I am a member of Pulp the Mill, a group of peaceful community protesters who engage in civil disobedience to protest the politically corrupted Tamar Valley pulp mill assessment process in Tasmania.
Pulp the Mill has repeatedly called for a Royal Commission into this corrupted process, and in particular into Section 11 of the Pulp Mill Assessment Act 2007, a clause that removes the right of people to either claim compensation, or take legal action, should the pulp mill cause a negative impact on their health or livelihoods in any way whatsoever.
The group has members and supporters from all over Tasmania and Australia, but it’s based in the Tamar Valley, near Launceston, where the pulp mill threat has loomed over everyone who lives there for more than seven years.
Since it was established, Pulp the Mill has held three peaceful, arrestable protests. Two were held outside Hobart’s Parliament House. Well-known horticulturalist Peter Cundall was among the 57 people arrested at the second one.
A third was held outside the Beaconsfield Community Cabinet Forum, where state government ministers were meeting to hear the concerns of the people.
More recently we have held non-arrestable protest rallies. A protest in March at the Tamar Valley’s Batman Bridge Reserve attracted 1600 people. And in August almost 200 people rallied just inside the entrance to the pulp mill site.
Each time we have gathered to protest our outrage over the politically corrupted process, and the overall threat the pulp mill poses to public health, and the Tamar Valley’s environment, it has been inspiring to see the strength of commitment to the no pulp mill cause that the community has maintained for so many years.
The number of groups opposed to the mill continues to grow. The Wilderness Society, TAP Into A Better Tasmania (formerly known as Tasmanians Against the Pulp Mill), Pulp the Mill, Friends of the Tamar Valley, Surfriders Association, and Code Green are just a few examples.
Code Green has recently protested about the start of earthworks and dam construction on the pulp mill site, which has gone ahead despite continuing uncertainty over the legality of this work due to the expiry of permits on August 30.
Pulp the Mill made a strategic decision not to have onsite protests, choosing instead to lodge a legal challenge against the builder of the mill, Gunns Ltd, in the Hobart Magistrate’s Court over the company’s claim it had made a “substantial commencement” towards the mill’s construction by August 30.
As a result, on September 7 Pulp the Mill (led by spokesperson, Lucy Landon-Lane) began a legal case that claimed Gunns has no permit or approval to do any work at the Long Reach site of its proposed pulp mill.
Pulp the Mill’s case is based on the fact that: “It is an offence against the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act s. 63 (3) to undertake use or development contrary to a planning scheme.
“In this case, the George Town [Council] Planning Scheme — just like all planning schemes — says no person can undertake use or development without a permit. Gunns’ has no permit issued by the Council under the Planning Scheme.
“All Gunns can rely on is the Pulp Mill Permit. Pulp the Mill believes that permit has lapsed, so Gunns has no permit to do any work.”
Pulp the Mill believes this court action will be crucial in stopping the pulp mill, but the group’s legal team has strongly advised against taking part in any onsite direct action.
As a part of the approval process for the proposed pulp mill, permits were issued by the Tasmanian Government in 2007. These permits reached their expiry date on August 30, 2011.
In order to establish if the permits lapsed without Gunns fulfilling its “substantial commencement” obligations, a legal determination must be made on whether “substantial commencement” had actually occurred.
The charge is that on August 30 and beyond, Gunns undertook the development of land at the East Tamar Highway Long Reach site by carrying out earthworks on that land for the purposes of constructing a pulp mill where Gunns had no permit for that, or any development of that land under the George Town Planning Scheme 1991, or otherwise, contrary to and in breach of the Land Use, Planning and Approvals Act 1993, s.63 (2).
“The Court will be asked to decide if the permit has lapsed or not. That is, the Court will be asked to determine the validity of the permit and will have to decide if there has been substantial commencement of the project.”
Pulp the Mill Inc. has briefed Stephen Estcourt QC to lead the prosecution team. Estcourt is a former Tasmanian magistrate, a former chair of the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal (RMPAT) and regarded as one of Tasmania’s leading planning lawyers.
Legal determination on this issue is essential to our campaign however legal action is costly, and can continue only with financial support from the community, because following countless delays and permit extensions to facilitate the mill’s progress, and despite failing to secure a Joint Venture Partner or financial investor for the project, Gunns continues to maintain a financier will be found, and the project will go ahead despite overwhelming and ongoing community opposition.
If you would like to help us with this part of our campaign, please donate to our legal fund, or visit our website: www.pulpthemill.org/donate for account details.
Dr Warwick Raverty, a retired pulp and paper scientist with 25 years experience in the industry, and a former CSIRO scientist, recently said he believed it unlikely that Chinese companies will be interested in securing a supply of papermaking fibre, and would be unlikely to invest in the pulp mill as a joint venture partner for Gunns’ project.
Raverty believes that Gunns will continue to spend money bulldozing the site, and that the ANZ Bank (Gunns’ principal banker) will give Gunns until the end of this year to secure a joint venture partner.
He predicts that if finance has not been found by December 31, ANZ will refuse to extend the terms on its $583 million loan, and administrators will be appointed to wind up the company.
Let’s hope we see the final nail in the coffin of Gunns’ Tamar Valley Pulp Mill very soon, as the Tasmanian community needs to see the death of this corrupted project and move on to creating an environmentally sustainable future.