Tuesday 28 August 2007
PULP MILL PERMIT
Pulp Mill Assessment (Amend Permit Conditions) Amendment (Bill 43)
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Let me say first of all that I strongly resent being put in this position. We are not scientists or pulp mill experts, yet here we are with the burden of assessing hundreds and probably thousands of pages of scientific information to make a decision which could affect Tasmania for decades. I speak of the independent members of this Chamber. For members of the Parliamentary Labor Party it is quite a different matter. Theirs is not to reason why, just choose a career or conscience. They have to follow the orders of their party leaders and I doubt if any will display the courage of the honourable member for Elwick.
Ms Ritchie - You weren't here for the Ralphs Bay debate then?
Mr FINCH - I have reflected for three years and now over crucial months upon how we so badly need to get this decision right. 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 that the majority of Tasmanians oppose this mill in the Tamar Valley - we are permitting the Government to lead us into an extended and unprecedented period of division and continued and unremitting dissent across the State. What report measured this social cost, this collateral damage to the collective psyche of Tasmania? Do we really believe it is going to end here today, tomorrow or next week? This historic decision should not be a political decision.
After addressing a Launceston audience on Saturday, Australian Conservation Foundation President and Griffith University Science, Technology and Society Emeritus professor, Ian Lowe, regretted that the pulp mill decision was being made on a political rather than a scientific basis. Professor Lowe said the decision on Gunns' pulp mill proposal for Long Reach was scientifically based under the Resource Planning and Development Commission. Transferring the decision to the Parliament, however, meant that scientific basis had been lost. He said the proposal was complex and involved important issues such as air pollution. I will quote Professor Lowe from the Examiner , Mr President:
'You need to be very careful in adding more pollution to an airshed that traps pollution. It will take longer but it is worth spending another year to get it right'.
Yet here we are rushing a political decision which will have implications for Tasmania and particularly the Tamar Valley for many years to come. We are due to vote 'yes' or 'no' to the permits for the mill's operation on Thursday.
Unlike other participants of the process, it seems we cannot change the permits. It can be argued, Mr President, that the decision to give Gunns time to comment on the permits and for changes to be made puts the mill proponent above Parliament. We are given five days of what to me have become contradictory, confusing briefings and apparently no opportunity to do anything but to say yes or no, however there may well be another course. I do not know whether it has been considered or indeed whether it might be feasible. It might have been considered by more experienced colleagues and I will look to them for guidance.
Mr Michael Stokes, a senior lecturer in law at the University of Tasmania and a constitutional law expert, has said in his analysis that the Pulp Mill Assessment Act gives the Parliament a statutory power to accept or reject the permit. If I may quote Mr Stokes, he says:
'It is clear that in the exercise of the power, parliament is acting as a statutory authority rather than as parliament. Therefore its powers are limited to those which the Act confers on it. Under ... the Act, the parliament only has the power to accept or reject the permit, not amend it'.
However Mr Stokes continues:
'Although the parliament does not have the power to amend the permit, it can use the power to reject or to force amendments. There is nothing improper or illegal in so doing. It has a duty to force changes if it believes that the mill should proceed but under different conditions from those in the permit. Under the Act, section 6, the relevant Minister has the responsibility of preparing the permit and submitting it to parliament for its consideration and therefore has the power to withdraw the permit and replace it with an amended one'.
But Mr Stokes says that if Parliament decides that the permit needs to be amended in any way it has the option of declining to accept the permit until the minister makes the required amendments.
Mr Stokes also says that there is a perception that by allowing Gunns to have access to the approval document well in advance of the members of parliament, they have asked for and been granted the power to amend it. I quote:
'How is it that the powers of parliament are so limited that the benefactor of this bill is not so encumbered?'
It is a good point, Mr President, and I make it to demonstrate that this House does have other options. I wonder if they have been considered.
Mr Harriss - Have you some suggestions?
Mr FINCH - We will see, we will wait and see. You may have one later on.
Mr Harriss - So may you?
Mr FINCH - Yes, and so may the member for Montgomery and other experienced members of the House. We will see.
On the matter of procedure, I would like to quote University of Tasmania political analyst, Richard Herr, in an interview on ABC Radio:
'It is an abnormal usage of parliament and putting the pressure on parliament to be a defining authority in this way. It is also unusual in the sense that the Government has claimed in its advertising that this constitutes a real act of democracy. It makes no sense for the Government to claim that the vote on the resolution of the pulp mill permit is democratic unless it is a conscience vote. It has to be a conscience vote. It ought to be a conscience vote because it is a planning authority. It is not acting as a legislative body therefore no one member of the Parliament should be directed in any way or by anyone on that decision.'
I would also like to make the point at this stage that we will not be voting for a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley to go ahead when we vote on the Government's motion on the bill permit, we will be approving or rejecting additional guidelines and restrictions on a pulp mill's operation. The final decision on whether the pulp mill is built at Long Reach will rest with the Gunns board which is bound to make its decision on commercial grounds and in the interests of Gunns' shareholders. Before that it will be the decision of the State Government and also the Federal Government.
Mr President, may I speculate on what might have happened if Gunns had not withdrawn from the RPDC process. For a start, we would not have had this atmosphere of anger and bitterness and deep division within the Tasmanian community. Many people have turned against the project because of the lack of due process and proper scientific study. I know, Mr President, it will be going over old ground to again restate the support for the RPDC process by most of the community - certainly my community - when I allayed their fears and I assured them of the efficacy of having an independent umpire.
Secondly, if Gunns had stayed with the RPDC process the ultimate result would have been a recommendation to the State Government by the RPDC. The State Government would then have made a decision and so would have the Gunns board.
Many people no doubt would have still viewed the siting of the mill at Long Reach as inappropriate but they would have respected the umpire's decision. If Gunns had provided the information required by the RPDC on schedule, the decision might well have been made by now and we in this House would not be acting as a statutory planning authority instead of the Parliament. Of course if Gunns had stayed within the RPDC process the pulp mill would have been unlikely to have become a Federal election issue with the uncertainty over the project that that now involves. What a great thing is hindsight, Mr President.
