110KB) of June 22, 2007). The false conclusion reached by the state government was that therefore there were no adverse economic impacts.

This fallacy was followed up by the state government commissioning the ITS Global report, which was a study carried out ONLY on the social and economic benefits of a pulp mill. Its conclusion was, by definition, entirely positive. By once again missing out the adverse impacts, Tasmanians were left with a one-sided view that completely ignored their legitimate concerns. Without knowing or understanding the costs to the rest of Tasmanians, it simply isn’t possible to make a responsible evaluation of the project.


The public submissions (over 5,000 pages) made to the Resource Planning and Development Commission (RPDC) have been largely ignored by a truncated “approval” process that only explored 5 per cent of the total impacts. Impacts on agriculture, fishing, tourism and rural communities have also been comprehensively ignored. The state government’s final process “outsourced” the approval decision to a pulp mill supplier who will gain further monies from the mill project. Just another decision made by a member of the pulpwood industry who stands to gain from the project. Conflicts of interest appear to rule the day in Paul Lennon’s Tasmania!

In his article in On Line Opinion about pulp “myths”, it is Alan Ashbarry’s (pulpwood industry) contention that objections to a Tamar pulp mill are based on “myths” that, if busted, would mean the mill would meet “clean, green standards”. Let’s have a look at his claims as seen from the community and impacted industry’s perspective.

The mill’s guidelines

Guidelines are just that … guides. The idea that “guidelines” are acceptable standards (think anti-terror guidelines, or drink driving guidelines) to control a potentially hazardous world-scale mill run by a corporation that has never done anything like it before, is absurdly far fetched. The final Kraft Mill guidelines use the word “should” some 84 times while “must” hardly rates at all.

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About the Author

Mike Bolan is an independent complex systems and business consultant. Mike worked for the Tamar valley community and others to prepare materials for the RPDC in which he spent about a year visiting Tasmanian communities, businesses and individuals to learn the impacts of forestry operations and the implications of a pulp mill on them. The lessons learned from that period are still relevant today and are used in this story, which is told to inform not to gain income.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Mike Bolan

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

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