Pulp Friction in Tasmania

Pulp Friction in Tasmania

A review of the environmental assessment of Gunns' proposed pulp mill

Edited by Fred P. Gale

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Table of Contents

Part I: The Tamar Valley Context: Geography, History, Planning

  1. People, Place and Identity in the Tamar Valley Precinct — MURRAY JOHNSON
  2. Tasmania’s Development as Cargo Cultism: a Political Historical Perspective — TONY McCALL
  3. The Wesley Vale Pulp Mill Proposal and its Aftermath — GIOREL CURRAN and ROBYN HOLLANDER
  4. Planning Tasmania’s Tamar Valley Pulp Mill: a Political Economic Analysis — FRED GALE
  5. The Right to Dissent: the Gunns 20 Legal Case — ROB WHITE
  6. Environmental Assessment in Tasmania: the Resource Management and Planning System — MICHAEL STOKES

Part II: Assessment Issues

  1. The Pulp Mill and Habitat Loss — RONLYN DUNCAN
  2. The Pulp Mill and the Sea — JOANNA VINCE
  3. The Pulp Mill and the Air — WENDY AITKEN
  4. The Pulp Mill and Tasmanian Aboriginal Heritage — LINN MILLER
  5. The Pulp Mill: an Economic Assessment — GRAEME WELLS
  6. The Pulp Mill and Business — KATHY GIBSON and GARY O’DONOVAN
  7. The Validity of the Pulp Mill Permit — MICHAEL STOKES

Part III: Ethics and Governance

  1. The Pulp Mill, Bleached Kraft Paper and Sustainable Development: an Ethical Analysis of Necessities Versus Luxuries — GRAHAM WOOD
  2. Hard Lessons from Soft Power: Global Environmental Governance and the Pulp Mill — FRED GALE

Author Biographies

Wendy Aitken

Wendy Aitken (BA/BCom, BA Hons) is Associate Lecturer, Aboriginal Studies, University of Tasmania. Currently a PhD candidate in the School of Government, her research interests include the underlying reasons for policy failure in Australian government, with a focus on Aboriginal community development. Her honours thesis examined the issue of domestic woodsmoke pollution in the Launceston area. Wendy Aitken is the author of ‘Indigenous Policy Failure and its Historical Foundations’ (International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies).

Giorel Curran

Giorel Curran (BA, Dip Ed, M.Litt, PhD) is Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics and Public Policy, Griffith University, Queensland. Her research focusses on environmental politics and policy, political theory and new social and political movements. Dr Curran is the author of 21st Century Dissent: Anarchism, Anti-Globalisation and Environmentalism (Palgrave Macmillan 2006); and the co-editor of Globalising Government Business Relations (Pearson Longman 2007) and Business and the Politics of Globalisation: After the Global Financial Crisis (Pearson 2010). Her current research explores the politics and policy dimensions of climate change and of renewable energy; and the theorisation of ‘new generation’ green movements.

Ronlyn Duncan

Ronlyn Duncan (BSc, BA Hons, PhD) is Lecturer in Water Management at Lincoln University, Christchurch, New Zealand. She completed her PhD in 2004 and until 2010 was an Associate Lecturer with the School of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Tasmania teaching geography and environmental management.  Dr Duncan’s research in water policy, environmental impact assessment and knowledge governance has been published in Australia and internationally.

Fred Gale

Fred Gale (BA, MA, PhD) is Senior Lecturer, School of Government, University of Tasmania. His research interests are national and global environmental governance focussing on the political economy of forestry. Dr Gale is the author of The Tropical Timber Trade Regime (Palgrave Macmillan 1998), Setting the Standard (UBC Press 2008), and Global Commodity Governance (Palgrave Macmillan 2011). He has edited two books: Nature Production Power (Edward Elgar 2000) and Confronting Sustainability (Faculty of Forestry and Environmental Studies Press, Yale University 2006). 

Kathy Gibson

Kathy Gibson (BBus, MCom, Grad Dip Environmental Management, Grad Dip Applied Finance & Investment) is Senior Lecturer in Accounting, University of Tasmania. Her research interests are in social and environmental accounting and reporting, and she has authored many international conference papers and professional development materials on these issues. Her significant publications include ‘Corporate Governance and Environmental Reporting: An Australian Study’ (Corporate Governance, with G. O’Donovan); ‘Social and Environmental Accounting Education in Tasmania: Taking it to the World’ (Interdisciplinary Environmental Review, with G. O’Donovan); and articles on accounting information and Aboriginal people, and environmental accounting education (Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal).

