Anti-pulp mill campaigner: Protests to escalate if project continues

September 24, 2011
Rally against the pulp mill.

For the past seven years, the community action group TAP into better Tasmania, formerly Tasmanians Against the Pulp Mill, has campaigned against Gunns Ltd’s attempts to build a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley. TAP spokesperson Bob McMahon spoke to Green Left Weekly’s Susan Austin.

* * *

How many years has the campaign against Gunns’ pulp mill been going for?

Seven years and the show rolls on. What keeps the campaign going, and why so many people are opposed, is that the community cannot abide the obscenity of government support for the pulp mill project and the transference of so much money and resources, stolen from the people, to this much-favoured company.

Imposing a world-scale pulp industry onto Tasmania, an island that is not world scale, has never been about private enterprise hitting its straps. It was always a state sponsored project in the Soviet style.

The campaign has taken a toll on peoples’ health and livelihoods. That is an understatement.

Many people thought that it would be game over for Gunns when its pulp mill construction permits were due to lapse on August 31 because they hadn’t “substantially commenced” the mill. However, the government is allowing work to continue while the Environment Protection Authority dithers on the issue of the permits. Do you think this issue of permits is significant?

Once permits expired — not forgetting they had already been extended by two years — it would have been game over in a society governed by the rule of law. But this is Tasmania, where Gunns is a law unto themselves and they are apparently exempt from laws that apply to everyone else.

They even write their own legislation. The Pulp Mill Assessment Act 2007, for instance, was drafted by Gunns’ lawyers and rubber stamped by parliament. This is an unconscionable state of affairs in a country that purports to be a democracy. Tasmania is nakedly ruled by and for corporate interest. What a massive failure of federalism this represents.

Members of Code Green have begun protests at the front of the mill and civil disobedience actions on site, locking on to machinery to prevent construction work. Does TAP support these protests? Will TAP and Pulp the Mill be organising mass blockades? What level of collaboration is there between the groups opposing the mill?

TAP fully supports Code Green in their pulp mill protests. Protest action on site will escalate if state and federal governments continue to prop up this moribund project and throw more of the people’s money at it.

Cooperation between anti-pulp mill groups is essential. The philosophy and actions of no one group is the solution to this situation. I would favour spontaneous protest action — a creative approach.

This could become a rolling rebellion if the pulp mill is pursued against the will of the people. One can hope it doesn’t come to that. After seven years of failing to attract a single investment dollar, Gunns is relying upon government, or perhaps calling on government, to kick-start the project.

They may also be spending money on site as a means of leveraging a big or bigger compensation payment out of government if certain undertakings or understandings or guarantees from government do not eventuate.

What campaign tactics is TAP pursuing at the moment?

TAP — with Code Green — black-flagged Gunns’ head office in Launceston when the compensation package for Gunns was announced.

We declared the site a crime scene because Gunns was in receipt of stolen goods … TAP will continue to respond to events as they unfold – we may take our black-flagging to certain political and public service offices in Hobart.

TAP is also taking legal advice, not Tasmanian I should emphasize. We are identifying strategic sites for occupation and blockade should it come to that.

A comment by Russell Langfield on Tasmanian Times on September 17 read: “No social licence = no FSC [Forest Stewardship Council certification] = no market = no profit = no JVP [Joint Venture Partner] = no pulp mill.” What do you think of this equation? Will the Intergovernmental Agreement on Forests, which approved a payout to Gunns for retiring its native-forest logging contracts, help the company in claiming to have a social licence for its mill?

Absolutely. The weak link in the equation is FSC. The current chairman of FSC Australia is Sean Cadman, the chief architect of the rapprochement between the environmental NGO’s and Gunns. This has resulted in an exit from native forest logging in exchange for a plantation/pulp industry. That’s the deal.

If, further to that deal, FSC Australia moves to have FSC accreditation granted to Gunns’ plantations [that’s another problem].

Currently, plantations established since 1994 on cleared native forest land — which is the bulk of Gunns’ plantations — are not eligible for certification.

TAP, as a member of FSC Australia, as well as other members including Timber Workers for Forests, will apply to FSC International in Bonn to have FSC Australia exposed or even wound up.

The IGA — the Intergovernmental Agreement also known as “In Gunns’ Arms” — has played right into Gunns’ hands, to continue the anatomical parallel.

Right [from] the beginning, the forest roundtable … [was] always about delivering desired outcomes for Gunns and public money to a failed industry, in exchange for the conservation of native forest.

Gunns and both state and federal governments have always asserted that this process has been community driven and has thus delivered Gunns and the proposed pulp mill a social license.

In reality the community has been deliberately excluded from the process. As a result TAP regards the process as illegitimate, unrepresentative, secret and elitist.

The three major environmental NGOs involved in the forest agreement — The Wilderness Society (TWS), Environment Tasmania (ET) and the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) — remain opposed to Gunns’ pulp mill. Have they remained active in the campaign? Do you think their involvement in the forest agreement has weakened the united campaign against the pulp mill and if so, how?

ACF was never active in the campaign. In fact, Don Henry and Lindsay Hesketh (as well as Sean Cadman) accept that the Tamar Valley pulp mill is a fair exchange for a cessation of native forest logging.

