Richard Flanagan (Holding up Gunns through secret deals, HERE) might be right when he claims, “loathing of Gunns is deep seated”, but that’s not a reason why his view that the pulp mill should not go ahead should rise above the scrum of views on the Bell Bay pulp mill.
Indeed, if it were only Gunns who wanted a pulp mill, his cause might have had a more sympathetic ear by now.
But it isn’t. And that’s why Bill Kelty is performing his role as moderator in an historical battle between Tasmania’s natural forestry industry and environmentalists seeking to accommodate beliefs and strong argument from both sides of the forestry “war”. The pulp mill was coupled more recently to the forest agreement talks because they are a multi-party process, not a forum for one group to get everything they ever wanted.
What Mr Flanagan wants is for his view of the world to be asserted ahead of the views of a very large number of Tasmanians who fear for the future of Tasmania without some injection of private capital, and without some future for the forestry sector that has until recently sustained many livelihoods for nearly five generations.
If only it were so simple.
The genesis for the Forest Agreement talks was the initiative shown by veteran forest campaigner Sean Cadman approaching me to see if some sort of peace might not be found on my taking over the CEO’s role at Gunns. An outbreak of peace I would like to continue.
Since then, and during the Kelty talks, Gunns has:
• Committed to exit forever from natural forest logging
• Asked to have enshrined in its environmental permitting the commitment to have the pulp mill use only 100 per cent, Forest Stewardship Council certified pulp (in response to environmental leadership discussions)
• Introduced Elemental Chlorine Free Light processing for the best marine effluent outcomes available in the world
• Been granted full environmental approvals to operate a world-class pulp mill
• Shown through an independent study that $10 billion will be injected into the Tasmanian economy, a third of which will be in northern Tasmania alone
• Committed to setting up a committee of environmentalists, social welfare and industry representatives to monitor the mill’s operation, and extract as much social and economic benefit from the pulp mill possible.
Gunns committed to those decisions because it believes this mill will not only enable it to restructure out of a collapsing forestry sector and position the company as a successful value-adding pulp exporter, but once again contribute to a revitalized Tasmanian economy.
Yes, Gunns needs this mill, but not as much as Tasmania. And this is the flip-side of the case Richard Flanagan presents.
It is also what Bill Kelty is gamely trying to bring together in the Forest Agreement talks. Thirty years of mutual scorn. Mr Flanagan may well attack from outside, but that’s not a luxury that those inside the talks have or want.
They are acting in good faith, and recognising that their central goals of secure high conservation value forests and jobs and businesses in remaining forestry, are ones worth having. Mr Flanagan has no skin in this game.
The Forest Agreement talks are possibly too complex for Mr Flanagan’s simple view of the world. The forestry sector doesn’t have an eloquent and engaged (or enraged) fiction writer to carry forward their case to a mainland audience, but they are no less passionate, and no less concerned about the prospect of the pulp mill being sacrificed on the altar of opponents’ distaste for Gunns.
My vision for the Bell Bay pulp mill, though, is as singular as Mr Flanagan’s. I want a pulp mill that assures its host community - on a fully objective and accountable basis - that it is safe, that it is clean and that it will meet its promise of job opportunities.
I go further and want to operate a pulp mill that doesn’t detract – in reality or perception - from the tourist and agricultural market values of the Tamar Valley.
Even further, I want Tasmania to show it is mature enough to attract resource investment and harness the economic and social benefits that come with it and promote the environmental integrity of this mill amidst it.
I know Mr Flanagan and the mill opponents think it is not conceivable that a company with Gunns’ history can achieve this. He might even think that the Federal Government (and its independent expert panel that signed-off on the hydro-dynamic models) and the State Government are not up to keeping us honest.
But then what? Is it cynicism that can be seen as justified - or indulgent or downright dangerous?
Where does that leave every forest worker who has lost a job or contract because of the downturn in the forest sector? Where does that leave the cooks, the waiters and the B&B operators who know that the time has come for Tasmania to invest in tourist infrastructure if they are to be able to continue to contribute to the Tasmanian economy? Where does that leave Tasmania’s disproportionately large ageing population needing home-based support and healthcare services?
If only it were as simple as Mr Flanagan presents.
Bell Bay pulp mill will be built in an area already zoned heavy industrial. It will operate next to a woodchip mill, an aluminium smelter, a seafood processing facility, a power plant and the Port of Launceston. This is not the Tarkine Wilderness. This is most certainly not the Franklin Dam.
For opponents to present the pulp mill as “the next Franklin” is a gross misrepresentation of the environmental values of the Tamar Valley. To represent it as such insults the passions and convictions of the thousands of people who took to the bulldozers to stop an icon of pristine wilderness from being inundated.