Gunns' withdrawal from the proper scientific process leads to a public suspicion that they knew they could not meet the conditions for the project. That suspicion will not go away, Mr President, and it has not been allayed by the Government's SWECO PIC report.
The question has been publicly asked why SWECO PIC assessed the mill against only about half the guidelines. To my knowledge, there has been no satisfactory answer.
Members will have access to the peer review of the SWECO PIC report that has been tabled by the member for Elwick. Roberto Miotti's peer review has closely studied the SWECO PIC assessment of the ability of the proposed pulp mill to meet the Tasmanian environmental guidelines. The peer review method, Mr President, is the cornerstone of scientific method. It is used to establish the validity of a body of scientific research. The Tasmanian environmental guidelines were created specifically to ensure that accepted modern technology - AMT - and best available techniques - BAT - be used in any pulp mill constructed in Tasmania. It is important to note that these terms have very specific meaning to process engineers and they cannot be bandied about by scientists because they are in the vernacular; accepted modern technologies are technologies that have a demonstrated track record of being effective - that is, AMT have a demonstrated capacity to achieve a desired emission concentration.
With regard to emission control, Mr President, there is one primary guideline, D1.1. It states:
'AMT to control emissions to the atmosphere, marine environment and land will be mandatory'.
Mr President, Gunns could not or would not comply with directives from the RPDC to provide a full and complete draft integrated impact statement. It was labelled deficient in its content by the chairman of the pulp mill assessment panel. SWECO PIC assessed that same deficient and incomplete DIIS against the Tasmanian pulp mill guidelines.
According to SWECO PIC there were eight guideline non-compliances but these could be addressed by permit conditions. The peer review of SWECO PIC's report, as you heard, came to a totally different assessment. It found that the compliance score was actually 14 non-compliances with only six able to be addressed by permit conditions. The review found that a total of eight non-compliances could not be addressed by permits.
As we have heard from the member for Elwick, there were two guidelines that were not even assessed by SWECO PIC. Because SWECO made numerous errors in their assessment, we in this House contemplating approving permits should be aware that in the face of this evidence we will be taking the risk of making a grave mistake. Permits cannot fix or resolve problems arising from inappropriate technology. It is also the case, if I may quote Jess Feehely, a solicitor at the Environmental Defender's Office:
'Permit conditions are only as good as the enforcement that backs them up.'
I have grave doubts over the enforcement of these permits, and we have heard comforting, confusing and sometimes conflicting evidence in the briefings. The Government's proposed environmental protection agency - EPA - is short on detail and apparently will have little to do with the pulp mill's performance in the first instance. That power apparently resides with the Director of Environmental Management.
I would suggest that a government-appointed bureaucrat would think twice before ordering the shutdown of a $1.9 billion pulp mill.
Ms Thorp - We can wear you insulting us as members but I do not think that you should be insulting heads of agency. That is appalling; shame on you.
Mr FINCH - The record of environmental monitoring of industries around Australia is, to say the least, patchy. For example, a community group from Geelong in Victoria is taking the Victorian Environmental Protection Agency to the Supreme Court in a landmark case centred on Shell Australia's Corio Bay oil refinery. One of the group, Sue McLean, is quoted in the Age newspaper on 16 August, in Business Day on page 10, as saying:
'When the EPA started questioning Shell's emissions in 2003, we were completely shocked.
Shell actually admitted that they had never complied with their licence conditions, and wouldn't be able to do so for another 15 years.'
Let us look closer to home. Let us look at Norske Skog's New Norfolk mill effluent discharge limits. As governed by permit conditions a few years ago, they were judged not consistent with accepted modern technology, AMT. The cost of $30 million to overcome the problem was considered expensive. Environmental improvement plans cannot be extended over three years and the Board of Environmental Management and Control - BEMC - was able to agree that the mill had until December 2006 to comply with AMT discharge limits on the condition that the company undertake a series of improvements in line with best practice environmental management. By December 2006, presumably Norske Skog was unable to meet the requirements of the agreement because the 2005-06 report of the BEMC on page 64 indicated approval of a proposal by Norske Skog to install a secondary treatment plant at the Boyer mill by 2008 and extend the date by which the mill will achieve acceptable modern technology emission limits. This situation where permit conditions have not been consistent with AMT has been under review since the company initiated its own studies in 1999 to 2001 when it first came to the attention of the BEMC - the Board of Environmental Management and Control. The situation at Norske Skog puts a whole new spin on discretion under the enforcement policy for the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994.
Mr Harriss - 'Management' being the operative word.
Mr FINCH - This document, the 2006 BEMC report prepared in 2004, attempts to clarify the principles, criteria and measures that officers will use to enforce the provisions of the act. It makes for compelling reading. For example, in the act under section 5 'general criteria for enforcement', pages 6 to 8, there are 18 specific considerations to be taken into account in determining the need and type of enforcement action. Included in the 18 are the following:
'the level and nature of public concern and the age, intelligence, antecedents, background, physical or mental health of the offenders and the witnesses'.
The mind boggles, Mr President. It is ridiculous.
In Mount Isa in Queensland, residents are worried about lead and they accuse the Queensland EPA of failing to conduct proper soil testing in the area for 16 years. In Townsville, residents are concerned about emissions from Queensland Nickel's smokestack, which they suspect of containing particles of mercury, arsenic and cadmium. They say the EPA is relying on Queensland Nickel to monitor its own emissions. Can the people of the Tamar Valley be confident of swift action when and if the pulp mill pollutes?
Mr Dean - Yes.
