As the debate on Gunn’s proposed pulp mill reached boiling point this week, many onlookers — journalists and concerned citizens alike — were left asking  “Where’s Peter Garrett?”

Mr Garrett was recruited to the Labor Party on the strength of his environmental convictions, yet since entering the national political arena, his stridency has been supplanted by the value-free rhetoric of party politics. 

People seem confused and perhaps even a little frustrated by this, but maybe it’s a problem of expectations. Why did we expect Mr Garrett to retain his highly principled approach to public life in an environment in which principles can be used against you?

So on Wednesday, Crikey asked “Where’s Peter?”. We gave the shadow environment minister the chance to answer eight questions on the pulp mill, and the chance to stake out some new ground in the debate. Forty eight hours later, here are the responses. See if you can find Peter. We’re not sure we can.

1. Would you, as Environment Minister, support the native forest-based pulp mill that Gunns is proposing or would you require it to be plantation-based at inception?

Labor’s position is clear — as we have said many times over — we will support a pulp mill as long as it meets world’s best environmental standards and outcomes. If Mr Turnbull approves the mill, he must put such terms and conditions on the mill’s operation (e.g. strict discharge controls and other environmental outcomes).

Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (the EPBC Act), the Commonwealth Environment Minister is required to determine whether proposals have, or are likely to have, a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance, including listed threatened and migratory species and the Commonwealth marine area.

One example of the matters he should be studying carefully is — will there be any long-term ecological damage to matters of national environmental significance as a result of cumulative discharges and emissions?

We will continue to review the situation and the process undertaken by the Minister and look closely at the results of the scientific committee appointed by the Minister.

If I had the privilege to be Environment Minister, I would ensure that a comprehensive environment assessment process is undertaken. I would not — as Minister Turnbull has done — have chosen one of the least comprehensive assessment options.

Mr Turnbull now says he has to get further scientific advice. Of course he does — but that is the advice he should have got in the first place instead of choosing one of the least rigorous assessment processes.

I note Mr Turnbull initially made what he called a “proposed decision” with “draft conditions”, but he is now merely calling that “departmental advice” and has sought further advice from the Chief Scientist. The question is, what will he do with that advice?

Mr Turnbull is privy to technical advice and information and assessment in regard to this proposal that we are not currently privy too.

Mr Turnbull is wrong when he claims that Labor has access to all documentation pertaining to the Gunn pulp mill proposal. The following documentation is not publicly available:

  • Public submissions (from this and previous public consultations)
  • Any departmental advice pertaining to public submissions
  • Any legal advice received from the Department or other agencies.

We are awaiting his decision and any terms and conditions he places on any approval.

2. According to Gunns, the pulp mill will be 80% based on native forests when it opens. That violates the forest policy of ACF, the organisation of which you were President. It will necessitate the logging of high conservation-value forests throughout northern and south-eastern Tasmania. Why haven’t you opposed this aspect of the pulp mill?

A Rudd Labor Government would seek to maximise the proportion of wood supply for the pulp mill which came from plantations. We will use every endeavour to ensure high conservation value forests are not used for mill feed stock.

3. The consumption of such large quantities of native forest by the pulp mill (over three million tonnes per annum) will make it one of the biggest contributors to climate change in Australia. How does that fit into Federal Labor’s climate change policy?

Labor is absolutely committed to tackling climate change. A Rudd Labor Government would cut Australia’s greenhouse pollution by 60% by 2050. Labor is committed to establishing a national emissions trading scheme, substantially increasing the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target, implementing comprehensive energy efficiency measures and helping Australian families green their homes through solar rebates and low interest homes of up to $10,000.

A Rudd Labor Government will also establish a climate change trigger under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act which will require major new projects to be assessed for their climate change impact as part of any environmental assessment process. At present, the Howard Government’s major environment act does not address Australia’s greatest environmental challenge, climate change. A Labor Government will fix that.

5. In your view, are the permit conditions as applied to the project by the Tasmanian parliament sufficient to protect local businesses – tourism, fishing, wineries, and otherwise – from any harmful environmental effects of the mill’s operation?

There is legitimate and serious community concern over this proposal, a concern I have been on the record as recognising from the outset of this debate.

Any conditions on any mill approved by a Rudd Labor Government would be tough and fair because as you rightly point out there are many local businesses and jobs dependent on protecting the natural assets of the Tamar Valley.

6. Do you believe a pulp mill using chlorine-based technology can be world class, or would you require it to be totally chlorine-free?

Generally, chlorine-based technology does not provide as high a level of environmental outcomes and standards as chlorine-free technology. However, a proposed mill needs to be properly assessed on its merits.

A chlorine-free mill avoids a lot of problems and so does a 100% closed-loop mill. It comes down to a question of risk assessment and Labor has consistently said that we would insist on the most stringent environmental controls.

Any proposal that was put on my desk would be evaluated according to world’s best practice and any proponent would have to factor this into their design.

Labor doesn’t have full access to all the specifications and reports concerning the proposed Mill nor has Minister Turnbull provided Labor with all of the assessments of the proposal conducted by either his department or independent experts.

7. When Senator Bob Brown’s legal action in the Federal Court exposed the fact that logging in Tasmania was threatening endangered species and was therefore illegal, the Tasmanian and Australian Governments simply changed the law to make the logging legal again. Will a Rudd Labor government overturn those laws? If not, why?

Biodiversity protection will be a national environmental priority under a Rudd Labor Government. We will announce more details on our policies in relation to biodiversity protection in the lead up to the federal election.

8. You said the Tasmanian government “did a very disappointing job in their first round of assessments” of the mill? Would you instigate a thorough, independent investigation into the actions of the Tasmanian government, and in particular premier Paul Lennon, in the assessment of the pulp mill?

What I am most concerned about is outcomes. Are we going to get a world’s best practice pulp mill or not? A Rudd Labor Government would not have undertaken one of the least comprehensive environmental assessment processes, and it would have adopted mechanisms to properly allow for community concern to be expressed.

The ball is now in Mr Turnbull’s court and we are watching his actions closely.


Peter Garrett writes: Your comments and imagery at the start of the Peter Garrett “interview” are highly misleading. They create both a wrong impression and a sense of bias.

Crikey submitted questions about the proposed Tasmanian pulp mill to me on Wednesday 29 August, and put a deadline of around 12 noon Thursday on the answers.

I spent the Thursday morning on a flight to Perth for a policy announcement coinciding with the deadline. My office contacted Crikey ahead of the likelihood of me missing the deadline.

As the deadline for good reason could not be extended just for my answers, it was agreed my answers would be submitted and published on Friday, which they duly were.

Your comments about the Labor caucus “giving the nod” for me to speak are 100 per cent inaccurate.

Your suggestion that I have not spoken out about the pulp mill issue is also wrong. I have given more than a dozen interviews and press conferences on the subject, in addition to spending last weekend in Tasmania doing local and national media engagements.

My views have been clear and public for several months. Just because my views do not match the pre-determined boxes media outlets want me to tick, it does not mean I have not openly expressed my views, and of my own accord.

I have not lost my passion for the environment and I am not missing. The only thing missing on Friday was Crikey’s objectivity.