Superficially, I agree that in an area valued for its attractiveness to tourists, a badly operating pulp mill might pose some real and perception risks. However I believe, on any objective basis, the real risks are not there.
So let’s deal with the perception. As I see it what we must do is work co-operatively, collaboratively, to make sure that Tamar Valley’s tourist and clean agriculture values are not compromised. You don’t have to have one without the other. You can have both, but it will take openness of mind as well as information to make it happen.
Gunns is an emerging modern company. It does take its social licence seriously, and open, active engagement with how the mill operates is part of that commitment.
We will work with the people of Rowella and George Town to make sure they don’t suffer and do get the jobs and business opportunities they desperately need. We will support open engagement, and make this mill one of the most transparently operated and full-accountable mills in the world. The opportunity for its legitimacy to be scrutinized is on the table awaiting participation.
Gunns might have come late to its newfound acknowledgement to operate successfully within its social context, but at least it has. I understand that many will for some time to come be looking to see if the leopard’s spots will fade. Fair enough. My greater challenge is not so much to convince the Tasmanian public that Gunns can now be trusted, but to convince them that the risks of not trusting us are far less than the risks of losing this once-in-a-long-time opportunity to inject some hope into the Tasmanian and regional economy.
The challenge I send out to the likes of Richard Flanagan is: be objective not emotive and understand that yours is not the only point of view.
They all matter, and we have a responsibility to find a way to meet many people’s needs, not just one. It is the mark of a civilized society.
And, via Anne:
Christine Milne on the mil’s economics:
Gunns has proved [via its withdrawal on 14 Mar 2007 from the Resource Planning and Development Commission’s assessment and the production of the Pulp Mill Assessment Act (in Parliament eight days later)], that bleached Kraft pulp requires an industrial process the scale and pollutions of which are unacceptable in the Tamar Valley and at any site induce widespread and irremediable damage to forests, water catchments, farmlands, and marine habitats. Furthermore the Tasmanian Roundtable for Sustainable Industries Report 2007 shows that this mill eliminates small businesses along with 1744 jobs. Yet Gunns persists in claiming that its mill is ‘best practice’ and the right way to create jobs and make money. Who gets the jobs and to where the profits go Gunns do not say. But this year’s report for Gunns’ by Insight Economics uses its 2006 model, except shortens the period by four years, does not explain its assumptions, and then claims the mill leads to 3100 jobs rather than 1617 and will have a cumulative effect upon the Gross State Product which is 30% greater than the original claim. Does that include subsidies? What’s another name for Gunns way of doing business?
A recent report by Naomi Edwards [pursuant to her report “Mill competitiveness falls while government subsidies rise April 2008”] shows how pulp made at Gunns’ mill won’t sell in international markets; other suppliers, notably in Brazil, can and will provide bleached Kraft pulp more cheaply. This probably explains why Gunns doesn’t publish its own economic analyses – they know they overstate the cost competitiveness of the pulp mill. Gunns couldn’t convince their own independent auditor in 2010 (KPMG) that the commercial viability of the pulp mill is a fact. And no investor or financier has yet committed to the project.
Gunns can’t afford to build this mill without one or more Joint Venture Partners and cannot find one in Australia. This means a JVP must be a foreign business – so any investment by it must be approved by the Foreign Investment Review Board. Read about them at http://www.firb.gov.au/content/default.asp and at http://www.firb.gov.au/content/_downloads/Australias_Foreign_Investment_Policy_%28English%29.pdf you can read more regarding this:
“NATIONAL INTEREST CONSIDERATIONS
Assessing the national interest allows the Government to balance potential sensitivities against the benefits of foreign investment.
The Government determines national interest concerns case-by-case. We look at a range of factors and the relative importance of these can vary depending upon the nature of the target enterprise. Investments in enterprises that are large employers or that have significant market share may raise more sensitivities than investments in smaller enterprises. However, investments in small enterprises with unique assets or in sensitive industries may also raise concerns.
The impact of the investment is also a consideration. An investment that enhances economic activity – such as by developing additional productive capacity or new technology – is less likely to be contrary to the national interest.
The Government typically considers the following factors when assessing foreign investment proposals:
Other Australian Government Policies (Including Tax)
Impact on the Economy and the Community
Character of the Investor”
Anne: So if Gunns do find a JVP – ten false reports since March 2008 suggests they won’t – then its mill will become a matter of National Interest, and this means opposition to it should become a national campaign. In the meantime, Senator Milne recommends writing to Tasmanian Senators [addresses via http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/senators/homepages/state.asp?state=tas ], voicing concerns (aka objections) you have about any foreign Joint Venture Partner and possible advice from the Foreign Investment Review Board.
• ABC Radio reports Bill Kelty has handed his report to the government ...