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Monday, August 27, 2007

Pressure mounting on Gunns Pulp Mill...

As seen in The Australian

Printed August 27, 2007 10:36am AEST
Turnbull softens on pulp mill site
Sean Parnell | August 27, 2007

ENVIRONMENT Minister Malcolm Turnbull has for the first time declared he is "not unsympathetic" to calls for Gunns Ltd's controversial Tasmanian pulp mill to be shifted to a less-sensitive site.

In a sign the Government may pressure the giant timber company to come up with a more environmentally and politically acceptable site, Mr Turnbull yesterday reiterated he had not yet granted approval for the $2billion project, saying he had given its critics more time to comment. Businessman Geoffrey Cousins, a confidant of John Howard, is leading a campaign against the pulp mill, which is to be built in the heart of the Tamar Valley winegrowing and tourism region in northwest Tasmania.
There is a push to shift the mill from the marginal seat of Bass to an alternative site at Hampshire, near Burnie, about 100km to the west. Hampshire is in the seat of Braddon.

Asked at a public forum in Brisbane yesterday whether he was sympathetic to calls for the project to be moved, Mr Turnbull said: "I'm not unsympathetic." But he reminded the crowd of more than 500, who had turned out to hear him debate climate change with
Labor environment spokesman Peter Garrett, that his job was to assess the proposal in accordance with the relevant legislation -- or risk being sued.

Mr Cousins has vowed to campaign against Mr Turnbull in his eastern Sydney electorate of Wentworth in a bid to block the pulp mill. However, he was yesterday forced to deny a conflict of interest after it was revealed he held a 3.2 per cent stake in a baking business based in Launceston, up the Tamar River from the proposed mill
site. Mr Cousins angrily denied his stake in the 100 per cent owner of Cripps Nubake, June Investments, from which he is entitled to tens of thousands of dollars of dividends each year, represented a conflict.

Mr Turnbull's suggestion that he was not unsympathetic to a new mill site was a rare occasion during the 90-minute debate where he was cheered by the audience, which generally heckled and jeered the millionaire businessman and adored Mr Garrett like the rockstar he used to be. "Gunns has a proposal for a particular site, which we are assessing," Mr Turnbull said. "If they choose to abandon that, and put up a proposal for another site, we will look at that too. But it is not for me to tell Gunns, in
my capacity as Environment Minister ... where they should put their pulp mill. My job is to assess what they have put up and I am in the process of doing that. But I repeat, I have not given any approval (for), or made any decision to approve, on any basis, that pulp mill."

The debate showed that, even in Queensland, emotive issues such as the Tasmanian pulp mill project are potential vote-changers, and Labor -- which has a policy of supporting the state's forestry industry -- is not assured of the green vote.
When Mr Garrett was put on the spot and did not reject outright the proposal for a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley, saying only that it had to meet world's best environmental standards, his answers were met with hisses, cries of
"shame" and "you've sold out, Pete".

Gunns has chosen the site for the pulp mill because it is near two existing chip mills, the Tamar River, a port and all the required infrastructure. The company has promoted the economic benefits for the community and has sought to reassure the Tasmanian and federal governments the environmental impact can be minimised.
The company believes the Hampshire site -- where the company already has a chip mill -- would add to the cost and community burden of transporting logs because it is 100km inland.

The debate showed nuclear power and coal-fired power stations remain sensitive issues among green voters, and Mr Turnbull tried unsuccessfully to demonstrate flaws in Labor's anti-nuclear policy, with the crowd reacting more positively to Mr Garrett's rhetoric on the issue.

The proposed Traveston Crossing dam north of Brisbane was also a key point of discussion. Mr Turnbull is assessing the environmental impact of that project, but unlike with the Gunns pulp mill, was willing to criticise the Queensland Government for not looking at alternatives and failing to plan for population growth.
Mr Garrett said only that Labor was monitoring the Government's assessment of the Traveston Crossing Dam project.

Copyright 2007 News Limited. All times AEST (GMT +10).


