Stephen Mayne is wrong. Gunns does not have “a strong environmental story to tell”, as he wrote for Crikey on Wednesday. It has been the author of an epic Tasmanian tragedy, a tale that has reduced good people to tears.
Over the lifetimes of successive Tasmanian governments, Gunns has devastated the island’s landscape, fragmenting the habitat of endangered species such the wedge-tailed eagle, swift parrot and the Tasmanian devil. It has poisoned waterways and divided communities. It has tainted parliament with a fast-track approval bill shaped by its own lawyers, and it has cast countless workers onto the employment scrapheap. This is fact.
Gunns has left scars on this island that will take generations to heal.
The doubters should Google Earth the north-east of Tasmania, or the north-west along the upper reaches of the Frankland River in the Tarkine wilderness, or the Weld and Florentine valleys in the diminishing southern forests along the edge of the Tasmanian south-west Wilderness World Heritage Area. See for yourself what Gunns has left us …
The doubters might then spend more than the two hours Mayne spent on the road to his Damascus pulp mill destination. They might visit the Tamar Valley and discover it is much more than a place called Bell Bay — Mayne’s ideal industrial location. It is a scenic valley dotted with small towns, tourist trails, B&Bs and wineries. The Tamar Valley is home to people who have spent the past eight years in a state of highest stress, born of love and fear for a way of life they refuse to surrender.
Socially and ecologically attuned people across the island rightly believe the Gunns pulp mill is a threat to Tasmania.
Not only do we not “desperately” need the Gunns Tamar Valley pulp mill, we absolutely need a more intelligent, diversified economic strategy that protects our lucrative clean, green brand.
Mayne is right about one thing. The state budget is hitting hard because the previous majority Labor government spent recklessly, GST receipts are well down, and some fierce, understandably unpopular spending cuts are being made. But, last time I checked the underlying economic indicators, private sector investment is on the up and unemployment better than the national average at around 5%. Our niche exporters are doing well — despite the strong Australian dollar — because their product is superior. Hardly a compelling argument for a mono-culture fed, forest furnace-powered, airshed-polluting, dioxin disseminating pulp mill.
Tourists don’t come to Tasmania to sip pinot across the river from a pulp mill, lulled by the incessant rumble of the very log trucks with which they would be sharing the scenic route …
They don’t come here to see hectare after countless hectare of plantations, interspersed with stubbled fields where once grand eucalypts, sassafras and myrtle stood.
Visitors come here because there are few places left in the world as wild and lovely to behold, and as civilised, as Tasmania.
The “bizarre display of business-strangling red tape” Mayne refers to are the pulp mill permits; the end result of Gunns Ltd withdrawing from the formal, proper RPDC planning process because it did not want to, or could not, answer the panel’s significant scientific and engineering questions. Nor could it legitimately refute the advice of independent experts who presented evidence against Gunns’ technical reports and assumptions. The RPDC found that Gunns’ proposal was “critically non-compliant”.
Those pieces of “red tape” were pulled together by bureaucrats in haste — in ignorance of key information — at the direction of the Lennon Labor government, which willingly delivered the pulp mill’s fast-track parliamentary approval with the Liberals cheering them on.
And, Gunns didn’t exit native forest logging because it suddenly started caring about the island environment it has plundered. Shareholder and profit driven, Gunns got out of old-growth wood-chipping because the global market forced it to. Fact.
Like I said, Mayne is wrong. I hope he makes the time to review and reflect.
Gunns does not have a social licence to build a pulp mill in the beautiful Tamar Valley. It never has and it never will.
Mayne, the board of Gunns and any potential joint venture partners need to understand that you can’t buy a social licence. It is only ever something that is freely granted, by the people. In this case, it should be manifestly clear to anyone who’s been awake for the past eight years, that the people who would be most directly affected by the mill’s toxic presence have firmly refused Gunns’ application.
*Cassy O’Connor is the Greens’ Member for Denison, Greens’ environment spokesperson and the minister for climate change