Politics has dominated the debate on Gunns pulp mill, but Crikey reader Alan Hatfield wanted answers to a few questions that cut through the spin. Alan, we’re here to help.

Does the proposed pulp mill consume unconscionable levels of Government subsidy or not?

It depends on what you call unconscionable and how you define a government subsidy.

Regarding timber, the exact levels of the government subsidies enjoyed by the mill are largely unknown. Details of the Timber Supply Agreement remain a secret. Crikey understands the agreement lasts for 30 years. The Tasmanian Greens argue that state forests, which are a key source of timber, are a form of subsidy, with roads and other infrastructure supplied on the public purse, but the value of those subsidies also remain unknown. Then there’s the water deal, and the following taxpayer funded enterprises:

  • The Pulp Mill Taskforce – run out of the Department of Economic Development
  • Advertising, promotion material such as a letter to businesses
  • Paying for consultant reports, especially once the RPDC process was abandoned
  • Paying for MPs to go on pulp mill excursions overseas.

Does it use timber from old growth forests or from plantations?

Gunns says:

  • Absolutely no old growth wood will be used in the mill
  • The Pulp Mill will use between 3.2 million and four million tonnes of woodchips each year from plantation and regrowth forests (those harvested 50-60 years ago), mostly from the north east of Tasmania. No increase in forest operations will be required to supply the mill.

Geoff Law, Wilderness Society forests campaigner, says:

  • Gunns told the Wilderness Society in August 2006 that there is no upper limit on the age of trees that can pulped by the mill. There is therefore no technological impediment to pulping old growth.
  • Old growth could – and probably will – be burnt in the massive wood-fired power generator.
  • The RFA definition of old growth is very narrow and excludes many forests that contain very old trees and many areas that have never been logged before.

Do the Greens approve any forms of forest harvesting and consumption or not? Peg Putt from the Tasmanian Greens told Crikey:

Yes. Our strategy involves protecting high conservation value forests that are currently unprotected, creating much higher value native forest based industries than the current pulp/woodchip trade, and processing the established plantations for much higher valued-added products than a pulp mill produces. The idea that the Greens oppose all logging is a stereotype that the very hardline, doctrinaire members of the logging industry are trying to promote as Greens policy. I don’t quite know where they get it from. Obviously we’ve got a much more sophisticated policy than that.

Do the loggers want to log everything that’s vertical? Are there places they accept should not be logged? Terry Edwards, CEO of Forest Industries Association of Tasmania, told Crikey:

No. The Tasmanian forest industry does not wish to log all trees that are vertical. Tasmania has the most extensive forest protection in the country with 47% of all forest areas (including 80% of old growth forests) fully protected from harvesting through reserves.

In addition to this reservation level, between 25% and 30% of the unprotected forest is not available for harvesting due to restrictions imposed by the legally enforceable Forest Practices Code including streamside reserves, wildlife habitat strips, wildlife corridors, wedge tailed eagle reserves, habitat protection reserves etc.

Additional consideration is given to the protection of view fields, cultural heritage, protection of natural heritage values, water quality, soils and karst areas and a myriad of other issues. In a formal agreement with the Tourism Council of Tasmania specific attention is paid to harvesting in areas of sensitivity to the tourism industry this has resulted in many areas not being harvested by agreement.

What are the net public benefits from forestry industries as opposed to “clean, green” food and tourism? Dr Judith Ajani, author of The Forest Wars, told Crikey:

Forestry in Tasmania is a commodity industry, and those sort of products have a long term decline in real price trends … When you mention clean, green food and tourism, both of those products take us into specialties and specialties compete less on price and more on quality. Over time, price trends for specialties are not so intensely down as commodities … If you want a growing economy that doesn’t have to keep on producing material products, you would want to have a good swag of industries that move us out of the commodities game … 

 

The climate change issue is making us look more closely at how we choose to use our forests. The essence here is you’ve got activities that are complimentary to carbon sequestration, water, biodiversity, and pristine environments. The incompatibility comes when you introduce a commodity based industry to those environments.

Are there rational plans for extractive industries and renewable and “clean, green” industries to co-exist?

Yes. In 2004, the Tasmanian Greens released its Forests Transition Strategy (FTS), which charted a course for resolving “Tasmania’s forests debate in favour of both forest protection and sustainable jobs.” It “led the Greens to critically examine the forest industry and develop an outline for a process of transformation to alter the dynamics of the industry.” The Greens claim the plan creates 895 jobs: 720 timber industry jobs 175 tourism industry jobs, while protecting high-value forest resources and using more efficiently plantation and regrowth forests.