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Pulp the other one!

By Roger Hanney - posted Thursday, 6 September 2007

Allan Ashbarry recently wrote in On Line Opinion declaring Tasmania’s pulp mill process to be a resounding, transparent, and welcome step forward for a state and industry plagued by the horrific “Richo” moments in the late ’80s, when politics trumped common sense and tighter Federal environmental legislation sent investors running.

What a strange time that was, so distant from the evolved governance that Tasmanians, and indeed Australians, are asked to put their faith in today. Graham Richardson, February, 1989:

On Friday, we saw events that are unprecedented in Australian politics. We had a private company ... it's a public company but certainly not Government announcing what the Government was going to do and that was recall parliament in a couple of weeks' time to reinterpret the guidelines for this pulp mill. The company also announced that it would have to agree with what the Government was doing before it was done. I've never seen Government by company before.


Cognitive dissonance occurs when people cannot absorb any information which conflicts with their viewpoint - no matter how significant and reliable that information may be. One example would be if a lobbyist for Gunns referred to an era when the Wesley Vale pulp project was abandoned and Tasmania’s clean, green branding really took off as though it was some terrible dark age.

The fact is that Ashbarry knows the history but misses both the lesson and the irony. Then Premier, now Gunns’ board member, Robin Gray probably does not.

Instead of “myth-busting”, Ashbarry goes mything in action with a flapjack stack of misinterpretations and misrepresentations. It is hard to tell which is which; for purposes of understanding the distinction is barely relevant. This approach typifies lobbyists who continue framing the mill issue as a clash between greenies and gold - so much less toxic than an escalating dispute over the rule of law, the corruption of due process, and the silencing of public interest.

Deflecting the debate into a discussion of “sovereign risk” is nonsense without acknowledging risk’s corollary - responsibility - an attribute which many are claiming but few seem able to handle.

Some corrections and qualifications:

  • as repeatedly stated by Resource Planning and Development Commission (RPDC) panelists, the Tasmanian Emission Guidelines referred to were developed for a remote location with good air flows and good ocean flushing, traits respectively absent from Long Reach and the nearby areas in Bass Strait;
  • 780 public submissions were received but, crucially, never subjected to public enquiry or debate by the RPDC. Gunns’ withdrawal effectively meant that submitters had their time wasted;
  • the Honourable Christopher Wright detailed in his statutory declaration that Premier Lennon had insisted that he excise public hearings from the RPDC process - an outcome neatly delivered by the state’s fast-track legislation;
  • it follows that public input was considered by the present Tasmanian Government in much the same manner as a windscreen considers a bug in flight; and
  • delays were not caused by the RPDC panel. Delays were caused by the proponent, Gunns.

Now that last one is going to really upset some revisionists. Gunns abandoned the Hampshire option just months after the Emission Guidelines (which were far more suited to Hampshire than to the Tamar) were declared. Gunns waited until the last day of public submissions on May 29, 2005, to significantly change the detail of their proposal for the Tamar site, and secure 30-year access to native forests.

Gunns also waited until more than seven months after the preparation of guidelines for “any new Bleached Eucalypt Kraft Mill in Tasmania” to tell the RPDC that they would be pulping pine as well as eucalypt - a fact that is of considerable significance when Environmental Guidelines are framed. Gunns failed twice to meet crucial deadlines in 2006 and 2007 for submission of an adequate and complete Integrated Impact Statement (IIS).

Had Gunns pursued a legitimate process as tenaciously as they have pursued activists over letter-writing and other democratic mischief, the RPDC would by now have a complete IIS for consideration and be just months from a final decision in which the majority of Tasmanians would have placed great faith.

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About the Author

Roger Hanney is an acudetox and shiatsu practitioner completing a Masters in Environmental Law at Sydney University. Biodiversity, international law, legal research and public interest litigation are longstanding areas of interest. He is the environment editor for Sydney City Hub, and for the Tasmanian Times, New Matilda, and Big Issue if they let him.

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