'Too Precious to Pulp'

The site of the proposed pulp mill is on the Tamar River. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Hundreds of people packed out the State Cinema in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, to watch the premiere of The Wilderness Society's (T.W.S.) pulp mill film Tasmania's Clean Green Future: Too Precious to Pulp. The short film was made by award-winning filmmaker Heidi Douglas, who is one of the "Gunns 20'' defendants being sued by Gunns (a logging company) for previous films. It aims to counter the Tasmanian government's latest propaganda campaign supporting the proposed pulp mill in the Tamar Valley, which consists of television and newspaper ads and large glossy brochures.

The $300,000, six-week advertising campaign, launched by the premier on July 8, has been criticized as "misleading" and "distorted spin" by academics and scientists.

The July 15 Sunday Tasmanian reported that the mill process, including the cost of running the mill task force, the Resource Planning and Development Commission (R.P.D.C.) before Gunns pulled out of the process, the latest report by Finnish pulp mill consultant Sweco Pic and advertising had so far cost taxpayers more than $9 million.

The reports commissioned by the state government were released on July 5, although not before the government received more criticism for showing them to Gunns first. After throwing out the R.P.D.C.'s assessment process, the state government engaged Sweco Pic to conduct an environmental assessment and ITS Global to conduct a review of the social and economic benefits of the proposed pulp mill. Sweco Pic has worked with the companies contracted to design the mill, and ITS Global has been criticized by T.W.S. and the Australian Conservation Foundation for helping Malaysian multinational Rimbunan Hijau run a public relations campaign last year to justify the company's controversial logging operations in Papua New Guinea.

The reports found that the mill does not meet all environmental standards, will damage local tourism, and may increase the road toll due to extra log truck traffic. However, they recommend that the mill goes ahead, claiming that it will increase the annual gross state product by 2.5 percent, will create 1,600 more jobs, and that it met 92 of the 100 environmental guidelines. Labor Premier Paul Lennon said that the state government would write the recommendations relating to the eight "failed" standards into the mill's permits, which the government will regulate when the mill is operating.

The Tourism Industry Council released the results of a survey of the state's tourism operators on Aug. 2. Of those surveyed, the majority expected the mill to have a positive impact on the economy. However, 58 percent of operators thought the proposed mill would have a negative effect on the Tasmanian brand and 34 percent thought the mill would have a negative effect on their business. The council called on the state government to establish an independent Environmental Protection Authority (E.P.A.) to monitor any pollution from the proposed mill.

In the lead-up to the 2006 state election, the Labor Party committed to the establishment of an E.P.A. in Tasmania. Tourism and environment minister Paula Wriedt said legislation for an independent E.P.A. would be introduced in the spring session of parliament.

The Tourism Industry Council also called for major investment into rail services to remove log trucks from tourist routes. The Royal Automobile Club of Tasmania is also calling for more rail services should the mill proceed, saying that the mill could lead to a doubling of the number of log trucks on the highways.

Opposition to the mill has also led to a wine boycott. A July 24 article in the Melbourne Age reported that almost a dozen Melbourne restaurant-based sommeliers, consultants, and at least one retailer are boycotting Gunns-owned wines, widening the circle of a boycott that began in Tasmania three years ago. According to the Age article, Gunns controls a sixth of the state's wine production, including the brands Tamar Ridge, Coombend, Rosevears Estate, and Notley George. The Victorian chapter of the Australian Sommeliers Association has sent out letters to its 350 members informing them about the Gunns pulp mill and the impacts it may have on the environment and the overall wine industry in Tasmania. Association president Ben Edwards was quoted as saying, "Gunns have got a lot of money and a lot of power and we don't. But we have influence."

Hobart Mercury wine writer Graeme Phillips wrote in the Aug. 1 edition that some restaurants around Tasmania have removed Gunns' wines from their lists altogether, while a leading retailer reported that a growing customer awareness of the Gunns-Tamar Ridge connection has led to a slowing of sales, particularly in the last six months. Investors for the Future of Tasmania argue in one of their full-page anti-pulp mill ads in theMercury that 180,000 tourists visit northern Tasmanian every year, the main attraction being the largest concentration of vineyards and cellar doors in the state. "All of these vineyards are 'at risk' from odor emissions from this mill," they claim.

T.W.S. is calling on all members of parliament to honor a pre-election pledge not to vote for the pulp mill unless it met all environmental guidelines. It claims that the Sweco Pic report is unequivocal in its finding that the pulp mill fails to meet the guidelines referred to in the pledge. Haydn Walters, president of the Australian Medical Association in Tasmania, said the Sweco Pic report did not change the A.M.A.'s view that the mill would add to the potential of health-damaging matter entering the Tamar Valley.

Gunns continues to use a variety of methods to influence state politicians, who are widely expected to vote to approve the mill in late August, including a "familiarization day" at the site on June 29, where upper house M.P.'s were given a site tour, a helicopter trip along the Tamar River to the Bass Strait and lunch at Gunns' head office. Five independent legislative councilors and two lower house Liberal M.P.'s have also been funded by the Lennon government (at a cost of about 10,000 Australian dollars each) to go on an all-expenses paid trip to South America and Europe to inspect pulp mills there. A Gunns lobbyist is accompanying the politicians on the tour.

On July 19, it was revealed that Labor backbencher Lisa Singh had written to the premier asking for a conscience vote on the mill "in order to build confidence in the process." The parliamentary Labor Party stated that it would not allow a conscience vote, and it expelled Labor M.P. Terry Martin when he crossed the floor and voted against the undemocratic pulp mill approval process in March this year.

Hobart City Councilor Jeff Briscoe is planning to move a motion in the council to hold an electors' poll on the issue during the October council elections, saying that "so far every Tasmanian has been denied a democratic vote over this important issue" and that "this is a fair way for everyone to express their view." When the West Tamar Council held an electors' poll on the pulp mill in 2005 (before the government chose to bypass the R.P.D.C. process), 56 percent of voters declared their opposition.

From Green Left Weekly.