Robyn Hollander

Robyn Hollander (BCom/BA, PhD) is Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics and Public Policy, Griffith University, Queensland. She has a special interest in federalism and regulation especially in relation to environmental politics and policy. Dr Hollander is widely published in national and international journals. Her current research focuses on the capacity of federations to engender policy innovation and accommodate competing values.  

Murray Johnson

Murray Johnson (BA, PGBA, PhD) is Lecturer, Riawunna Centre for Aboriginal Studies, University of Tasmania. His major research interest is in Australian social and local history. Dr Johnson is the author of a biography, No Holds Barred (Central Queensland University Press 2003) and a social history, Trials and Tribulations (Myola 2007). Dr Johnson has also co-authored two local histories, Wild Heart, Bountiful Land and Working the Land (Queensland Government 2007), edited Moreton Bay Matters (BHG 2002) and co-edited Health, Wealth and Tribulation (Myola 2007). Dr Johnson is the co-author of the forthcoming Historical Dictionary of Aboriginal Australia (Scarecrow Press).

Tony McCall

Tony McCall (BA Hons, PhD) is Lecturer, School of Government, and Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Regional Development (IRD), University of Tasmania. His discipline area is public policy and his research interests are in regional development policy. Dr McCall is a regular media commentator on state and federal politics. He is a co-author with Dr Pete Hay of ‘Jim Bacon/Paul Lennon: The Changing of the Guard—From “The Emperor” to “Big Red”’ (in Yes, Premier: Labor Leadership in Australia’s States and Territories, UNSW Press 2005). He has also prepared a series of regional development reports for local and state government in Tasmania.

Linn Miller

Linn Miller (BA Hons, PhD) is a Tasmanian non-Aboriginal academic who occupies dual roles of Lecturer, School of Philosophy, and Research Fellow, Community Engaged Aboriginal Research Initiative, University of Tasmania. She researches and publishes across eclectic fields including Aboriginal metaphysics, philosophies of belonging, identity and place and the thought of nineteenth century Danish existentialist Søren Kierkegaard. Dr Miller is currently involved in a number of Aboriginal cultural geography projects and facilitates a range of community-engaged initiatives concerning Aboriginal philosophy, heritage and history. 

Gary O’Donovan

Gary O’Donovan (BBus, Dip Ed, Grad Dip Commercial Data Processing, PhD) is Professor in Accounting and currently Dean of the Faculty of Business, University of Tasmania. His research interests are social, environmental and sustainability reporting, corporate governance and accounting education. Professor O’Donovan’s significant publications include ‘Corporate Governance and Environmental Reporting: An Australian Study’ (Corporate Governance, with K. Gibson); ‘Social and Environmental Accounting Education in Tasmania: Taking it to the World (Interdisciplinary Environmental Review, with K. Gibson); and Environmental Disclosures in the Annual Report: Extending the Applicability and Predictive Power of Legitimacy Theory (Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal).

Michael Stokes

Michael Stokes (LLB, M Phil) is Senior Lecturer, School of Law, University of Tasmania. His research interests include Tasmanian Environmental and Government Law, Australian Constitutional Law and Theory, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Theory and the Legal Position of the Australian Monarchy. He has published widely on many of these issues. He is also well known for his public commentary on Tasmanian Constitutional issues.

Joanna Vince

Joanna Vince (BA, BA Hons, PhD) is Lecturer, School of Government, University of Tasmania. Her research interests are comparative oceans governance, national oceans policy and knowledge systems in relation to coastal management. Dr Vince is co-author (with M. Haward) of Oceans Governance in the Twenty-First Century: Managing the Blue Planet (Edward Elgar 2008) and co-editor (with Warwick Gullett and Clive Schofield) of a new book, Marine Resources Management (LexisNexis Butterworths 2011), which examines multidisciplinary approaches to managing marine resources in Australia.

Graeme Wells

Graeme Wells (BEc, PhD) is Associate Professor, School of Economics and Finance, University of Tasmania. His primary research interests are in macroeconomics, finance and public policy. Dr Wells has served as editor of the journals Agenda and the Economic Record. He has published more than thirty monographs and journal articles. 