Mr FINCH –
If I could just touch on the permits, as we have been briefed. Most of the permit conditions will attach to any big industrial development, but some have been specifically designed for this project. Air emissions and waste-water effluent are the areas to focus on. In the case of air pollution, the monitoring frequency is six-monthly in a number of cases, with levels above investigation level requiring further measurement or evaluation. Pollutants can exceed investigation levels for up to 30 days continuously. There seems little, if any, reference to shutting down the mill for any breach beyond 30 days. The reference measures for dealing with breaches seem vague and overly flexible. As far as waste water is concerned, section EM1 of the permit seems to overlap with some of LU1. They only refer to levels as 'water quality guidelines', and there seems no indication of what happens when they are exceeded, other than 'Gunns must take all practical measures to bring the emission into compliance'. I see that as a serious short coming in these permits, yet we are expected to say yes or no, and any other course is difficult.
We have all been lobbied extensively on our vote this week. I have received thousands of independent and personal phone calls, letters and e-mails, including some from overseas, which I first regarded as suspicious. We were pretty much bombarded over the weekend, and still are. I have had an IT expert check those overseas e-mails, which I understand have been received by other members here, and he has found that they are generated through a blog site. They basically constitute form e-mails, to which neither I nor my colleagues give any weight. One sender, a Dr Glenn Berry, contacted me again to explain the process.
Mrs Rattray-Wagner - Is he the one from Romania?
- No, not with a name like Glenn Berry - unless he was there on holidays. I will quote him:
'I did add my name and authorised the letter to be sent to you. The e-mail campaign in question is indeed genuine. I found and joined an online ecological awareness group. This group finds information, creates petitions and sends these petitions to its members. After reading the letter, as I did with the letter sent to you, we as members either agree and send or disagree and delete.'
So while those e-mails seem genuine, Mr President, I did not give them the same weight as the many hundreds of individual e-mails which I received from local people and particularly from my constituents, every one of which I have answered. These local e-mails have not been coordinated 'form' communications but personal expressions of concern about the design and placement of the pulp mill in a vineyard and tourism region occupied by 100 000 people.
The vast majority of expressions of concern come from my electorate, just across the river from the proposed site. The senders have been easily checked through the electoral roll or the telephone book. Many communications are from people with a scientific background and a good understanding of what is involved in a kraft pulp mill and I am indebted to some of these who have improved my layman's understanding of the project.
Here is a typical personal comment, if I might quote, Mr President:
'I request that in your deliberations this week you think not of now, not of 10 nor 20 years' time, but of the environmental and social implications of this pulp mill and how it will be viewed in 50 and 100 years' time when our landscape has been irreparably converted to plantation timber, the Tamar polluted beyond repair and our fishing, wine and tourism industries robbed of future wealth.'
Ms Thorp - Poor deluded person.
Mr FINCH – Here is another one:
'I am writing to you to express my concern about the proposed pulp mill. Although I firmly believe in adding value to Tasmania's exports, it is only with the proviso that it does no damage to the existing economy of the State. Given the dumping of the RPDC, the subsequent creation of a tailor-made assessment process and the lack of public input, I have absolutely no faith that this will occur.
To be honest, I believe that wood-chipping and the production of pulp, particularly pulp using this environmentally unfriendly type of process, has a very limited future in Tasmania and ultimately in any first world country.
I think there is a very high risk of Tasmania being left with a white elephant that will survive only by public subsidy to save a very small number of jobs, money and resources that could be used to build a presence in far more sustainable future-proof industries.
In total I believe there are three reasons, any of which should be sufficient grounds to reject the current mill proposal.'
Mr Dean - Was that provided to you on nice white paper?
Mr FINCH -
As above I believe that it is not a project worthy of the current ongoing public subsidy it will require and is an enormous risk to businesses in the region that collectively are delivering far greater sustainable returns for a far larger number of Tasmanians.
I think the assessment process has been fatally flawed and sets a bad example to other developers. There will be no point in having a standard assessment process.
No developer will want it and all will claim a special process tailored to their needs, just as these proponents have received.
Too many issues to go into here but suffice to say there is enough doubt about the various wastes from the mill and quantity of inputs to the mill to demand that an independent assessment should have been made, not one that has been basically written, vetted, amended and pre-approved by the proponent.'
Another e-mail from a Launceston resident demonstrating some cynicism - it could be from your electorate.
Mr Dean - It could well be from my electorate.
Mr FINCH -
'It has taken me over 40 years as a voter to learn that big issues that politicians push are usually bad ideas. Just a few come to mind: Bob Menzies said we had to stop the Reds. Never mind my slouch hat and greens, the dominoes never did tumble.
Another huffing and puffing Premier and a leech-ridden ditch in the south-west. Queenstown and Strahan now shows that was another bad idea. They said after Wesley Vale was stopped it will be a case of last person out, turn off the lights. It did not happen. Maybe another politician's bad idea.'
Mr Dean - How many left?
Mr FINCH -
'But I am a conservative person, so I read all I could about Gunns' pulp mill. So I am branded ill-informed. I attend a no-pulp-mill rally, so I am told I am anti-everything.'
How many left? We have had an increase in population. With no pulp mill we have had an increase in population.
Mr Dean - No, we didn't.
Mr FINCH - That is just a random sample, Mr President, of three of many hundreds of genuine e-mails. Of course we do not only gauge opinions about the mill project from e-mails and other communications, do we?
Last week and through today as well I presented a petition of 21 020 signatures to Parliament, and according to our Clerk that it is largest petition presented to the Legislative Council in its history since 1825.
Ms Ritchie - No need to brag.
Mr FINCH - Could have been 1 090. Among other things it called for return to public participation in planning and equal treatment for all. It said the State Government was exposing Tasmanian communities and industries to serious risk by abandoning due process and failing to conduct proper risk and cost analysis of the proposal. It said studies show that Tasmania could lose much more than it stands to gain if forest, farmland and water resources are provided preferentially to a pulp mill and/or if the Tamar airshed and Bass Strait become polluted.
