Don't let Gunns build the mill!

November 3, 2007

Woodchipping giant Gunns Ltd's $1.4 billion pulp mill in northern Tasmania is just one example of how a corporation has sought to subvert and corrupt the legal and political process, all in the name of profits. Gunns has shown a reckless disregard for both the ecological and human health implications of the pulp mill.

On October 4, federal environmental minister Malcolm Turnbull approved the construction of the Gunns pulp mill in the Tamar Valley region in northern Tasmania.

The pulp mill, if it proceeds, will be a disaster for the environment: estimates indicate it will consume millions of tonnes of native forest, which will destroy the habitat of many rare and threatened species such as the Tasmanian wedge tailed eagle, the orange bellied parrot and the spotted tailed quoll.

It has been estimated that the mill will discharge up to 140 tonnes of toxic organochlorins into Bass Strait every year. Organochlorins contain a small amount of dioxins and furans, some of the most toxic chemicals known to science. The pulp mill would also use 26 million litres of fresh water a year, adding to the risk that if the drought continues Launceston could be forced to adopt household water restrictions.

Tasmanians are angry at the state government's approval process of the mill. The controversy was triggered by Premier Paul Lennon's decision to allow Gunns to back out of the legally mandated assessment process being conducted by the Resource, Planning and Development Commission.

The fight over the pulp mill is important because if it is allowed to proceed, the rate of logging in Tasmania's native forests will be greatly expanded and would lock Tasmania into the logging industry for decades.

We cannot allow companies, such as Gunns, to be given control over our natural resources in order exploit them and make mega-bucks for corporate elites in the process.

Capitalism, an economic and political system based on the never-ending expansion of the production of commodities for sale, is incompatible with preserving an ecological balance of the planet. It is increasingly clear to many that the Earth cannot sustain an economic system that systematically plunders and poisons, and that we have to act now before it's too late.

Protest movements, such as the 1982 blockade of the Hydro Electric Commission's (HEC) Franklin River dam, have often successfully resisted some gross environmental attacks — in this case by a state government hell bent on sourcing energy without concern for the environmental devestation.

The dam would have resulted in the total destruction of the Franklin River, one of Australia's last wild river systems.

Some $60 million had already been spent on construction of the dam, and it seemed as though the river was doomed. However on November 14, 1982, the Wilderness Society organised a blockade of the dam construction site after the conservative Fraser federal government announced it had no plans to intervene. In conjunction with the blockade, mass rallies were organised drawing widespread support.

The Franklin River blockaders halted construction in any way they could — including occupations and impeding machinery. In February 1983, a rally in Hobart opposing the Franklin River dam attracted 20,000 people. Finally, in March 1983, the Hawke Labor government was elected on a promise to halt the dam's construction, and soon after it regulated to disallow HEC work in the World Heritage Area.

The lesson from the successful campaign to save the Franklin River is that mass struggles against the profits-first agendas of government and big business can be won, but persistence is essential.

Given the bipartisan support for Gunns' polluting pulp mill, stopping this disaster will not happen at the ballot box on November 24 (although the Greens and the Socialist Alliance, which oppose the mill, should be supported). Rather, the Franklin Dam victory should remind us all that it was the sustained campaign organised by activists that forced the ALP's hand. It will be the same again in the Tamar Valley.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.