Richard Flanagan in his Stop the Pulp Mill rally speech last Saturday in Hobart, here on Tasmanian Times, seems to have been the first to notice the extraordinary subsidy Kevin Rudd’s ALP has given to Gunns pulp mill, hidden in the form of Martin Ferguson’s recent announcement of a supposed transport package to Tasmania, but which on close examination would appear to be yet one more extraordinary gift to Gunns in excess of $100 million.

What was missed by all the media was that Martin Ferguson had simply given Paul Lennon exactly what he had asked the Federal Government for back in June, all in order to get logs by rail from the southern forests to the northern pulp mill.

While the improvement of the rail network may arguably make it a more viable alternative to roads for a range of freight, there is no doubt the aim of the package is to help Gunns. The commercial viability of Gunns mill is often publicly questioned, but with subsidies like this (on top of the $1 billion of subsidies the Tasmanian forestry industry has already received over the past twenty years), Gunns could be running a T-Model Ford factory and still making a fortune out of taxpayers’ money.

This gift to John Gay and Robin Gray is known to have caused consternation privately in some parts of the ALP, which are concerned at the increasing public outrage at the proposed mill. As Flanagan argued, “How can Kevin Rudd claim to be fair dinkum about climate change when he is promising more money to support a pulp mill that will burn half a million tonnes of forest a year in the monstrosity of its electricity generator?”

The total cost of improvements to the rail network to benefit Gunns is $110 million, and it is revealed in an examination of the following articles and media releases.

  1. This article from the Mercury June 2007 establishes, out of Paul Lennon’s mouth, that the primary aim of his proposed Brighton Transport Hub is to transport logs from the south to the north by rail and that the proposed Karanja – New Norfolk rail improvement is to access by rail the logs from the southern forests.
  2. This article from the Mercury 2 November 2007 details Federal ALP’s Tasmanian Transport package. Out of the total of $203 million promised, $30 million is to rebuild the railway line from Karanja to New Norfolk; $24 million to straighten and re-align the main north south rail track; and $56 million for the Brighton transport hub, a total of $110 million.
  3. Under the revealing title “Labor Announces $303 Million To End Southern Tasmania’s Logjam”, Martin Ferguson’s media statement details how straightening the north south rail track “will allow increased speeds, longer trains and bigger loads, cutting turnaround times, delivering greater efficiency and the ability for rail to compete with road for a greater share of the freight task.”
  4. This Tasmanian Government document details the proposal for the “Removal of tight curves on steep grades on the approaches to Rhyndaston tunnel and two other sections south of Antill Ponds. Remove around 50 tight curves on a steep 1:40 grade between Rhyndaston and Antill Ponds. The project will increase the pulling capacity of northbound trains by at least 40%.”

It also spells out that the increased loads likely (as opposed to simply desired) are because of log freight going north for Gunns. It states that: “The use of rail to transport logs from the southern forests to the proposed pulp mill and other processors will see a significant reduction in log trucks on the public road network, but will require upgrade of the rail network to cater to this task.”

At the largest public rally since the Franklin River protests of the early 1980s, 15,000 protesters raised their hands when asked if they would they be willing to blockade the pulp mill site in the Tamar River Valley and if necessary go to jail.

Like Kevin Rudd’s gift to Gunns, the prospect of the largest civil disobedience campaign in Australia’s history failed to rate a mention in the national media.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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