There have been other petitions including one by medical practitioners in the Tamar Valley. The petition to restore democratic processes, signed by more than 100 doctors, asks this House to refuse to approve the pulp mill until a complete and independent study of the risks and costs has occurred and is made public and is properly debated in Parliament. Doctors were approached by a Launceston-based specialist anaesthetist, Tim Strong, who collected the signatures.
Dr Strong said several doctors he has spoken to about the petition indicated that the assessment process for the pulp mill proposal had caused them to question their future in the Tamar Valley.
Dr Strong said those who signed feared the development had understated potential risks from air pollution, marine effluent, increased traffic, water demand and unsustainable forestry practices. He said there was little faith that effective monitoring and controls could be imposed on the pulp mill once it was operating. As you know, Mr President, doctors rarely sign petitions. When 100 do they must be listened to, yet the State Government and others do not seem to be listening.
It did not listen when a crowd of 11 000 attended a public rally against the mill in Launceston City Park.
Mr Dean - Eleven thousand?
Mr FINCH - It seemed to take - well, your estimate Mayor?
Mr Dean - There is no mayor here.
Member for Windermere then. Who am I talking to? Give me a figure. I am suggesting 11 000 attended. How many would you say attended?
It seems to take no note of two well-attended meetings organised by the Launceston City Council and the West Tamar Council. The Premier has ignored the tens of thousands of e-mails and other communications received expressing concern about the mill and the approval process. The Premier and his ministers are like children with their fingers jammed in their ears and their eyes firmly shut. They know that the next State election is way off and believe that people will forget that they were ignored by their Government, but people in my electorate will not forget so easily, Mr President. We will not forget.
Ms Ritchie - You will not forget when the election is coming up.
Mr FINCH - I will not forget either. There is quite a large Christian community on the West Tamar and their opinions are important. One Christian leader, the Reverend Doctor Andrew Corbett, has established an extensive web site about the proposed mill. It is called a Christian response to the proposed pulp mill and attracted pressure and criticism from some supporters of the mill including a prominent member of State Parliament. Dr Corbett argues that Christians should examine the proposal and form an opinion. Dr Corbett says, and I quote:
'The objective of a Christian response to any issue affecting our society is ... the welfare and betterment of our society. This involves withstanding certain proposals and promoting others.'
Dr Corbett concludes that one of the founding fathers of Launceston, John West, would have opposed the pulp mill proposed for the Tamar Valley. The Ministers' Fraternal, known as the Launceston Christian Leader Network, has endorsed the report. It is called 'Is This the Pulp Mill John West Would Reject?'
Subsequently, they have had three meetings with Gunns management to express their concerns directly. Dr Corbett estimates that 90 per cent of the Christian community of the Tamar Valley oppose the pulp mill.
'This opposition is comprised of people who object to the mill on environmental, economic and social grounds and others who object to the fast-track approval process and today, the Christian community is gathering for a prayer vigil at the Pilgrim Uniting Church which is supported by all the churches of Launceston. It is to mark the beginning of this parliamentary debate.'
But of course the Government and others will be keeping its fingers in its ears and its eyes tightly closed in case its blind resolve is shaken. It is one thing to close your ears, Mr President, but bullying people for their views is another matter.
One of my constituents who is a Launceston alderman and runs the City Mission charity was threatened by a member of the Gunns board for his vote in the Launceston City Council to support a motion on the bill from the public meeting. It was suggested that donations from the pulp mill proponent to the City Mission might cease because of his stand as an alderman. He found this understandably upsetting and nothing to be laughed at, I am sure.
Mr Parkinson - I presume he referred it to the police as a criminal offence?
Mr FINCH - Mr President, many of those who want a pulp mill for its promised economic benefits speak of the need to provide their children with jobs so they will stay in Tasmania. That is understandable. Perhaps they want their kids to be one of the 280 staff that will be operating the pulp mill. However, most young Tasmanians that I have encountered want to see what is outside Tasmania, just as we ourselves did. Many of them cannot further their careers without mainland or overseas experience. What we must aim to do, Mr President, is attract those young people back after they have travelled and gained that invaluable experience. To do that, we have to make Tasmania as attractive as possible to them. Will young Tasmanians be attracted home by this industrial complex?
Being put in this position, Mr President, where we must judge complicated scientific issues to make up our mind about the proposed pulp mill operating permits, I and my colleagues have worked very hard over the past few months to understand issues that most of us are not qualified to comprehend. Some of us have consulted experts, some have travelled overseas to look at pulp mills on a guided tour, and some have looked at pulp mills independently. But, of course, none of us have been able to look at a pulp mill like the one proposed in a river valley with the unique atmospheric conditions of the Launceston area. Some who have evaluated the same project have come up with different answers about its effects on those living nearby.
As most of you know, I visited the APM Amcor pulp mill at Maryvale in Victoria independently. In conjunction with my trip, the honourable member for Mersey visited the pulp mill at Tumut and we have compared notes. One of my overriding impressions of Maryvale is sitting in a restaurant in Traralgon, some 5 kilometres from the pulp mill, and smelling rotten egg pulp mill odours as people entered the restaurant. I was maybe 20 metres from the door and the smell was on their clothes. But I know that Maryvale is an old mill and has more fugitive emissions than the Tamar proposal is expected to have. Among others, during my visit to Maryvale, I had a long conversation with Mr Tim Bessell-Browne of the Gippsland region Environmental Protection Agency.
As he put it, and I will quote:
'Even with modern technology, I would be surprised if any mill can be made completely odour-free, even in optimum operating conditions.'
I asked Mr Bessell-Browne if he thought odour from pulp mills was harmful and his response was:
'Most chemists will tell you that any combustion product is harmful. Any smoke from anything is generally considered harmful. The smell that people experience is at very low levels, generally up to parts per million of sulphurous compounds. Smell is not associated with harm but there is significant psychological harm. People become very disturbed and emotionally and psychologically impaired when exposed to odour continually. It becomes quite damaging.'
He also told me that he has documented complaints from people 50 kilometres from the mill about the smell. We certainly would not want that for the Tamar Valley.