Rob White

Rob White (BA, MA, PhD) is Professor of Criminology in the School of Sociology and Social Work at the University of Tasmania. He has published extensively in the areas of criminology, youth studies and public policy. Among his recent books are Crimes Against Nature: Environmental Criminology and Ecological Justice (Willan 2008), Environmental Crime: A Reader (Willan 2009), Global Environmental Harm: Criminological Perspectives (Willan 2010), and the forthcoming Transnational Environmental Crime: Toward an Eco-Global Criminology (Routledge 2011). Professor White is currently working on a new book entitled Environmental Harm: An Eco-Justice Framework.

Graham Wood

Graham Wood (BA, Grad. Dip. Environmental Studies, PhD) is Lecturer, School of Philosophy, University of Tasmania. His research interests include the relationship between science, and both moral and religious belief; and environmental philosophy, particularly concerning belief in environmental values. One aspect of this research concerns the cognitive capacity to attribute objective value to objects, events, or states of affairs. Dr Wood has published in Philo, Sophia and Religious Studies. His teaching explores ethics, metaethics, moral psychology, evolutionary psychology, environmental philosophy, philosophy of science, the relationship between science and religion, and the meaning of life.


Pulp Friction in TasmaniaOn 14 March 2007, Gunns Limited withdrew its proposal for a two billion dollar pulp mill from the Tasmanian Resource Planning and Development Commission’s environmental assessment, plunging the State into an ecological political economic crisis from which it has yet to recover. The company argued that it had no choice but to abandon the assessment because the Commission was incapable of delivering a recommendation with a ‘commercially acceptable timeframe’. An all too compliant Tasmanian political elite acquiesced and swiftly set up an alternative assessment process under the controversial Pulp Mill Assessment Act 2007, which was more to the company’s liking. Working under the tightest of timeframes, the consultants employed under the Act concluded that the project could proceed, enabling the Government—with Gunns’ input—to draw up a Pulp Mill Permit, which was approved by both Houses of Parliament on 30 August 2007. Subsequently, the Commonwealth Government conducted its own assessment on matters of national environmental significance under the provisions of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 using the ‘Preliminary Documentation’ procedure. In August 2007, the federal Environment Minister provisionally approved the pulp mill with 24 conditions, doubling those to 48 following a further assessment by a Scientific Panel commissioned by him and chaired by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Jim Peacock. Finally, on 4 October 2007, following these four environmental assessment processes, it was determined that construction of the Tamar Valley pulp mill could proceed.1

This book undertakes a forensic review of the processes used to assess the environmental, social and economic impacts of Gunns’ proposed pulp mill. The review is situated within the broader historical, geographical and community contexts of the Tamar Valley. The vital issues concerning the pulp mill’s impacts on natural heritage, seas, air, Aboriginal Tasmanians, economic costs and benefits, Gunns’ business model and the Pulp Mill Permit are complemented by chapters on the history of the Tamar Valley, Tasmania’s postwar development, the Wesley Vale pulp mill debacle, the Gunns-20 SLAPP suit, Tasmania’s planning system, Gunns’ business model, the Pulp Mill Permit, the philosophy of sustainability and the global political economy of woodchip production. In this broader context, the pulp mill provides an unflattering lens through which to view Tasmania’s past and present development trajectory and its compliant system of representative government that is all too easily manipulated by powerful vested interests.

The book details significant deficiencies in the environmental assessment processes used and the outcomes they delivered. With regard to the outcomes, the book identifies inadequacies in the design of offsets to compensate for the mill’s impact on Tasmania’s flora and fauna (Chapter 7) and in the post-RPDC processes used to address the concerns of Tasmania’s fishing industry on the mill’s impact on surrounding seas (Chapter 8). In Chapter 9, serious concerns are raised concerning the standards used, and the monitoring arrangements adopted, to assess air pollution on Launceston’s already burdened airshed. Further deficiencies include the narrow way Aboriginal heritage was assessed, which focused on relics rather than place (Chapter 10); the very partisan approach used to model the mill’s economic benefits, which ensured costs were never assessed (Chapter 11); the structure and operation of Gunns’ business model (Chapter 12); and the validity of the Pulp Mill Permit (Chapter 13). In addition to these deficiencies, there are several others that the book did not assess due to space and time constraints. These include the mill’s impacts on forests, transportation, tourism and water supply. These and a range of other concerns remained unaddressed in the three post-RPDC environmental assessment processes.

