Hansard of the Legislative Council
Wednesday 28 March 2007
PULP MILL ASSESSMENT BILL 2007 (No. 9)
Mr FINCH (Rosevears)
- Well, what a dog's breakfast, Mr President. Here we are
presented with a hastily cobbled-together bill which is the
result of the Government's cack-handed attempt to run our
State. We are told the Australian people have elected Labor
State governments around the country because they are such
good managers on State issues. Yet, here we have a premier
and his Government who, to put it mildly, have fumbled the
management of potentially Tasmania's biggest-ever single investment.
Here we have a government which has bungled a straightforward
and widely supported assessment process for a pulp mill. Here
we have a government that has interfered in the process to
an extent which has made the public suspicious and cynical.
Here we have a government on the backfoot, trying to get up
an alternative assessment process which is never going to
have the confidence or attract the support of most Tasmanians.
Here is a government which has lost the trust of many Tasmanians.
Mr President, we have seen enough division over environmental
and developmental issues in this State. It tears apart our
communities and our families. We thought that with the Resource
Planning and Development Commission process we had a system
of public consultation, a scientific and expert assessment
which would result in a decision which, while it might not
have been what every Tasmanian wanted, would at least provide
transparency and expertise.
We recall the report of this House's select committee into
planning schemes which was released late last year and chaired
by the member for Rowallan. Among the many witnesses were
the now-resigned executive chairman of the RPDC, Julian Green,
and also Peter Tucker, the then Tasmanian President of the
Planning Institute of Australia. Here is some of what Mr Tucker
had to say on 27 January this year after the departure of
Julian Green from the RPDC:
'the opportunity is there for both the RPDC and the Government,
if they have the will, to restore public confidence in the
planning process. The need for a properly functioning and
effective RPDC has consequences much wider, and ramifications
that will last much longer, than just whether Gunns ends up
building a pulp mill on the banks of the Tamar River.'
Mr Tucker went on to detail some concerns about the workings
of the RPDC process and to make suggestions for improvements.
Mr Tucker said:
'One procedure that could help manage the RPDC workload and
also speed up processes is to allow directions hearings and
mediation in the approval of planning schemes and amendments.
Another change could be to loosen the emphasis for legal representation
and technical jargon that currently dominate RPDC procedures.
If we are struggling at the moment in Tasmania it is not the
RPDC or any one person or organisation's "fault".
But we do need to accept we have a problem and that our planning
system is not operating as it should. The public is entitled
to doubt that the planning process is always fair, accessible,
inclusive, timely and transparent.
How the RPDC operates, and is perceived to operate, is central
to public confidence in our planning system. If we lose that
confidence then we can kiss the chance of continued sustainable
growth in this State goodbye.'
That is the end of the quote and that was timely advice, Mr
President, by a planning expert that was given two months
ago, and seemingly not heeded.
The RPDC assessment process, Mr President, was supported
by the Federal Government. It was praised by the State Government
and it was seen by local government as the jewel in the crown
of the planning process, despite those reservations outlined
by Mr Tucker.
So what happened? The Premier set up a body called the Pulp
Mill Task Force. This, from the Premier, is supposed to be
impartial in planning and development issues. So was this
task force to be impartial? Was this a body designed to obtain
the best result for Tasmania? I make no judgment about that
but it seems the head of the RPDC did not think so. He resigned,
citing improper pressure from the Government through the task
force, and was replaced.
I would like to quote the man who resigned along with Julian
Green, a Victorian organic chemist who works for the CSIRO,
Dr Warwick Raverty, and –
Mr Parkinson - I wouldn't quote too much of his nonsense.
Mr FINCH - Dr Raverty has been much in the news lately, Mr
President. It is only a short quote, it won't trouble you
too much - although it may. I quote:
'If Paul Lennon had heeded the warning given to him by Julian
Green on 2nd February 2005 and honoured his promise given
to Mr Green that day to ensure that the Pulp Mill Task Force
would not contact my employer CSIRO, or its joint venture,
ENSIS, the original RPDC Assessment Panel would still be on-track
to deliver a recommendation on the proposal by 30 June 2007.'
If I might stress that last sentence, Mr President:
'the … RPDC Assessment Panel would still be on-track
to deliver a recommendation on the proposal by 30 June 2007.'
Mr Parkinson - Was this after he resigned?
