Wednesday 29 January 2014
Hansard of the Legislative Council
ASSESSMENT AMENDMENT ACT 2014 (No.1)
Mr FINCH (Rosevears)
- Mr President, It is a matter of record that I have consistently supported
viable and responsible downstream processing in the forestry industry, but
along with the majority of Rosevears electors, I have opposed the proposed pulp
mill development in the Tamar Valley. It is the wrong mill in the wrong place.
There are still doubts, and there always have been, about the effects of the
proposed pulp mill's emissions on air quality in the populated Tamar Valley and
this worries many of my constituents. I remind you we do have an inversion
layer in the Tamar Valley.
Mill Assessment Act in 2007 cannot by any measure be seen as an effective
assessment. It was widely reported that it was drafted by lawyers acting for
Gunns at the time and shepherded through parliament with the help of lobbyists
on the Gunns' payroll. The permit which we are being asked to extend, covers up
many of the compliance issues which would have emerged if there had been a
proper process and if Gunns, with state government complicity, had not
withdrawn from the Resource Planning And Development Commission. This was, as
they say, when things went bad, when Tasmanians were shut out of the proper
process and when many started to smell a rat, a decaying rat, which still infects
the process, including this bill.
Ms Rattray - Not in
the lunch room.
Mr FINCH - That is
yet to come. As we know, this bill effectively changes the time limit in which
the pulp mill has to be substantially commenced. The former legislation said
permits would lapse four years after coming into force and this bill extends
that period to 10 years. That means we are talking about April 2017, when the
technology proposed will be approaching 15 years old. The bill before us also
cements the allowance of the transfer or sale of the pulp mill permit. It also
allows the minister to cancel, revoke, or otherwise terminate the permit,
licence or other approval.
This bill is
very simple and logical but the problem is that it is the latest move in a long
and flawed process in which not only has the community not been consulted but
it has been deceived. This long process started, some would say, in 2004 but
the idea was mooted in 2003, and has caused uncertainty and conflict in my
electorate and across Tasmania. It has caused division in the community and
even in families. For more than seven years there has been uncertainty about
property values and business decisions, especially in the tourism industry. Now
that uncertainty and divisiveness is to be extended.
mill process really started 10 years ago. As early as 25 November 2003 I
delivered a speech on a pulp mill proposal. Our GBE committee had visited the
Bell Bay site for other reasons the previous week, and a week before that the
state government had announced a review of the environmental guidelines for
bleached kraft pulp mills. With the completion of the review months away and
any concrete proposal for a pulp mill probably a further 12 months away, I
argued in my speech that it was premature to have a debate then about a pulp
mill. While I expressed confidence in the environmental review, I also had
concerns for my electorate. I am going to quote from Hansard in 2003:
confident that the proposed review of the environmental guidelines will be exactly
that, that all the environmental consequences of any processing method will be
examined in great detail. Any environmental consequences of any industrial
project on the Tamar are of great interest to my constituents who run vineyards
with a clean, green image; conduct tourism ventures; and run fish farms in the
Tamar, but I am confident that the people of Rosevears will await the facts
before discussing the implications of any development in the Tamar Valley.
President, I would expect the environmental review to be followed by a full
analysis of the social and economic impacts. The people of the Tamar Valley
will want the full picture. They will want to weigh the economic benefits from
any industrial development with the possible effects on other industries such
as wine, tourism and aquaculture.
consistently argued that the people of the Tamar Valley never did get the full
picture. It kept changing over the years but the big change was when Gunns quit
the planning process. That is when the picture became very murky indeed. It was
a long time ago but to refresh your memory I will quote from a lengthy article
in The Australian on 20 November 2008:
Just when it
seemed the pulp mill proposed for Tasmania's Tamar Valley might slip off the
agenda, new revelations have emerged to reignite the political intrigue
surrounding the controversial project.
This week a
parliamentary committee heard of sworn evidence from planning chief Simon
Cooper that ex-premier Paul Lennon had not been telling the truth about events
leading up to the fast-tracking of the mill.
strengthened suspicions that Tasmanians were conned about the Lennon
government's reasons for fast‑tracking the mill and fuelled calls for a royal
no problem with using taxpayer funds for a government steering committee - a
glorified cheer squad - to spruik the mill.
appeared to be struggling to get the project through the Resource Planning and
Development Commission, Lennon ripped up the rule book, bypassed the RPDC and
pushed the mill through.
