The pulp mill is front and centre of the West report (The report Lab-Lib would rather you did not see).  But it goes further in its attack on basic democratic rights than has hitherto been the case, even further than the stripping of common law rights contained within the 2007 Pulp Mill Assessment Act.  In its specific support for the pulp mill the West report not only gives its own stamp of approval to the abrogation of due process, and to the multiple socio-economic and environmental risks which have never been assessed, but it has also inserted its own pernicious attack on democratic rights, recommending that opposition to the pulp mill cease.

West himself, in an interview on ABC radio on Wednesday 29 March, also made it very clear that the ENGOs which are signatories to the whole roundtable-SOP-IGA process will play dead on the mill in exchange for getting the native forest reserves.  He said, without any qualifications at all, that he had been told that the opposition to the mill would go away if Gunns did not use native forest feedstock.  No equivocation whatsoever.  This is exactly the position the ENGOs signed off on in October 2010, and was made known publicly much earlier than that. 

Since West made that statement, TWS has reiterated its opposition to the mill, saying that “the pulp mill’s a different issue”, but West has made it very clear that this is not the case, both within the report itself and in the media.  Who’s telling the truth? 

Let this be repeated.  West has made it as plain as he possibly could that a plantation-based pulp mill is not opposed by the ENGOs, and will not be opposed by the ENGOs.

But that’s not all.  In direct response to a question from the ABC about whether he had consulted with anti-pulp groups, West said that he had met with many organisations, and deliberately conveyed the impression that he had met with anti-pulp mill organisations.

Which anti-pulp mill organisations has he met with, and who has he met with who are representatives of those groups?  There is absolutely no evidence that West has spoken with any anti-pulp mill groups.  Why would West say that he has consulted with anti-pulp mill groups when he hasn’t?  That’s a question which only he can answer, but his failure to do so is an indictment on the process he has followed, especially in his decision to ignore the social dimension in its entirety from his investigation.  Instead of saying on ABC radio that he had not consulted with community-based opposition groups to the pulp mill at all, he tried to convey the impression that he had.

This needs to be strongly emphasised.  The West report has gone out of its way to reinforce the fallacy that the anti-pulp mill movement can be subsumed under the unrepresentative ENGO umbrella, comprising the three SOP-IGA signatories.  None of those ENGOs have a mandate to represent anti-pulp mill groups which are not fronts for their own organisations. 

The ENGOs have no mandate to represent anyone except themselves in this process.  They have no right to claim they represent the community interest, and they have no right to provide spurious grounds for forestry corporations, clearfelling industry lobbyists and the Labor government to claim that the process provides a “social licence” for their agenda, which they have done consistently throughout the SOP-IGA process.  It is thoroughly disingenuous of the West report to accept the lie that the ENGOs speak for community opposition to the pulp mill.

The West team has had more than five months to reach the conclusion that the anti-pulp mill movement is community-based in the main, not ENGO-based.  That has been plain for all to see for years, not just five months, which just goes to show how ingloriously superficial the West report has been in relation to the pulp mill issue. 

The anti-pulp mill movement is much broader in its base of opposition to the pulp mill than the question of whether the mill has native forest feedstock or plantation feedstock.  It also embraces, let it be said for the umpteenth time, socio-economic and due-process governance considerations that have been articulated in depth and detail for many years. 

In this context it is highly significant that the report paid no attention whatsoever to the issue of accreditation, highly significant because FSC accreditation specifically includes a “social” dimension, which has been entirely ignored.  Ignoring the question of accreditation highlights in no uncertain manner the way that the West report sweeps aside all issues which might involve social costs.  By ignoring the question of accreditation the West report does not need to come to grips with the real social element in triple-bottom-line forestry accreditation processes which are rapidly becoming the only acceptable standard in the global marketplace.  It is, of course, a corruption of the intent and purpose of the triple chamber approach (social-environmental-industry) to subsume/conflate the “social” dimension within the “industry” or the “environmental”  components of FSC accreditation, for example.

When the West report asserts that there should be no campaigning against the forestry corporate interest in overseas markets, it is really saying that markets which have decided to accept only triple-bottom-line accreditation should not be made aware – loud and clear – that Tasmanian practices do not meet those standards.  Also, the report seems to be arguing that when Tasmanian forestry products are marketed overseas with deliberately false or misleading information about the source of the product, that this should be ignored.

This is tantamount to saying that there should be no corporate accountability for anything they say about their product which is false – for example marketing product harvested from native forests as if it was derived from plantations.  It is also tantamount to saying that the truth does not matter, that the truth should be suppressed.  Even more appalling, it is providing further groundwork to undermine basic democratic rights of dissent, in circumstances where the right to dissent and to question is more important than ever. 

This is all bad enough, but it also self-defeating.  West has got it entirely wrong.  Trying to prevent protests against products which don’t meet standards that the marketplace demands will only make the marketplace more wary of those products anyway, and will merely contribute to decline rather than encourage much-needed reform. 

Apart from that, there are other aspects of the West report which are just plain lunacy.  Perhaps the most bizarre – there’s that endemic Tasmanian word again – is its support for a pulp mill within the frame of its own conclusions.  It is laughable to consider, on the one hand, that the current allocation of native forest sawlogs by FT needs to be halved at least, and that a transition needs to be made into a plantation-based industry of a “manufactured” nature on the other hand, in addition to supplying pulp wood for the mill. 

Where is that plantation resource going to come from – the moon?  And who is going to buy the pulp at a price that won’t need the “industry” to be subsidised from public funds for years until it collapses under the weight of its own unsustainability and irrelevance? 

We have to seriously wonder if West and his colleagues know what is happening in the northern hemisphere, or even bother to think about it.  He might or might not realise that we’re in the middle of a technological revolution, and that developing a forestry industry on the basis of what people thought 20 years ago would be the panacea for Tasmania for the next century is just plain lunacy. 

Here’s a story which West would have us replicate.  Once upon a time in Tasmania some far-sighted people decided to plant a plantation of ash trees to serve the world’s appetite for tennis racquets.  Tennis racquet technology changed before the ash plantation got anywhere near maturity, and now there is no requirement for wood in tennis racquets at all.  And by the way, there are schools already in Australia which now have paperless classrooms.  No, it’s not a return to the past of slate tablets and chalk.  It’s kids with kindles, computers and ipads.  And no, it’s not a flash in the pan.  It’s a sign of the future.

Where West has really gone west is in his conclusion that the fools who put nitens into the ground in their thousands of hectares, when they should have gone for high value different species, must be supported into a dismally doomed future.  Surely he and his colleagues must be aware that these monocultural plantations for pulp are being bulldozed everywhere across Australia, as the penny drops like a bomb that the world is a’changin’.  The irony is that West has said what people like Frank Strie have been saying for years about the unsustainability of Tasmania’s forestry industry, but then actually gives his backing to something equally as unsustainable, and to something which will only exacerbate division and conflict within Tasmania, not alleviate it.

The West report has done its best to reinforce the anti-democratic elements of the whole pulp mill saga, bolstering where it can the exclusion of the public interest, both now and into the future.  In that sense it is a continuation of the follies of the past, fitting neatly into the pattern of the abrogation of proper processes of democratic governance.  If the Tasmanian government now cherry picks the report, ignoring the analysis of FT, but using it to bolster and to strengthen its exclusion of public voices against the pulp mill, the West report will rank beside the PMAA in its rankness.

First published: 2012-03-29 11:00 AM