TWS and ET dealt themselves out of the campaign in favour of the deal, and can now never return. While they still may say they oppose the pulp mill, but not a pulp mill, they are in a weaker position than the Tasmanian Greens.

As for the Tasmanian Greens, who have disappointed so many of their supporters … They say they are opposed to the Tamar Valley pulp mill.

But by their actions in supporting the “forest principles”, which included in-principle support for a pulp industry and the shonky process that produced the principles as well as compensation money (they call it “buy back”) for Gunns, they have facilitated the furtherance of Gunns’ pulp mill aims.

But, the Greens claim, this doesn’t matter because there won’t be a pulp mill. Is it any wonder their supporters are confused and Green support is fading? It doesn’t help that the confuser is blaming the confused.

Does TAP want to protect Tasmania’s native forests from logging and if so, what alternative do you propose to forest agreement?

The method and scale of native forest logging in Tasmania is a crime against the planet. We have allowed to be liquidated much of the rare cool temperate forest supposedly held in trust for future generations.

But the notion that monoculture tree plantations are the answer is wrong-headed in the extreme. Plantations have been an economic, social and environmental disaster.

TAP, as a member of FSC Australia, favours whole of catchment management and selective forestry on a scale in keeping with properly established criteria of sustainability.

There are many areas of Tasmania that should never have been logged and should never be logged. What do you call an agreement with which very few people agree?

[Bob McMahon will speak at the Climate Change Social Change activist conference in Melbourne over September 30 to October 3.]


Thank you Bob McMahon and Susan Austin for trying to inform the whole of Australia, how the formally clean green isle is being transformed into an opposite, poisoned plantation isle. This tricky crooked corporate, Gunns, is not only sucking Tasmanian taxpayers money through a Tasmanian labor/green 'accord' but now, through the federal labor/green government are sinking hundreds of millions more taxpayers dollars into Gunns and 'industry'. A proven bottomless pit for taxpayers money. Why is it that Gunns along with the fracking mining and other profit only driven monopolies always have their hand out for taxpayers money through compliant governments? Its sick making. It costs community and environmental well being. Labor, having taken on the rightist corporate agenda, are losers and soon we will be required to confront the likes of Senator Erich Abetz, again (and Abbott). Abetz, as Howards Forestry minister was responsible for the disastrous tax minimization schema for the so called managed investment plantation schemes that wiped out so much native forest (and lost investors inc retirement funds, lots of money). The problems I believe with getting either labor governments or the liberals to ditch this, is that they were all convinced to spend up big with heavy personal and business investments in the schemes through family trusts and the like. Government has been compromised by the corporates at a cost to the Australian public. Neither major party wants to corral Gunns (or the more recent frackers.) TWS, ET and ACF e-ngos were like lambs to the slaughter while Gunns were ostensibly not even represented at the 'roundtable' discussions with industry. Perhaps Mr McMahon could advise how TWS, ET etc caused the smaller enviro groups to be thrown out of the discussions, very early on? Was it at the behest of industry? Gunns will never receive a 'social licence' with the divide and conquer tactics that the e-ngos fell for. That was/is not community consultation. It ended up being a Bill Kelty led and backed corporate bulldozer wiping legitimate community concerns aside. Kelty was billed as an 'independent facilitator', who demanded a mill! We ended up with an 'agreement' between labor and labor in the intergovernmental agreement. A real quick and dirty. They are spending taxpayers money, don't forget. Any joint venture partner foolish enough to consider combining with Gunns should realize beforehand, they will have an ongoing war on their hands with Gunns trying to not only destroy the Tamar valley but to subjugate the Tas and interstate timber industries into a wholesale woodchipping caper. Gunns has for many years been at the forefront of massive clear felling of choice areas of forest and now they say they want a social licence for getting out of native timber chipping. Well, international markets have ensured that and our fool alleged labor governments want to bail them out, at considerable cost to community. In Tas we are preparing to close schools, cut hospital and mental health services and staff, lay off other specialist workers in child protection, nursing etc, and 'compensating' a cowboy company like Gunns. I've stopped voting labor and I'm fed up with the Greens shilly shally. Compromised, ill conceived and shonky government decisions should not be rewarded. No to a Tamar pulp mill. No to a plantation isle. Gunns should go broke as their management decisions and market forces seem to dictate. They are not too big to fail and hopefully will forthwith. Trouble is, at least $45m worth of taxpayers money will disappear with them. That is only the latest round of taxpayer largesse Gunns have been afforded by more than two compliant Australian governments.
There has been so much continued opposition by so many people to Gunns pulp mill over the years. Never can Gunns claim they have a social licence to build it. The Tamar valley would be the very worst place ever to build a pulp mill. Air quality is already poor during temperature inversions and the effluent would go straight into Bass Strait. It appears Gunns haven't learnt anything from Burnie where that pulp mill was shut down, and one was prevented from being built near Devonport. Tasmanian's are already paying heavily with increased water costs, cuts to police, education, and other essential services like hospitals and health care, and yet money is being paid out to Gunns first. The Labour government is up to its neck in all this and people are about to explode. People are even pointing the finger at, or should i say giving the finger to, the EPA.

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