That is the beginning of the article in
The Australian. I do not want to quote all of it but I would like
to add a brief part close to the conclusion:
really willing to gamble a $2 billion project on the chance that Lennon would
come to the rescue? Was the need for haste a confection to hide the mill's
failings, which were known at the time by the RPDC, the government and Gunns,
but not by the public or the parliament?
at the University of Tasmania and a longstanding independent observer of
Tasmanian politics says:
questions need to be answered and answered to the satisfaction of the public,
not to the convenience of the parties. The toxicity of this is so severe in
terms of what it has done to the state that it really deserves to be resolved
especially since the tangled web has entrapped so many public figures and
brought into disrepute the justice system as a whole.
that Parliament should have demanded answers as to whether or not it had been
misled by referring the issue to inquiry by committee or by bringing key
players, such as Lennon and Gay, before the bar of the House of Assembly to
answer questions. He said:
I would like
to see the parliament demand a complete explanation. Parliament appears to have
acted on information that was either misleading or incompetent. They are the
That is the
end of the quote from The Australian.
was neither properly investigated nor resolved, Mr President. This House, of
course, debated the pulp mill approval motion in August 2007. We had the burden
of assessing hundreds of pages of scientific information. We are not
scientists. I saw it as a momentous decision with unforeseen consequences. A
brief quote from my speech:
reflected for months upon how we so badly needed to get this decision right
because before us is a very real possibility that by making the wrong decision
and ignoring the majority view opposing this pulp mill - and I have no doubt in
my mind that the majority of Tasmanians oppose this mill in the Tamar Valley -
we are actually 'permitting' the government to lead us into an extended and
unprecedented period of division and continued and unremitting dissent across
measured this social cost, this collateral damage to the collective psyche of
Tasmania? Do we really believe it ends here today or tomorrow or next week?
That is the
end of the quote from Hansard. History, I think, shows that I was
I and my
electorate have come on a long journey with this pulp mill process. I
originally supported the concept of downstream processing and an
environmentally safe and suitably located pulp mill. I had confidence in the
original blueprint for the review process agreed to by both state and federal
governments. Those guidelines provided a framework against which any proposal
would be thoroughly evaluated and assessed. The RPDC was charged with the bulk
of the assessment and any proposal which complied with the guidelines would, in
turn, be passed on to the federal government for assessment of matters falling
under their jurisdiction. That was the prudent and responsible way forward.
first rumblings of concern from Rosevears constituents were brought to my attention,
I assured them that there was a sound and transparent process to be followed
and the RPDC would find the right answers, but the RPDC found the Gunns
proposal to be 'critically non-compliant', not good enough, not the world's
safest pulp mill at all. Not safe enough for the environment or the people
living in the Tamar Valley.
colluded with the Lennon government to jettison the RPDC evaluation. They
replaced it with a deficient, fast-track assessment skewed to favour the Gunns
proposal. The government, with opposition support, subsequently pushed a soft
permit through parliament. It follows logically and rationally that I and many
of my constituents became convinced that the agreed assessment process had been
waived and therefore corrupted.
I came to
the conclusion this erosion of public trust and disregard for the public
interest and public safety outweighed any economic arguments that existed or
may still exist for the construction of a Gunns pulp mill in the Tamar Valley.
However persuasive those arguments may be, a pulp mill at any cost was not a
reasonable or responsible or a right decision. I voted against the legislation
that was passed by both Houses enabling Gunns to proceed. Further revelations
of government impropriety fully vindicated my stand to support the majority
view of Rosevears' electors.
Now I am
asked to vote again to extend permits by amendments to the original
legislation. I refused to support it then and it would be totally inconsistent
to support it now. This bill has been prepared at the behest of Gunns'
receivers, KordaMentha. It is a logical request to extend the permit time as
KordaMentha decides amongst the six companies that have expressed interest
either in Gunns' former plantations or the mill itself, or both. We do not know
how many of the six potential investors are interested in the permits. I
suspect there is much more interest in the plantations.
It is to be
borne in mind that KordaMentha is only obligated to get the best deal for
Gunns' secured creditors. As KordaMentha spokesman, Michael Smith, was reported
saying last week:
The sale is
not necessarily a package deal. Our legal requirement is to act in the best
interest of the bank, our secured creditors. If the highest price is just for
the wood chipping business and the plantations without the pulp mill, we have
got to accept it on behalf of our secured creditors.
It is also
possible as the chief executive of the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and
Industry, Michael Bailey, pointed out last week that an investor with existing
pulp mill assets could, to prevent competition, buy the mill licence with the
intention of never building.
will be announcing its decision over Gunns' former assets in about 10 weeks.
You would think that if there was no interest in the pulp mill permit that that
is the end of a decade of uncertainty. Well, not so. While the permit remains
valid there is always the likelihood of someone coming along and reviving the
project, thus the pulp mill ghost still lurks across the Tamar for my
electorate and the uncertainty for the residents and business owners in
I have been
aware so many of my constituents have opposed a Tamar Valley pulp mill right
from the beginning. We have seen long-running and well-organised campaigns
against it. While the uncertainty has continued, the project has seemed less
likely year by year, so before this debate I was very interested in gauging the
feelings of the people in Rosevears. It is hard to get a proper feel for public
opinion as people will tell you what they think you want to hear. I have been
at pains to get around the electorate, as I know others have, speaking to as
many people as possible. One strong and recent indication of feeling about a
Tamar Valley pulp mill was seen last
Wednesday night when more than 600 people attended a public meeting in my
electorate. I made sure I went because generally you get reports of these
meetings and they wildly vary. The Examiner newspaper reported that
there were more than 600 people there.
