In early 2007 Premier Lennon first touted the possibility that he would remove the pulp mill project from Tasmania’s statuatory RPDC process and fast track it through the parliament. The signs were there. They had been for a while. We knew it was only a matter of time. The rest is history.
So when the Premier and Minister Kons told Tasmanians yesterday that the Government are “looking at all community benefits that night flow from” funding the Gunns water and effluent pipeline, it would seem likely that an announcement might not be far away.
That Government are once again only looking at potential benefits and flagging the need for a speedy decision suggests that they are merely setting about formulating a message to sell (if it hasn’t already been prepared long ago) the project to the public.
There are many in the community who have been predicting this move. Buck Emberg and Justin Millers cynicism is likely justified when they suggest Government plans to build and own the pipeline are a precursor to compulsory land acquisitions. Indeed, the more one looks at this latest pulp mill taxpayer subsidy the more worrying it becomes.
The pipeline, with its $60 million price tag from Lake Trevallyn to the Longreach mill site 36km north of Launceston and the 19km effluent pipe from the pulp mill to the Five Mile Bluff are first and foremost Gunns pulp mill infrastructure and primarily exist to benefit the mill.
The pipeline would only perform a supplementary role for the community. Surely if this was a genuine state government venture partial funding of the mill would have been the prudent and responsible course of action instead of 100%. And rather than undertaking to merely look at its benefits, as is being proposed, properly undertaking a full cost-benefit study.
The Tasmanian public is already outraged and cynical.
Most public comment in the media today centred around two major areas of suspicion. That a 100% government owned pipeline and effluent outfall to Gunns pulp mill is just another subsidy for a financially embattled proponent as well as being necessary so that Government can undertake compulsory acquisition of the land through which the pipeline will pass.
It also has to be noted that the Premier’s potential pipeline rescue proposal for Gunns comes at a time when Gunns financial woes and inability to secure finance are more conspicious than ever before. Indeed, last week one of the world’s largest international investment firms - Citigroup - recommended investors sells Gunns shares, with JP Morgan backing the call. John Gay himself reiterated this week that securing finance for the mill was still at least 2-3 months away and as its stands now it would not be surprising to see mill construction postponed til later in the year. If indeed Gunns were to postpone construction till late 2008 then the interim may provide and opportunity for new state and federal approvals for alternative the governments pipeline and effluent plan.
Based on recent performances the public might also reasonably expect Gunns estimated cost of more than $50 million to blow out to somewhere closer to $100 million.
What the Government needs to tell the people of Tasmania is via which process and using which particular criteria did they identify that between Lake Trevallyn, the longreach site, five mile bluff and the surrounding areas is located an area of such great need, that it would warrant such an enormous amount of water infrastructure spending?
Indeed, why does locating such costly water infrastructure at this particular time, in this particular area, take precedent over other areas of need in Tasmania?
With this in mind one wonders why Tasmanians shouldn’t believe that the Premier and his government had not predetermined this pipeline plan and mapped out a strategic time line including a public announcement?
Indeed it would be very instructive to know from the Premier how long ago he/Government decided that they would pursue this proposal?
When was it first discussed by the Premier - on any level and with who?
When and by what process was the decision made to “to investigate all community benefits” that would flow from state ownership of the Gunns corporations water and effluent pipelines?
And why have the government left it till 5 minutes to midnight to spring this proposal on the Tasmanian people?
Surely, spending an extra $60 million plus of Government money on this private project dwarfs all other government spending on the this project thus far.
Why did the Premier not put this proposal on the table from the start of the pulp mill projects assessment 3 years ago?
Is it because the basis for this proposal is so inadequate that the the plan would not have survived the public and media scrutiny?
Why did Louise Saunders who interviewed the Premier this afternoon and softly questioned him about the taxpayer funded Gunns pipeline proposal not ask any of these questions?
Will anyone in Tasmania’s print and electronic media ask these questions or will it be left to Tasmania’s opposition - The Greens to ask the government in the Parliament?
By imposing a plan on the public to spend an extra 60 million plus Taxpayer dollars on Gunns pulp mill at the last minute and stating Government are only looking at the “community benefits”, yet also wanting a quick decision on whether to proceed, reeks of another pulp mill snow job which leaves the public with little or no time to properly absorb the meaning and implications of the proposal.
Aside from the fact that polls have consistently demonstrated that the majority of Tasmanians do not consent to having this pulp mill, Tasmanians most certainly were not engaged in any discussion, let alone agreement, with Gunns or government during the state and federal assessment processes that the Tasmanian taxpayers should foot the bill for such a large and expensive piece of the pulp mills infrastructure.
On that basis alone Gunns should be made to pay for their own pipeline and if the Tasmanian government were fair dinkum about drought proofing the state they would direct any available money to water savings measures like subsiding rural and residential water tanks and assisting the most drought stricken parts of Tasmania.
And surely by now by proposing to add Launceston’s sewerage to the effluent equation also means a new federal/state assessment is needed as would removing or adding any new infrastructure to the existing plans for the pipeline?
This in itself should open a whole new can of legislative and time/money related problems for state and federal governments and Gunns.
Make no mistake this is not only a highly provocative move but would be a scandal of the highest order should the Lennon government attempt to pull this one on the people of Tasmania.
When was it first discussed by the Premier - on any level and with who? When and by what process was the decision made to “to investigate all community benefits” that would flow from state ownership of the Gunns corporations water and effluent pipelines? And why have the government left it till 5 minutes to midnight to spring this proposal on the Tasmanian people? Surely, spending an extra $60 million plus of Government money on this private project dwarfs all other government spending on the this project thus far. Why did the Premier not put this proposal on the table from the start of the pulp mill projects assessment 3 years ago? Is it because the basis for this proposal is so inadequate that the the plan would not have survived the public and media scrutiny?