Mr FINCH - Julian Green's successor as head of the assessment
panel, former Supreme Court judge, Christopher Wright, was
quick to put the blame for the delayed process on the pulp
mill proponents - Gunns. By this time, of course, the Tasmanian
public was puzzled at best, and at worst, suspicious, about
what was going on. Confidence in an impartial and independent
assessment of serious environmental issues for the Tamar Valley
Christopher Wright has said the RPDC assessment had been considerably
broader than the proposed new fast-track assessment and would
consider a lot more things. He says an assessment process
without public hearings is fundamentally flawed. The preceding
sequence of events is well known. It will be written into
our State's history as a farce, as a fiasco. Some of the public
comments of the past few days might also fit that category.
In contrast, Mr President, I am greatly impressed by the standard
of the general public debate. Like my colleagues, I have received
hundreds of e-mails, phone calls and had personal representations,
the vast majority of them informed and rational arguments.
Mr President, I am impressed by my fellow Tasmanians. There
is much to be gained by this kind of public discussion. My
only regret is that it also seems to have split our community.
Here we are in this House today, presented with a bill which
throws out the well-regarded RPDC process and presents us
with this fast-track, hastily prepared, dog's breakfast of
I do not know what your constituents are thinking, Mr President,
but many of mine are disappointed at losing a process in which
they had some trust and certainly felt that they were included.
Now they are bewildered and suspicious. The honourable member
for Nelson has spoken of the vital need for any pulp mill
assessment to take the public with it. There are strong indications
that the process resulting from this bill will not do that.
The result will be divisive. The result may be a development
which will continue to be opposed by half or more of the population.
What have we in place of the RPDC process, Mr President?
Let us look at the expressions of interest brief for consultants
for the new assessment process that was released on 22 March.
It is significant that any consultant's contract is to be
managed by the Department of Premier and Cabinet, hardly an
independent body. Without going too far into the briefing
document, I would just like to quote paragraphs 'h' and 'i'
from section 2 of the statement of requirements:
h) If limits specified in the guidelines are unlikely to
be met, advise on whether the predicted emissions are considered
consistent with accepted international best practice for a
project of this nature and scale.'
i) If accepted modern technology and best practice environmental
management measures or other requirements specified in the
guidelines will not or are unlikely to be met, advise on whether
that aspect of the project is considered consistent with accepted
international best practice for a project of this nature and
It now seems, Mr President, the tough guidelines that the
Premier constantly speaks of are somewhat optional. Members
of this House will recall the briefing yesterday afternoon.
Part of the presentation was by Environmental Management Director,
Warren Jones, and written about in today's Mercury . We were
told that the pulp mill would fail to meet those rules relating
to the dangerous nitrogen oxide pollution and the required
height of its smoke stack. What is the point, Mr President,
of having rules if there is no intention for them to be met?
Mr Harriss - World's best practice overtakes it.
Mr FINCH - Mr President, this debate is not about the pros
and cons of a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley. It is about the
process of assessing such a project. However, I would like
to stress at this stage that I strongly support the establishment
of a pulp mill in Tasmania. But like many others, I believe
the present proposal is for a pulp mill in the wrong place.
This is not a case of 'Not In My Backyard'. The problems of
the Tamar Valley as a pulp mill site have been much detailed.
I believe that alternative sites such as Hampshire should
be more closely examined. I know the transport logistics are
a problem, but is transport a greater consideration than health?
Hampshire has much to recommend it. Airborne emissions would
be safely dispersed, Launceston's future water supply would
not be a factor, and there is not the population concentration
of the Tamar Valley. Gunns from time to time suggested processing
in Victoria or Indonesia. If it is with our woodchips, why
not take a left turn out from the Tamar River, go up to Burnie?
There are a number of avenues for assistance with transport
logistics, including Federal Government programs. If Hampshire
had been chosen as a site we would not be having this difficult
debate today. Tasmanians would not be split. There would be
overwhelming support for a pulp mill.
Mr Harriss - But the RPDC would not accept them competing
in that situation.
Mr FINCH - What a pity, Mr President. In the past few weeks
the Premier has acted as if it is the end of the world if
this present pulp mill proposal fails to go ahead. The Robin
Gray Government told us something similar years ago about
the Wesley Vale pulp mill proposal. I would suggest that if
a new pulp mill is a sound investment and can meet environmental
and other guidelines, it is a done deal. If the Gunns project
does not get up, another one will. Gunns is not the only player
in the State's forestry industry, or Australia's. What will
rationalisation of the forestry and timber industries of Australia
throw up? We do not know. It may well be very positive for
Tasmania, so perhaps there is no genuine need for the Government's
panic. But in the meantime, here we are in this Chamber having
to consider panic legislation to fast-track a possibly ill-conceived
project in a highly sensitive area which could affect the
health of 100 000 people. How can those people have confidence
in a hasty process at the whim of a government which is apparently
prepared to cut corners? I am always ready to support any
project which will provide jobs and security for Tasmanians,
as long as it will not harm our health or the place in which
we live. In that I am supported by the majority in my electorate.
