Gunns’ goes bust, anti-pulp mill groups claim victory

High school students protesting against Gunns' pulp mill plan, 2007. Photo: Jenny Forward

Leaving a legacy marred by ecological annihilation, government bribery, coercion and corruption, and a penchant for poisoning the environment and communities alike, one of Australia’s most powerful companies — timber-logging firm Gunns — has announced voluntary administration.

The September 25 announcement came after the company’s $904 million loss last financial year, ending an eight-year struggle by Tasmanians against a controversial $2 billion pulp mill project.

Despite support from the Labor state government and the Liberal opposition since the proposed pulp mill project in the Tamar Valley was put forward in 2004, it failed to secure investor funding.

Widespread environmental and health concerns were raised about the plan. They included fears for endangered species, air and water quality and other local industries such as fishing, agriculture and tourism.

Gunns had also been at the centre of Tasmania’s “forest wars” — the 40-year-long campaign against the clearfelling of thousands of hectares of Tasmania’s old growth forests.

Unique ecosystems were destroyed by logging. Several Tasmanian communities have been contaminated with Atrazine; a powerful herbicide used by loggers that has been linked to cancer and is already banned in some European countries.

Australian Greens leader Christine Milne expressed concern for those whose jobs were lost due to Gunns’ closure. But she said the pulp mill project should not go ahead, and called for solidarity to reinstate the Tasmania’s reputation as the “green state”.

“Tasmania’s future relies on investing in new sustainable businesses and now, more than ever, Tasmania needs new hope,” she said. “The pulp mill project has no place in Tasmania’s new economy and those still raising false expectations about this project going ahead are acting irresponsibly.

“We’ve got a great reputation for clean, green and clever. We now have to invest in science, in innovation, in new technology, in small businesses, all of the things that will create resilience, that will have a great brand for Tasmania and about which the community can be excited and proud.”

The Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union held several protest actions demanding that 50 Gunns employees receive their full redundancy entitlements. By September 27, Gunns’ banker, ANZ, said it had agreed to pay the workers.

Grassroots community groups that campaigned against the pulp mill plan — including Friends of the Tamar Valley, Pulp the Mill and TAP into a Better Tasmania — welcomed Gunns’ demise.

TAP into a Better Tasmania’s Bob MacMahon told the September 28 Age the campaign had inflicted a “death by a thousand cuts” on Gunns.

Stephani Taylor, a spokesperson for Friends of Tamar Valley, said Gunns’ relentless push to build the pulp mill despite community opposition led to its economic downfall.

“Gunns staked the future of the company on a flawed project that was deemed ‘critically non-compliant’ by the RPDC, and has remained mired in controversy,” Taylor said. “The Tasmanian community recognised this years ago, and the fact no investor wanted to finance the project should have told Gunns’ board and management the project was a dud.”

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.