In claiming to have ensured that Gunns’ pulp mill is world’s best practice, Federal Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is trying to have it both ways.
He strenuously argues that under national environment laws, he cannot assess most of the mill’s environmental impacts. He says he can only assess impacts on Commonwealth marine waters, threatened species on the pulp mill’s site, and migratory species.
He says that he cannot assess the mill’s air pollution, odours, impacts of emissions on the Tamar River and Tasmanian coast, noise, the impacts on businesses involved in wine, tourism and agriculture, or road safety. He refuses to use powers at his disposal to assess the impacts of the pulp mill on Tasmania’s forests, on the wildlife that needs those forests, and on climate change.
Mr Turnbull argues that those are all issues for the Tasmanian state government.
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Back in August, he wrote to the Tasmanian Premier saying “… in my view, the abandonment of the Resource Planning and Development Commission process has eroded the trust of the Tasmanian and Australian people in the assessment of the proposed pulp mill.”
He has been critical of the Tasmanian Government’s handling of the pulp-mill assessment. That assessment occurred by consultants paid by the Lennon Government according to generic guidelines for a pulp mill in an unpopulated area, rather than according to the RPDC’s Final Scope Guidelines which were arrived at after months of community consultation about a mill in the Tamar Valley. The Tasmanian Government’s assessment has been widely criticised in lacking independence, transparency, comprehensiveness and rigour.
Yet now Mr Turnbull claims that the pulp mill will be world’s best environmental practice. Even though most of the mill’s impacts have either not been assessed or have received shoddy treatment at the hands of a discredited Lennon Government process.
Mr Turnbull, how can you say this mill will have world’s best practice when it comes to air pollution, odours, impacts on the Tamar river and coast, local businesses and the forests? What a contradiction. What absolute hypocrisy on the part of Australia’s Environment Minister.
And Mr Turnbull’s own performance is fatally flawed. He agrees with critics of Gunns’ impact statement that inadequate baseline studies have been carried out. He agrees that there is a risk of effluent being blown back to shore in warm conditions. His conditions require Gunns to carry out the necessary observations and modeling. Yet he has also allowed Gunns to build a $1.7 billion pulp mill while those studies are being carried out. How many millions of dollars will be spent before those studies are complete?
And what is a future Environment Minister to do when those scientific studies confirm that this is the wrong place to dump toxic effluent? Do we really expect such a Minister to withstand the arguments of Gunns and the Tasmanian Government that a billion-dollar investment and its jobs must come first.
This entire saga has been one of shifted goalposts, broken promises and watered-down conditions. A mill that was to have been totally-chlorine-free, reliant on plantation trees, assessed by the RPDC and compliant with the RPDC’s Final Scope guidelines has instead become a chlorine-bleaching mill 80% reliant on native forests, and assessed through a fragmented hotch-potch of state and federal processes that have ignored crucial community concerns, used the wrong guidelines, and put construction of the mill before completing the science.
What a shambles. Mr Turnbull’s decision to allow Gunns to build the mill before the impacts are known sets up Bass Strait and the Tamar for future sell-out of environmental protections.
Mr Turnbull has given the green light to an onslaught on Tasmania’s forests. The rate of logging to feed the pulp mill and the two woodchip-export mills that will continue to operate will double. Clearfelling and cable logging in the spectacular north-east highlands of Tasmania will increase and be locked in. Species such as the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle will face local extinction. Scenic forests in the Great Western Tiers and on the flanks of Ben Lomond will be destroyed. The loggers’ insatiable appetite will extend southwards into Tasmania’s south-west wilderness and into the Tarkine eucalypt forests of the north-west.
Mr Turnbull’s justification for being a party to this destruction is to say that it is the responsibility of the Tasmanian Government.
He has washed his hands of the responsibility for Tasmania’s unique environment and deferred the difficult decisions to his successors.