It is those people in my electorate that I have had to consider in the past months. They have numerous concerns, including concerns about their own and their children's health. They have concerns about their environment and they have concerns about their livelihoods, especially if they involve tourism, wine growing or fishing. Some of them are bitter that their concerns have not been addressed but rather, just brushed aside.
If the pulp mill project goes ahead, Mr President, it will leave a legacy of bitterness in my electorate for decades to come. Let us look at some of the concerns that have been expressed in recent months. The West Tamar is an important tourism region and it is probably the fastest growing employment sector. It depends primarily on the diversity and beauty of the Tamar Valley and its proximity to the two main northern Tasmanian entry points, Launceston Airport and the Devonport ferry terminal.
Mr President, some hopelessly hopeful people have suggested that people will come to Tasmania to see a pulp mill. Well, I can tell you that people do not go to see the Maryvale mill - only the odd one like me will go - and they do not go to the Latrobe Valley for a holiday. My experience there suggests that people with a sense of smell will go anywhere but there and I suggest that when the parliamentary delegation were guided by our former member, Tony Fletcher, to South America, they were not competing with the sorts of crowds that line up at the art galleries of Paris or St Peter's in Rome. So let us rule out any pulp mill as a tourist attraction.
The people of my electorate think the opposite is the case. They think, not unsurprisingly, that perceived smelly industrial sites actually repel visitors who will be looking for clean, green, food and wine and beautiful river views that we present now in the Tamar Valley. One who has a winery within smelling distance of the pulp mill site even suggests that the smell of rotten eggs at the cellar door might have a detrimental effect on wine sales.
Mr President, it has been obvious in recent months that there are serious concerns about the effect of the proposed pulp mill on tourism. Those who were at last week's briefing by the Tasmanian Roundtable for Sustainable Industries were told that a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley would cost 1 044 jobs in tourism. I point out that the TRSI study was carried out after it became obvious that the State Government-commissioned study only looked at the benefits - the pros - rather than the cons of a pulp mill. That was wishful thinking.
Mr Parkinson - That comment has been answered so many times.
Mr FINCH - I am talking about the ITS Global report. That stated that the pulp mill would create 280 long-term jobs, add 2.5 per cent to economic growth in Tasmania and lift house prices in George Town in the short term. But the Tasmanian Roundtable economic project, which is backed by major Launceston property developer John Dingemanse, the Launceston Environment Centre and many others in agriculture, tourism, winery and fishing businesses, told us these claimed benefits were flawed.
The TRSI study, conducted by a team of independent economists including University of Tasmania's Dr Graeme Wells, found instead that the pulp mill will grow the Tasmanian economy by only 0.5 per cent, five times less than previously claimed. Gunns has double-counted claim taxation benefits to the State Government of $834 million over the 24-year life of the pulp mill. Government subsidies to Gunns over the same period total $848 million, exceeding the extra tax paid.
The below-market price paid by Gunns to Forestry Tasmania for native timber equates to a subsidy of $435 million over the pulp mill's life span. The Federal Government is handing Gunns a subsidy of $242 million through the tax benefits of plantation managed investment schemes over the mill's 24-year life. Direct subsidies paid to the pulp mill for associated infrastructure, feasibility studies, new roads and rail total $30 million from the State Government and $65 million from the Federal Government.
That is even before we get to tourism.
In addition the study concluded the risks to other industries, especially tourism, from the pulp mill are massive. The report found that the Tasmanian tourism industry will suffer nearly a $1.1 billion loss in both direct impact and lost opportunities, causing a total of 1044 tourism jobs. The fishing industry will be hit by a loss of $175 million of its business sales and 175 jobs if Tasmanian's clean, green sales niche is lost, and four times that amount if actual dioxin contamination of fish and shellfish, caused by pulp mill effluent, occurs in Bass Strait.
Farming industries believe that 26 gigalitres of water a year being used by the mill could generate a much greater amount of agricultural production. Some members of this House will dismiss this report, I know.
Mr Harriss - Do you accept it unequivocally?
Mr FINCH - It is here for debate. We will hear what you think of it when you get your chance. Let us look at some of the other assessment of the potential effects on tourism. Let us look at the report of the Australian newspaper on 5 August. It reported that 58 per cent of tourism operators have expressed concern that the mill would damage their businesses.
I will quote from the Australian article:
'Tourism and Environment Minister Paula Wriedt responded to the survey by saying legislation for an EPA would be introduced in the spring session of parliament’.
But the industry has been confused by mixed messages about the new body's power. "We don't trust the state Labor Government", Three Wishes Vineyard owner, Peter Whish-Wilson, said.
"They are trying to drive a wedge into the industry - to say tourism operators will be happy with the mill as long as we have an EPA - but there are no details and no guarantees".
He said unless the body was independent from government, the industry could have no faith it would have the teeth to shut down the mill if it polluted.
In April, Leader of the Government in the Upper House Doug Parkinson said an EPA would have no jurisdiction over the pulp mill.
"If the pulp mill passes the assessment process and becomes operational, the Director of Environmental Management will be responsible for the day-to-day regulation of its environmental performance. It is not anticipated that this situation will change once the EPA is established", he said.
But on Friday Ms Wriedt said Mr Parkinson's comments had been misunderstood.
She said the EPA would replace the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Board, headed by the Director of Environmental Management.
"The EPA will be responsible for the protection of the Tasmanian Environment through transparent and rigorous decision-making and regulation", she said.
Tourism Industry Council boss Daniel Hanna said there would be less conflict if they had more details about the EPA before parliament started debating the mill in a few weeks.'
That is an article from the Australian newspaper early this month. So it would seem that either the Leader or the Minister for Tourism or both were somewhat confused. I can tell you that the tourism industry certainly is.
Mr Parkinson - Are you going to go for much longer? I am just wondering how long you are going to go for because I intend to have a meal break soon.
Mr FINCH - How much more can you stand? Another 10 minutes.