Printed August 27, 2007 01:00am AEST
Proposed pulp mill needs a new home
August 27, 2007

IT is as if Tasmania is fated to be the stage on which Australians argue out the appropriate balance between economic growth and the environment. In the lead-up to the last election, then Labor leader Mark Latham's political suicide strategy included backing environmental activists over Tasmanian timber workers. Three years later, as another poll approaches, a similar high-stakes issue is in play that has the potential to make and break careers in state and federal politics and shape the direction of Tasmania's economy for decades to come.

This time the politician on the spot is federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who must either approve or reject on environmental grounds a plan to build a $1.7 billion pulp mill at Longreach, on the Tamar River north of Launceston. This is more than a little unfair to Mr Turnbull. The project is primarily a state matter, which the Tasmanian Labor government supports. But the federal minister's ultimate authority over the environment means the final decision is his and Mr Turnbull's task is to find a way to end the present impasse between opponents of the mill, who do not want it any price, and supporters, especially Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon, who has staked his political credibility on the plan. To have any hope of appeasing the legitimate economic and environmental arguments of both sides, Mr Turnbull's only option is to propose the plant goes ahead - at a different location.

There is no doubting the case for approving the Tasmanian conglomerate Gunns Ltd's plan for a plant that will turn 3.2 million tonnes of timber into paper stock. The company says the project will create 284 permanent jobs and expand the state's economy by $6.7 billion, or 2.5 per cent. Apart from deep Greens, for whom every tree is sacred, this is exactly the sort of value-adding project that opponents of wood chip exports should endorse. The mill will refine an Australian natural resource at home which could otherwise be taken offshore. And the company points to its own research to show that the mill will be "the world's greenest". These arguments have
convinced the state Government and leading Liberals, as well as forestry union bosses, who are all keen to see an end to the arguing. Even Labor leader Kevin Rudd, who, unlike Mr Latham, will want to avoid alienating Tasmanian voters, has made positive noises about the mill. (Although his environment spokesman, Peter
Garrett, is uncharacteristically quiet).

But none of the arguments in favour of the mill convince all of the people on the ground. The fishing industry worries about the impact of the mill's effluent, which would be pumped directly into Bass Strait. People growing grapes and in tourism fear for their future if their claim to be an area in touch with nature is contradicted by an enormous industrial site. There are suggestions that people in the nearby city of Launceston will be at risk from increased air pollution (although the CSIRO says this is not so). And the mill's opponents have their own economic modelling that presents the plant as a liability, costing jobs in agriculture and especially tourism,
which already employs three times more Tasmanians than the timber trades. These arguments are convincing enough to have attracted supporters of all political persuasions, including two of the Prime Minister's pals, the Government's man on the board of Telstra, Geoffrey Cousins and senator Bill Heffernan. It all goes to make the issue less a mill than a minefield, unless Mr Turnbull can find a way to keep both sides if not happy, then at least resigned to a compromise that sees the plant built in Tasmania but, as Senator Heffernan suggests, somewhere it
would be welcome.

Such as Hampshire, inland from the port city of Burnie, and 100km from the project's present site. Gunns says that Hampshire is not on, due to its distance from a dock. This is not an argument easily ignored. The present proposal includes a wharf on the Tamar River where the plant's one million tonnes of pulp would be directly loaded on to ships for export. In contrast, product produced at Hampshire would have to be trucked nearly 30km to Burnie's harbour. But this limitation is outweighed by one enormous advantage - a plant at Hampshire would be surrounded by forest, not vineyards and bed & breakfasts, and the Mayor of Burnie says his constituents would love what many of the people of Launceston and the broad Tamar region manifestly loathe.

Popular opinion is not a consideration that seems to have weighed heavily with either Gunns or Mr Lennon in the way the pulp mill was pushed through the planning process. But what is good for Gunns is not always best for Tasmania. It is time for Gunns and Mr Lennon to have another look at the Hampshire site, or any other appropriate location, unless they want to risk having the decision on the plant made for them from Canberra.

Copyright 2007 News Limited. All times AEST (GMT +10).


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