Image for Ancient History

So, it’s “ancient history” (TT HERE) that in early 2006 Gunns had information about “dioxin concentrations for various areas around Georgetown” which would emanate from the pulp mill, information which was deliberately withheld at a time when the RPDC was seeking information to determine if the company met state planning guidelines.

Whatever the proper interpretation is of another email on this matter, in April 2006 - “For God’s sake what are (deleted) trying to do, bring down two Governments plus our company (Gunns)” – it certainly doesn’t read as a flippant or jocular riposte.  To the contrary, it suggests forthrightly and strongly, if not angrily, that governments and Gunns would not survive if certain information became public knowledge.  Several days later another email states “I have not looked but if the Dioxin concentration chart is there it will need to go. Pls get this reworked before we send to DPIWE.”

There is nothing ambiguous about the meaning of that.

One implication cannot be avoided from these emails and that is that politicians were involved in conduct in relation to withholding information from the RPDC.The “ancient history” that we are now seeing adds a more sickening dimension to the whole rotten process leading up to the events of 2007, and the passage of the PMAA.  It is somewhat shocking to actually see verified in such a callously indifferent way to human consequences the perfidy, the gutlessness, the narrow self-interestedness, the shallowness and the sheer lack of moral and ethical fibre of the majority of Tasmanian politicians.

It has always been the case that the rights of the people of the Tamar Valley were of no importance when it came to weighing up the interests of Gunns against any and all other matters.  “Residual rights” were not for the people who live there, for their health and well-being, for their jobs, homes, businesses and anything else.  It has often been said that section 11 of the Pulp Mill Assessment Act applies only to the construction of the mill.  Apart from the fact that you’d have to be an idiot to spend thousands of dollars testing that, one thing that we all know full well is that no baseline studies were done to cover the costs of damage in any area of potential adverse effects.  No protective mechanisms were put in place within the PMAA for the people of the Tamar Valley.  This has all been said again and again, but it is worthwhile to repeat it again and again. 

It has often been said by Tasmanian politicians working for and on behalf of Gunns’ interests, which includes the overwhelming majority of them, that people have recourse to law if the pulp mill destroys their lives, their livelihoods, their health and their future.  This is a lie and has always been a lie, and what we can see in these emails is the full force of that lie.

The emails highlight even more strongly, if that is possible, the totally farcical misuse of language encapsulated in the phrase “integrated impact statement”.  Now there’s a phrase which should be permanently engraved beside “residual rites” on Gunns’ “substantially commenced” burial site.  Most significantly, in giving the lie to the whole notion of the “integrated impact” of the pulp mill, the emails demonstrate an explicit understanding of what could occur in populated areas in relation to air-borne dioxins.  Just a few of thousands of emails, we are told.  I bet.

The dereliction of duty of all politicians involved in this travesty is palpable and disgraceful.  It shows their willingness to accept that damage suffered by people and communities is of no consequence to them, and worse still, it shows their willingness to ensure that the standards of proof for damage (caused by air-borne dioxins for example), will always fall short. 

People have been calling for a Royal Commission into the events leading up to the passage of the PMAA in 2007, and these emails add another reason for such an investigation.  But those who replaced the RPDC in dealing with the whole approvals process still make up a majority of parliamentarians in both houses of the Tasmanian parliament, Labor, Liberal and “independent”.  So even if the parliament did establish an enquiry it would be tainted from the start by the very character of the politicians who initiated it, and its terms of reference would be sure to be a matter of black comedy too awful to behold. 

None of those people have any sense that they are elected to represent the best interests of people and communities.  They see themselves as representing corporate power, and the caucus conformity which will gain them promotion in their personal careers.  Additionally, of course, the PMAA has been reaffirmed by all new Labor-Liberal members on two subsequent occasions.  Where to from there?  The Greens effectively pulled the plug on any investigation into events which transpired in the first half of 2007, by joining in coalition government with many of those involved in those events.

Short of a Royal Commission, there is the question of whether the DPP has the authority to now investigate the matters involved on the basis of the evidence in the public domain. To what extent it also requires federal investigation, given that certain matters in relation to permits were under federal jurisdiction, is another question which now requires answers as well.

The emails might be sickening in the insight they provide about the inner workings of a company, and its corporate culture, but the key question they shout above the stink is whether or not they provide evidence that Gunns and politicians deliberately kept vital information from the statutory planning authority at the time, information that related directly to the health and well-being of a populated area well into the future, including children and people yet to be born.

If that question is now ignored, especially by the Greens in Tasmania’s coalition government, then the rule of law in Tasmania is indeed “ancient history”.So are the Greens. 

As this goes to press it has been confirmed that Gunns has been given $23 million of public money for “residual rights”, its debt to the moribund Forestry Tasmania has been written off as well, and to add insult to injury Forestry Tasmania has been given $11.5 million for, well, whatever they could think of.

All of which confirms that in Tasmania, the law’s a fig leaf over power.  So we will now watch to see how matters of “substantial commencement” are resolved, and which dictionary will be used.  I’m betting on the Easter Island hieroglyphic handbook.


Peter Henning