Mr Parkinson - I am enjoying it.
Mr FINCH - Okay, thank you. I will continue but I will not talk any faster. I would say 10 minutes.
Mr Parkinson - If you are going to go for another 10 minutes I think I might get you to adjourn the debate.
Mr FINCH - Would you like me to do that now? I seek leave to table a report by Miotti Consulting, Mr President.
Mr FINCH - Mr President, I move -
That the debate be adjourned.
SUSPENSION OF SITTING
Mr PARKINSON (Wellington - Leader of the Government in the Council) - Mr President, I move -
That the sitting be suspended until the ringing of the division bells.
That will not be before 7.30 p.m.
Sitting suspended from 6.06 p.m. to 7.49 p.m.
Tuesday 28 August 2007 - Part 2 - Pages 37 - 85
PULP MILL PERMIT
Mr FINCH (Rosevears)
It is interesting, the e-mails keep coming in; I had another one during the break:
'Ancient cultures feared the lunar eclipse and they were seen as an evil omen where the moon was eaten by the sun. Our only fear today is the eclipse of reason and logic, as the Government feels about blindly in the dark for a pulp mill outcome.'
Mr Dean - Is this one you sent to yourself?
Members laughing .
Mr FINCH - It goes on:
'But I will watch the moon reappear tonight. It will be like a miracle and, like that, I took some heart that commonsense will shine through. It will be a most beautiful sight. If not in this place, then a decision must be made to use commonsense and listen to overwhelming public opposition and refuse permission to build this mill.'
So my constituents are thinking all the time.
The Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania says:
'Survey results show that a majority of tourism operators believe the pulp mill will benefit the Tasmanian economy but are concerned it may affect tourism businesses in the Tamar Valley and the Tasmania brand.'
The TICT commissioned a survey by Enterprise and Marketing Research Services - EMRS - of tourism operators across the State in the last week of July and received about 700 responses. Some of the key results were: 58 per cent of the tourism operators consider that the proposed pulp mill in the Tamar Valley would have a negative effect on the Tasmanian brand; 34 per cent thought that the proposed mill would have a negative effect on their business if it went ahead; 64 per cent expected the net benefits to the Tasmanian economy from the pulp mill within the next five years to be positive; and 53 per cent expected the net benefits to the Tasmanian economy from the pulp mill over a period greater than five years to be positive.
To sum up the Tourism Industry Council's results, I will quote their conclusion:
'The survey results clearly demonstrate that the tourism industry can see net benefits to the Tasmanian economy as a result of the pulp mill. However, a majority of operators are concerned that the pulp mill will have a negative impact on the Tasmanian brand and a proportion believe that the mill will have a negative impact on their businesses. These results, combined with other information gleaned from the ITS Global report and consultations conducted with tourism operators in the Tamar Valley, have assisted the TICT board in considering this issue. One consistent concern raised in consultations with tourism operators was the need for strict environmental standards, monitoring and compliance surrounding the activities of the mill.
Tourism operators have stated loud and clear that they are very concerned about the potential for emissions from the mill to damage tourist’s perceptions and experiences. An independent EPA is the best way to give tourism operators a degree of certainty that the mill will meet tough environmental guidelines or risk swift action being taken.
We will also seek a major investment in the rail system to transport logs to the mill and to take log trucks off the roads, which our members have identified as a major risk for tourists. Visitors to the Tamar Valley are reliant on the roads and action needs to be taken to minimise the exposure of tourists to log trucks.'
They are part of the conclusions of our peak tourism industry body.
The Tourism Industry Council spoke of transport concerns. Their concerns are only the tip of the iceberg. Let us start with the local council closest to the project, the George Town Council. I will quote from parts of its review of transport arrangements for a mill:
'George Town Council is seriously concerned about the adequacy of some aspects of proposed transport arrangements for the pulp mill proposed by Gunns Limited to be developed just north of its existing wood chip plant in the southern area of Bell Bay ...
Rail cannot practically be used as the main carrier of mill input. In the short term it has limited capacity and in the long term timber input to the mill will tend to shift increasingly to plantations in the closer North East region which would be almost impossible to encourage onto rail.'
Yet the State Government says rail transport of logs is its first option. The George Town Council report further states:
'The pulp mill is designed to produce up to 1.1mt of pulp per year and this would require an input of 4mt of wood. The timber will be turned into woodchips for input to the mill.'
Ms Thorp - It already is.
Mr FINCH –
No, I am reading from the report of the George Town Council. It goes on:
'Gunns' adjacent woodchip mill has a current capacity of 2.5m/yr and currently produces about 2mt/yr.'
We are going from an input of a current 2.5 million tonnes a year of logs to an additional 4 million tonnes, so how many log trucks is that? The report for the George Town Council speaks of a peak of 67 trucks in an hour - that is more than one per minute. It simplifies the figure as 114 log truck movements per hour as the typically busiest hour, so that seems to be bumper-to-bumper trucks. To put the figures in another perspective, the traffic report speaks of a total of 374 vehicle movements an hour, 148 of them heavy vehicles including log trucks and the report says that even with a highly efficient rail delivery system it would only reduce the number of log trucks required by 14.6 per cent. So, Mr President, according to the report commissioned by the George Town Council there is a huge transport problem to be addressed.
As far as the main council in Rosevears is concerned, Mr President, it is seeking binding commitments from the Government to form part of any approval for the pulp mill. The West Tamar Council says it has concerns regarding the ability of State highways in the West Tamar area to safely cater for existing and future heavy traffic. At its meeting on 17 July, the council considered the transport impact of the proposed pulp mill following the release of the ITS Global report on the review of the social and economic benefits of the mill. The council says the evidence in the report understates the real impact of traffic as it only includes laden log trucks going to the mill site and not the returning unladen trucks, the chemical trucks and other smaller vehicles. It says the traffic impact is predicted to be generally at least twice that used by ITS Global in its evaluation, so if the West Tamar Council can quickly identify a flaw like that in the ITS Global report, Mr President, what other flaws are likely to be found?
