Anti-pulp mill campaigner: 'We can't afford to lose'

February 22, 2008

"We start the campaign of 2008 without a pulp mill. Who would have thought that after more than three years [Premier Paul] Lennon and [Gunns Ltd CEO John] Gay would still not have their pulp mill?", said Bob McMahon, one of the founders of Tasmanians Against The Pulp Mill (TAP).

Gunns's controversial $1.7 billion Tamar Valley pulp mill project was first announced in February 2005. Earlier this month, Labor Premier Lennon's government issued its final five approvals required for construction work to begin.

McMahon told Green Left Weekly that "TAP was formed in June of 2006 as a community focus. We wanted a flat structure without any single person or cabal in control. The whole idea of TAP was to involve the community and this it has succeeded in doing."

An opinion poll conducted for the Hobart City Council last October found that 74% of the city's voters were opposed to the type of pulp mill that Gunns' plans to build, while 77% were opposed to location proposed and the process by which the project had been given state government approval.

On February 25, the council will vote on a proposal to send the results of this poll to the ANZ Bank, which is still considering whether it will finance the project. Bill Harvey, a Greens councillor alderman, told GLW that he had put forward a motion calling on the council to investigate its financial investments with institutions associated with the proponents of the pulp mill, and that the results of the poll be sent to those institutions. It was revealed that the council had $5 million in the ANZ Bank.

"The residents of Hobart have overwhelmingly said that they don't approve of the pulp mill", Harvey said. "The issue is, does the council want to have money invested in a company that could potentially be supporting the mill?"

McMahon said: "The battle for the hearts and minds of Tasmanians was well and truly won by the pulp mill opposition in early 2007, despite the vast sums of pro-mill propaganda money spent by the state government spruiking the mill – or perhaps because of it. The mass demos were an expression of that victory, a victory further reinforced by the statewide polling results we and others commissioned.

"But we are up against a government and a pulp mill proponent who demonstrate only contempt for public opinion. That is tyranny. It is tyranny we find ourselves opposing and the pulp mill/logging industry is the hydrant through which that tyranny has flowed.

"Only in the diminutive municipality of George Town, as revealed in the recent elector poll, was there a small majority support for the pulp mill. The residents have been convinced by spin they are going to get rich on the mill. Balance that against the overwhelming opposition to the mill revealed in the Hobart elector poll."

An elector poll conducted in early February — which almost two-thirds of George Town's 5200 electors completed — showed 48% of electors believed the Gunns mill would have a net adverse impact on the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of the Tamar Valley and its residents.

"Isn't it interesting that at a time when nearly all our state and federal politicians have failed to do the job for which they are paid, that is, represent their constituents, the Hobart City Council has stepped into the vacuum thus created and is now doing the job which the other tiers of government have abandoned", said McMahon. "They see how crucial is the moral and ethical position.

He said that TAP was looking to the Launceston City Council to follow the lead of the Hobart City Council, "to act as an opposition to the blatant hijacking of this island and its resources by the one industry and the government it owns".

The Wilderness Society has said that it is prepared to mobilise thousands of protesters if construction on the mill begins. In a February 11 TWS media release, Vica Bailey said that "peaceful community protest at the construction site is a last resort and we hope it will never be needed. However, we respect the growing feeling in the community that people wish to express their distress at the failure of successive government processes to properly and transparently consider a wide range of concerns about the mill by peacefully protesting."

He pointed out that since the Pulp Mill Pledge was launched at a 15,000-strong November 17 anti-mill rally in Hobart, 6500 people have signed on. These people have committed to take part in peaceful community action to stop construction of the pulp mill.

TAP is holds fortnightly organising meetings, at which 80-200 people come together to plan the campaign. At its February 21 meeting, it discussed guidelines for carrying out non-violent protests.

It also launched a new petition that calls on the new federal Labor government to delay construction of the mill so that a thorough independent assessment into the broader impacts of the project can be carried out. It set a target of gathering 50,000 signatures by April 1. An earlier anti-mill petition campaign gathered 22,500 signatures — the largest petition ever presented to the Tasmanian parliament.

A National Institute of Economic and Industry Research report commissioned by TWS, which was released on January 28, concluded that the pulp mill would have negative impacts for other forestry enterprises, aquaculture, tourism and agriculture in northern Tasmania. The mill would lead to a loss of $300 million from the state's economy over the next 20 years, challenging the claims by Gunns and Lennon that the mill will provide overall economic benefits for the state.

"We are not asking Kevin Rudd's government to oppose the pulp mill per se", said McMahon, "but to institute a proper and independent study of the risks and costs to other industries and communities, including the likely total costs of all subsidies and cost relief to the proponent. Will Rudd give us equal treatment, a 'fair go' as he is so fond of saying, or will he continue to be Howard's echo down here in this benighted island?"

Echoing the sentiments of many, McMahon said: "We must win this campaign. We can't afford to lose."

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