Pulp mill issue spills to mainland
DEBATE on the $2 billion pulp mill proposed by Gunns for the pristine Tamar Valley in Tasmania has spilled from its emotional localised base to the mainland, where it has become a federal election issue - at least in the Sydney seat of Wentworth held by Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull
The saga began as a controversy about logging native forests, about jobs, about the power a wealthy company is able to wield, and about democratic process. Indeed, there is a legitimate argument about whether the Tasmanian State Government short-changed its constituents in evaluating the environmental repercussions of the mill and whether it contrived with Gunns to manipulate public opinion,
as some of the most vehement opponents of the proposal – notably the Greens – claim is the case. Although the debate is far from over, Federal Government environmental assessment has added stringent requirements which Gunns now will be obliged to meet.
Opponents of the pulp mill would like to see it equated with Tasmania's Franklin River Dam proposal
, blocked by the Hawke government in 1983 after another long and emotional debate. In that case, however – narrowly upheld by the High Court – the government's move was via its external affairs powers, on the basis the damming of the Franklin would affect an area that had been listed as world heritage under an international treaty.
The Tamar is a beautiful part of the world boasting a clean environment, cool-climate wineries, tourism, fishing and farming. For the first five years of the mill's operation, most woodchips will come from native forests
while plantation timber is phased in. Mr Turnbull's added safeguards under federal environmental law come on the recommendation of the Government's chief scientist. Labor also waited for the chief scientist's report before confirming its support in principle for the mill.
It is not reasonable, in these circumstances, for Mr Turnbull to be targeted
on a personal basis because he has followed the process open to him. Opposition spokesman Peter Garrett supported the Turnbull announcement because he knew, if the decision were in his court, he would have to reach the same conclusion
, although Labor says it would consider amending the Environment Protection Act if it won government, in particular to include a climate-change trigger. But no changes would be retrospective. Labor's support has frustrated the Government
, given that at the last election it won two Tasmanian seats on the basis of former Opposition leader Mark Latham's forest policy,
which has now been dumped. It is easy for the Greens and extremists to express outrage and target both of the major parties and prolong the debate, but theirs is simply a case of all care, no responsibility.
Telstra director and mill opponent Geoffrey Cousins has not given up the cause. Gunns' bank, the ANZ, has yet to decide if it will fund the project and has commissioned its own review. However, the bottom line is that Mr Turnbull's insistence on 48 conditions is aimed at preserving the Tamar's natural assets and should be accepted.