The West Tamar Council says there is an urgent need to upgrade State highways in the area, regardless of whether or not the pulp mill goes ahead. It has made a formal request that the State Minister for Infrastructure take the following action: publicly accept that the most critical transport need is for the State Government to ensure the efficient and timely provision of transport infrastructure, both at the regional and local level, as detailed in the ITS Global report; accept the management response to transport issues detailed in the ITS Global report on the proposed pulp mill that there is a prime facie case for improvement to the State's road and rail infrastructure to accommodate prospective log truck demand; implement all possible measures to encourage the maximum use of rail transport to carry pulp logs to the mill; implement transport noise mitigation measures on heavy transport routes through residential areas, particularly in Exeter; commit funds for the major upgrading of the Batman Highway, West Tamar Highway - that is the Batman Highway to the Frankford Main Road - and the Frankford Main Road, including provision of overtaking lanes, widening of pavements, provision of sealed shoulders, painting of edge lines, upgrading of intersections and removing of tight corners; and immediately prepare a timetable for upgrading of the Batman Highway, West Tamar Highway and the Frankford Main Road to ensure that priority safety improvements are implemented before the commencement of the operation of the pulp mill, so that all major improvements are implemented by 2012. That is what the West Tamar Council wants as far as transport is concerned, Mr President.
Now I will move on to health and environmental concerns. The Australian Medical Association has said categorically that it believes particle emissions from the pulp mill will increase the number of deaths in the Tamar Valley from respiratory disease. That is a prediction based on available evidence, Mr President, and of course it is hard to come by facts when you are dealing with future business, but many of my constituents are worried about the possible effects on their health and that of their children. Arguments for the pulp mill have not allayed their fears. It is a bit like the process accompanying the release of a new drug in that the authorities have to assume that it could be dangerous until it is proved safe.
Ms Forrest - They do lots of testing with drugs, though, before they put them on the market.
Mr FINCH - Yes, but they do not come on the market until they are proved to be safe and that is what I am saying.
Mrs Jamieson - And then they withdraw some of them.
Mr FINCH - And they withdraw some of them, that is right. They stop them before they have been released.
Ms Forrest - Yes, but some are withdrawn after when they realise there are problems.
Mr FINCH - Yes, and then they shut the supply off and take them away. Please let me go on.
Ms Forrest - Sorry.
Mr FINCH - Fishing industry concerns. The Federal Environment minister who, despite media reports, said a few days ago that he has not approved the pulp mill with or without conditions, has serious concerns about the effect of the big tonnage of effluent that will be piped into Bass Strait every day, as does the Professional Fisherman's Association of Tasmania over the 73 million litres of effluent that would pour into Bass Strait each day the mill was operating. Let us hope that nothing occurs to stop us relishing our Tasmanian scallops.
The wine industry concerns can be summed up like those of the tourism industry as fear of public perception. Will people buy wine produced near a pulp mill with perceptions of pollution by emissions and effluent rather than from a clean environment? Will visitors sit around a cellar door sniffing a bouquet of sulphur and then buy a few cases of wine?
Mr Parkinson - Have they told what they spray their grapes with?
Mr FINCH - No.
Mr Parkinson - Have you asked them?
Mr FINCH - No.
Mr Parkinson - I will show you later.
Mr FINCH - You will tell me in your contribution to the debate, Mr Leader.
Regarding water use, the pulp mill will take about 76 megalitres of drinkable water from the Trevallyn Dam each day.
Mr Dean - It has not been treated at the time that Gunns take it.
Mr FINCH - Well, I drink it. In Riverside we drank an algal bloom that came from the Trevallyn Dam. So this 76 megalitres of drinking water is normally a small percentage of the flow from the South Esk, but what about in a drought year like the last one, when the flow was so slow, as I mentioned, member for Windermere, that the algal blooms tainted the water supplies to Riverside?
Mr Dean - But it is treated at the time that it goes through; it is chlorinated and all that. That is what I mean - you do not drink the raw water.
Mr FINCH - Did you get to smell it?
Mr Dean - It is still treated.
Mr FINCH - Well, it was not treated very well by the time the people had to smell it and drink it and shower in it. Can we allow so much drinking water to flow through a pulp mill and into Bass Strait with no attempt to recycle it in a country increasingly short of water?
I now turn to the Hampshire option. It is fair to say that many Tasmanians who oppose a pulp mill at Long Reach would not object to a mill away from population concentrations without those unique airshed problems of the Tamar Valley.
Mr Dean - Not in my backyard?
Mr FINCH - Sorry?
Mr Dean - You are right, continue.
Mr FINCH - My mother always told me when I had my mouth open I was not learning anything.
Members laughing .
Mr FINCH - However, I have done all my learning and now I am transferring that knowledge on to you.
Now, the Hampshire option. We have heard much about Hampshire as a site in the past few days and months, although it is acknowledged that Gunns prefer the Tamar site. However, there is a lot in favour of Hampshire apart from the environmental considerations. According to a forest industry consultant I have been speaking with, Gunns' preference for Long Reach is based partly on the feedstock for the mill, the wood resource. The Tasmanian public initially was led to believe that the proposed pulp mill would use mainly plantation timber. That has proved to be something of a furphy. In fact, Gunns would prefer to use native forest timber because they find it hard to find markets for native forest woodchips overseas. There is no problem selling plantation chips, so Gunns want to use mainly native forest chips in the pulp mill and continue exporting a maximum of plantation chips.
Mr Harriss - Who told you that?
Mr Parkinson - That's wrong.
Mr FINCH - The consultant's argument goes like this. If you listen you will hear my explanation for that.
Mr Harriss - I will not agree with it.
Mr FINCH - Okay, that is good.