In December 2007 drafts of chapters were submitted and collectively reviewed by authors at a workshop in Launceston. These chapters were revised in mid-2008 with a view to publication later that year. Unfortunately the Global Financial Crisis intersected with mainstream publishers’ perceptions that the story of Gunns’ pulp mill was mainly of local interest. Under considerable financial pressure, publishers considered it a commercially risky venture and following several book proposal submissions it became clear that the manuscript would remain unpublished if commerce alone were to determine the outcome. Rather than permit the book to suffer that fate, and recognising that academics have a duty to publicly reflect on issues of local and national importance, a decision was taken by the editor to self-publish. This has involved setting up a publishing company (Pencil Pine Press) and recruiting editorial, graphic design and marketing expertise. Although the delay in publication is regrettable, surprisingly little changed in the intervening period with regard to how the pulp mill was environmentally assessed. Thus, the deficiencies identified and concerns raised by the book’s authors remain as valid today as they were when they were written in 2007–08.

While the context in which the environmental assessment occurred remains the same, however, dramatic and unprecedented changes have taken place within Tasmania’s forest sector in the past year. These changes are in substantial measure a legacy of Gunns’ uncompromising stance on its pulp mill proposal, which the company has relentlessly pursued despite failing to secure funding beginning with its longstanding financier, ANZ Bank. Indeed, ANZ’s terse announcement in 2008 that it would not fund the pulp mill meant Gunns had little choice but to scour the globe for a new financial backer. While the timing could not have been more inauspicious, the company also discovered that partners with the requisite finance and expertise, like the Swedish company Södra, demanded that Gunns obtain Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. Ironically, this was the very forest certification scheme the company had undermined by backing the much weaker Australian Forestry Standard. Since late 2009, Gunns has been actively seeking FSC certification, a quest that has forced and continues to force the company to restructure its operations in significant ways. Actions taken include a revamp of its board of directors, a cessation of old-growth and high-conservation value logging in favour of a plantations-only production policy, the termination of its Gunns-20 SLAPP suit, and the public announcement that environmentalists had won the public relations battle over old-growth, high-conservation value forests.

By these actions, Gunns’ new CEO, Greg L’Estrange, is seeking to construct the company’s social licence to practise business, which had been lost under the aggressive and uncompromising leadership of John Gay, the previous incumbent. As a powerful member of the National Association of Forest Industries, L’Estrange’s Gunns has also sought to influence the direction of high-level negotiations between environmental and forest industry representatives, the so-called Forest Peace Talks. As this book goes to press, these negotiations have delivered a Statement of Principles that promises to end Tasmania’s decades-old forest conflict. A key element of the deal is the rapid phase-out in the logging of high-conservation value forests in exchange for all-party agreement to establish a pulp mill in Northern Tasmania. While environmentalists argue that this is not a green light for the construction of Gunns’ Tamar Valley project, the company and wider forest industry appear to believe otherwise.

This book is thus relevant not only in retrospect but also very much in prospect. Its purpose is to review the outcomes of the processes used to assess the pulp mill’s economic, social and environmental impacts within the broader historical, geographical and community context in which they occurred. The unambiguous conclusion of the book is that these outcomes—and the processes that delivered them—were seriously flawed. The post-RPDC processes used under the Pulp Mill Assessment Act, the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act, and the Scientific Panel assessed only a small subset of the pulp mill’s potential impacts; were based on assumptions never subjected to full expert scrutiny; and lacked the openness, transparency and deliberation required of modern environmental assessments. These major deficiencies in how the economic, social and environmental impacts of the Tamar Valley pulp mill were assessed appear to stand in the way of the project ever receiving the wider support and legitimacy that the project’s proponents now desire. For many, therefore, the acid test of a company finally and rightly concerned to secure its social licence to practise business in the Tamar Valley will be whether it is prepared to resubmit the proposal to a new, independent and public environmental assessment of the full costs, benefits and impacts.

Fred Gale

March 2011 v1.01

1. Condition 2 of the Scientific Panel’s 48 conditions required Gunns to develop an Environmental Impact Management Plan, which could be broken down into sections or ‘modules’, for Ministerial approval. In January 2009, then Minister Peter Garret held off approving modules L, M and N relating to the marine impact of the effluent pending the outcome of further hydrodynamic modelling. He also extended the deadline for Gunns to submit the results of its hydrodynamic modelling until 3 March 2011.