Pulp mill battle rages

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Four thousand timber workers and their families attended a rally in Launceston in support of the controversial Bell Bay pulp mill on July 19. The Construction, Forestry, Mining, and Energy Union (CFMEU) called the rally as part of a one-day stop-work action aimed at "combating the threat to jobs posed by radical green groups".

The rally was supported by the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania, Timber Communities Australia and the Tasmanian Forest Contractors Association.

"The extreme green movement in Tasmania has become cult-like, but their scaremongering is cleverly designed to generate support for their cause using emotion and fear to sway the broader community", CFMEU forestry division leader Scott McLean told the July 12 Mercury.

The Greens have hit out at the government for paying Forestry Tasmania workers to attend the rally. There have been reports of timber workers being told that it was compulsory to attend.

The police estimated that 4000-5000 people participated in the rally. However Gunns' chairperson John Gay was quoted by Mercury the next day as claiming it had drawn 10,000 people. On June 16, an estimated 10,000 people marched through Launceston to voice their opposition to the mill. A Taspoll survey of 1000 residents in the northern 63 telephone district in late April found 45% of people opposed the mill, compared to 36% in favour.

Federal and state politicians from both the Liberal and Labor parties marched side by side through the streets. Labor Premier Paul Lennon and Liberal opposition leader Will Hodgman both addressed the rally, expressing their support for the mill.

Lennon read out an email sent to boat-building company Incat after it expressed support for the mill that said: "We are boycotting your business and we will do everything in our power to disrupt your operations." "I will not stand by and allow Tasmania to be threatened and intimidated by those sorts of tactics", Lennon said. However, he hasn't condemned the tactics employed by Gunns Ltd board member and former premier Robin Gray, who phoned six Launceston city councillors after they voted against the pulp mill. The Mercury reported on July 14 that Gray threatened to axe or cut-back Gunns' support for crisis and homeless charity Launceston City Mission because of the anti-pulp mill stance of its chief executive, councilor Albert Van Zetten.

Originally planned for Launceston City Park, the rally venue was changed to Royal Park a few days before-hand, with the organisers accusing the Wilderness Society of being confrontational by organising an exhibition at the same time in a venue close to the original rally site. The expo, which profiled "clean, green businesses" that might be affected by the mill, drew around 500 people. Geoff Law from the Wilderness Society, in a letter in the July 19 Mercury asked: "What's more inflammatory, showcasing some of Tasmania's thriving businesses or accusing a whole sector of our society of being 'radical anti-development economic saboteurs'?"

Lennon and Gunns chairperson John Gay deny that the mill will have a negative impact on other industries in the region. They have ruled out giving compensation to affected companies, despite calls by local restaurants, vineyards and other businesses. On July 14 the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania chief executive, Daniel Hanna, said that many tourism operators had over the potential impact of the mill, saying that people visited Tasmania for its food and wine and unspoilt environment.

Investors for the Future of Tasmania has joined the Wilderness Society to challenge the legality of the federal government's approval process for the mill, alleging that the assessment process has been marred by bias, impropriety and unfairness. Justice Shane Marshall, who is presiding over the case in the Federal Court, said that he will make a ruling on the case before August 3.

The CFMEU applied to join as a party to the hearing, on the side of the federal government, seeking to play a role in cross-examining witnesses. They claimed that the court case would have an impact on union members. However their late application to join the court battle was refused by the court.

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