media and the Premier misrepresenting the situation, there were only a few
people keen to show support for the Gunns pulp mill. I would suggest three or
four. I will quote from an email I received after the meeting closed:
attended a meeting in Launceston, with over 500 other concerned citizens, to
bring us up to date with current efforts in place to continue protesting
against the development of a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley. I am contacting you
as an independent member of the Legislative Council to suggest in the strongest
possible terms that this project is no longer viable, if it ever was, and that
to proceed with it in current global economic climates is an act of little more
I am hoping
it is no surprise that the strength of feeling against this proposal runs very
deep in every element of the Tasmanian community; anyone who believes that such
sentiment will simply evaporate has simply not been paying attention for the
last eight years.
That was an
email from one of the more than 600 who attended last week's public meeting.
has raised the question of further improper conduct by the state government, so
desperate to wedge the opposition and position itself as the pulp mill
promoter, that it will seek to alter legislation to influence the outcome of
the pending court case.
expect business on the West Tamar, people from the West Tamar Chamber of
Commerce, to welcome a big development across the river? That is an interesting
question, is it not? The Chamber of Commerce rightly says it is neutral on the
matter, but the chamber has recently sought the views of individual members. It
set up a questionnaire. I want to quote the results in order of priority:
1. Tasmania is an economic mess and
needs industry and big business quickly but not at any cost.
2. The Tamar Valley is an inappropriate
site for the proposed mill.
3. Tasmania needs some processing
facilities for existing forest resources. They are not restricted to a pulp
4. The proposed mill may provide some
employment but is not Tasmania's answer to its economic woes.
5. The mill would be better sited in a
less populated site away from existing, successful agri, food and tourism
businesses which operate opposite the site on the West Tamar.
6. Most members do not want the pulp
mill in the Tamar Valley.
president of the West Tamar Chamber of Commerce, Yvonne Masters, says in
conclusion and I quote:
this topic will feature prominently in the election. The TCCI will certainly be
making representations to the government and any new government. I intend to
pass on your views so that businesses in the West Tamar are clearly heard.
But on its
past record, I do not think the government will be listening at all. Let us
face it, environmental fears and the obvious corrupting of the pulp mill
approval process has put many thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of
a Canberra-based think tank, The Australia Institute, revealed that it had been taking a close look at subsidies
for the forestry industry in Tasmania. It found that it was money down the
drain. It says the forest peace deal had cost taxpayers $420 million since
2011, propping up industry players rather than helping to diversify Tasmania's
economy. It points out that the logging industry directly employed only 0.4 per
cent of Tasmania's workforce and accounted for 0.5 per cent of gross state
author of The Australia Institute's report, Dr Andrew McIntosh, from the Australian National University, blames the
disproportionate political focus on forestry for Tasmania's poor economic
performance. Here is what Dr McIntosh had to say, and I quote:
makes clear that even in the unlikely event that attempts to support the
forestry industry were to succeed, they would create far fewer jobs than if the
same effort was put into expanding other industries.
fact that forestry employs a trivial proportion of the Tasmanian workforce,
state policy makers seem convinced that the success of the forestry industry is
essential to addressing the low rates of growth, employment and output per
worker which has seen the Tasmanian economy slip even further behind the
economies of the mainland states.
policy makers continue to place the interests of the dwindling forestry
industry at the heart of their plans for Tasmania's economy, then the gap
between the Tasmanian economy and the mainland economy will only continue to
government and the opposition see the Gunns pulp mill as a silver bullet
solution for the economy. Many commentators have made the point that it has
become an obsession, a cargo cult mentality that promises riches and jobs for
all. There is an opportunity for a new, viable and sustainable Tasmanian
forestry industry but not through this pulp mill, which is only the second rung
on the downstream processing ladder and would suck in resources which could be
used in much better processing options.
have wasted time, energy and money pursuing a broken dream, the Europeans have
been forging ahead with new timber technologies. I remember, it would be 20
years ago, when the federal government shut down a research operation run by
the CSIRO at Clayton. From that point, research and development in the forestry
industry ceased. Other countries, the Europeans, Canadians, have forged ahead
with the research that they are doing.
We are a
couple of decades behind. We need to embark on a path that takes us forward. In
particular, there are exciting prospects for the manufacture of value-added
laminated structural timber from our plantations, and I hope to talk about this
and other new ideas in this place in the future.
opposed to the original permit legislation and I oppose the current legislation
before the House to shore up the permit. My position is unequivocal. Not this
pulp mill, Mr President, and not in our Tamar Valley.
that those in Rosevears will confirm that they agree in the May poll and I will
be back here again to remind you.