Most Tasmanians want to see more downstream processing in
our forestry industry, but my constituents must be confident
that any project will not harm their health or their environment.
I am unhappy to say that they will not be confident about
this new process.
Mr Parkinson - Well, let the assessment have a go.
Mr FINCH - If the consultant's expression of interest brief
is anything to go by, Mr President, there are strong grounds
for suspecting that we are not now going to get the best pulp
mill in the world; we are going to get an average one.
Mr Parkinson - So you've made up your mind.
Mr FINCH - My basic concern, Leader, is for the health of
my constituents and their children.
Mr Parkinson - That is what the assessment is all about.
Mr FINCH - The Australian Medical Association says that this
bill will not allow enough time to address the health concerns
of those who live in the Tamar Valley. That has to ring alarm
bells. Why must we possibly threaten the health of people
to fast-track a project without proper scrutiny for a financial
time line? Regardless of the Premier's promise of great annual
financial benefits for every Tasmanian household, why should
we throw out a widely supported assessment system? What if
the medical expenses caused by additional particle inhalation
far outweigh the Premier's dubious promise? Where are we then?
In his briefing yesterday, as you will recall, Mr President,
the Tasmanian President of the Australian Medical Association,
Dr Michael Aizen, said he had seen no information to allay
his concern that a Tamar Valley pulp mill was likely to increase
respiratory illness in Launceston. He said the AMA could only
support a Tamar Valley pulp mill if there were stringent health
restrictions placed on its operations. It seems that will
not be the case under this proposed assessment process. Dr
Aizen cited a present rate of deaths from respiratory disease
in the Tamar Valley of between eight and 17 a year. He said
the AMA did not wish to see a further increase in mortality
and morbidity resulting from a major development nearby. He
said experts analysing data provided by the pulp mill proponent
found serious flaws in the methodology of the studies and
of the models postulated. Dr Aizen continued, and I will quote:
'Our concerns were such that we were invited to present them
to the Resource Planning & Development Commission in order
to provide a balance and a more scientifically accurate picture
of current and potential adverse health outcomes. In the course
of the RPDC's proceedings the proponent took our message on
board but the untimely demise of the RPDC precluded any response
from the proponent. We respected the integrity of the RPDC's
process and its attention to detail.'
Dr Aizen is of course not the only one who respected the
RPDC process. I feel that Dr Aizen's concluding statement
sums up the AMA's position, and I would like to quote it:
'As doctors we strongly urge you to be guided by the strongest
possible current scientific evidence and if you do elect to
allow the Pulp Mill to proceed to apply the most stringent
rules of operation and to enforce closure in the event of
breach. It is clear that short term economic considerations
have resulted in the demise of a respected, independent and
transparent body. This Bill runs the risk of replacing due
diligence with indecent haste. If this bill is passed in its
current or similar format it will almost certainly lead to
severe and unintended adverse health outcomes not only for
our current generation but for those to follow.'
That is good enough for me, Mr President. I will not support
the bill in its present form and, as I indicated earlier,
I do not want to get involved in the pros and cons of the
present pulp mill proposal. If this bill is passed that will
be thrust upon us in September after only three days to assess
the implications for Tasmanians, but I do object strongly
to the scrapping of the best planning process this State has
come up with so far, the RPDC.
I would also like to point out the Federal implications of
Gunns' withdrawal from the agreed assessment. This puts the
pulp mill political football into the air only months before
a Federal election, a Federal election in which both main
parties will be playing politics for the Green vote. What
a dog's breakfast.
Let us all go back to square one. We have generally supported
RPDC scrutiny of a controversial project which our voters
want to be properly scrutinised by the best experts available.
That will cost more, but history will justify that cost. If
one company decides to take away its bat and ball and give
the umpire the flick, somebody else will come to the wicket
if the idea has genuine merit. And if another player arrives,
its proposal can be properly assessed in the health and other
interests of all Tasmanians, preferably in a location which
does not have the problems of the Tamar Valley. So I do not
support the bill.