Students walk out: 'No pulp mill!'

Issue 

Six hundred students from more than a dozen high schools and colleges walked out of school and gathered at Parliament House lawns in Hobart on November 1 to protest against Gunns' pulp mill. The mill, planned for the Tamar Valley near Launceston, would be the biggest of its kind in the world and has been approved by both state and federal governments.

The rally received greetings from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, and was addressed by concerned students, Resistance member Gabby Forward, Young Greens member Hannah Aulby, Greens Senator Christine Milne, Greens Hobart city councilor Helen Burnett, and the Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Denison in the federal elections, Susan Austin.

A new group called Students Against the Pulp Mill organised the rally to make sure young people firmly opposed to the pulp mill could have their voices heard.

Addressing the crowd, rally organiser Gabby Forward said: "Australia is supposed to be a democracy — what kind of democracy doesn't listen to its people when thousands have spoken out against the pulp mill?"

The rallying students decided to march through the city's mall to ANZ bank, where they stood chanting, "No pulp mill!" The bank has loaned Gunns $1.5 billion this year and is considering giving financial backing to the mill. ANZ is also targeted by activists because they have voluntarily signed up to the "Equator Principles", which, according to its website, means that ANZ is supposed to "fund only new projects that can be developed and operated according to sound social and environmental standards".

Police have threatened to charge rally organisers for not gaining a permit for the march.

A newly implemented law in Tasmania requires that relevant road closures must be advertised in the local press as part of granting a march permit, which can cost protest organisers between $250 and $350. Austin said, "This is another example of Tasmanian police cracking down on the right to protest. Even if the students had made the decision to march prior to the day, they would not have been able to afford such a fee. If police put barriers like this in the way of gaining legal permits, then they can expect more spontaneous marches like this in the future."

Another student walkout against the pulp mill is being planned for Launceston students on Thursday, November 8 at Civic Square at 1.15pm.

The strong anti-pulp mill sentiment was reflected in the results of council elections across the state that were announced this week. The Greens performed strongly, with all
Greens councillors retaining their positions and four new Greens councillors elected. In Launceston, pro-pulp mill mayor Ivan Dean was dumped for anti-pulp mill candidate Albert Van Zetten. In July, Gunns board member Robin Gray had threatened to cut back funding to the Launceston City Mission where Van Zetten was chief executive due to his anti-pulp mill vote in a Launceston City Council meeting.

For Hobart residents the council elections also featured a referendum on the pulp mill. It showed that 76% oppose the pulp mill assessment process and the Tamar Valley location, and 66% oppose the pulping process.