For many years now Japanese woodchip customers have clearly stated they have a preference to purchase plantation-grown wood fibre - that is, woodchips - as opposed to fibre sourced from native forests. The reason behind this decision, Mr President, is based on both commercial reasons and on the adverse public perception of native forest logging that the Japanese paper industry has to deal with.
From an economic perceptive, paper mill customers prefer to purchase wood fibre that has a highest possible level of cellulose fibre - that is pulp yield in the wood - and plantation-growing wood contains a much higher level of fibre than wood from mixed-age native forests.
For some years now, Japanese customers have warned fibre suppliers, including Gunns, that they intend reducing the volume of native forests that they will be sourcing in future, and whilst there has been a considerable effort in trying to convince customers that native regrowth forest at least is really similar in ecological values to plantation-grown wood, the Japanese remain quite clear in their determination to source more plantation-grown wood.
As more and more plantation wood comes online throughout the world - South Africa and South America have vast and massively maturing volumes increasingly available - Australian native wood is finding it harder and harder to compete. As a result, alternative lower-price markets have been actively sought for this wood with some success in Indonesia and Taiwan. According to the consultants, Mr President, it is a reality, however, that a lot of forest industry jobs in Tasmania rely on the continuance of native forest logging. Native forests in Tasmania are managed on a sustainable basis, primarily for the supply of sawlogs, and the residues that are harvested as part of this process are directed to export as woodchips. If there is no market or a diminished market for native forests in the future, not only will Gunns suffer economically but so also will the hundreds of workers that depend on this industry. This is not simply about a transition of the industry from native forest to plantations, as some would believe. There will always be a need to find a market for native forest chips. If there is to continue to be a sawmilling industry, sawmillers need continual access to sustainably manage forests if they are to survive. Gunns and Forestry Tasmania are currently heavily dependent on native forests.
Gunns' Hampshire mill - the chip-mill - currently exports approximately 1.2 million green metric tonnes - GMT - of woodchips per annum, of which approximately 80 per cent is from plantations sourced, primarily, from Gunns' freehold land. At Gunns' Tamar mills approximately 2.2 million GMT per annum of chips are exported, of which about 20 per cent is plantation from a mixture of freehold, joint venture and private property purchase, the balance being native. That is a mixture of Forestry Tasmania and private wood.
At Gunns Triabunna, exports are in the order of 800 000 GMT per annum of chips with virtually all of this being native, again with a mixture from Forestry Tasmania and private. The Triabunna mill currently has one Japanese customer and as there is no ready accessible plantation wood in this region, the Triabunna mill will have challenges in maintaining this sales volume in the short to medium term. A reason, therefore, that Gunns may prefer to construct the proposed pulp mill at Bell Bay, Mr President, is for economic reasons - and it could be argued for social reasons also - they have a strong desire to keep Hampshire operating at full capacity, exporting plantation-grown fibre to Japan. As the majority of this wood comes from Gunns' freehold plantations, this is a most profitable business.
Clearly, for straight commercial reasons, they may prefer to see this mill continuing to generate cash and not have the wood directed to a pulp mill, as would be the case if the pulp mill was constructed at Hampshire.
A key to understanding the economics of export woodchips is that the cartage distance of logs to mills for processing must be kept to a minimum.
The average haul distance of not much more than 100 kilometres is considered highly desirable. Therefore carting native forest wood to Hampshire from the north-east Central Highlands and in the south is obviously not economic. Therefore it would make commercial sense for Gunns to continue to operate Hampshire on plantations and divert, at least over the next five years, the maximum amount of native wood into the pulp mill on the Tamar, whilst keeping the maximum amount of plantation wood possible for export. Although there may be some reluctance from international paper makers to purchase pulp derived from native forest, this resistance will be minor and a lot lower than that towards native forest chips, as the pulp yield issue is irrelevant once the chips are made into pulp.
The consultant says:
'In the short to medium term, Gunns ... will no doubt attempt to maximize the amount of native forest they put into the pulp mill, but as the north east plantation resources come on line, they will have the choice of exporting this wood in increasing volumes from their existing Tamar chip mills, or substitute it for native forest going into the pulp mill.'
Mr President, that is the background to Gunns' thinking as far as resource for the pulp mill is concerned. In a nutshell, it wants to base the mill on native forest chips, which are difficult to sell overseas, while keeping exporting plantation chips.
Some Tasmanians have the impression the mill was all about downstream processing of woodchips before they are exported. Apparently it is not the case. Gunns want to continue exporting plantation woodchips.
Mr Harriss - According to whom?
Mr FINCH - But what if it was to use more plantation timber for its pulp mill, as was suggested early in its proposal? There is a big plantation resource in the Hampshire region. What extra plantation or native forest timber is needed from the north-east could go to Hampshire by rail from Scottsdale, where a big handling yard could be constructed, employing people in an area where unemployment has recently been hard hit. An upgraded railway from Scottsdale to Hampshire would take thousands of log trucks off the roads. That is just one argument in favour of Hampshire. There would be other problems for Gunns or another pulp mill proponent, but they would not be insurmountable with perhaps some Federal Government help.
Here we are, Mr President, acting as pseudo-scientists, a statutory planning authority put into a position that could split Tasmania for years to come. I feel forced into a position where I have to make a decision about the future health and wellbeing of generations in the Tamar Valley. It is not a role I relish, Mr President.
One recent poll over the past few months suggested as many as 64 per cent of Tasmanian constituents are against the process for this pulp mill at Long Reach. There were 26 per cent who voted for and 10 per cent were undecided and I sympathise with them because it is very hard to make a decision on the confusing evidence available.
If we lump in those 10 per cent who are undecided with the 26 per cent who say that they are happy with the pulp mill, let us put them all in together, if we make a decision to approve this pulp mill, 36 per cent of our Tasmanian community will be happy. So if we vote for the pulp mill, 64 per cent of Tasmanians will never be happy.
There is no doubt, Mr President, that a substantial minority in my electorate would like to see a pulp mill established and believe the various arguments on its economic benefits. However, in this case, I am bound by the majority of those in my electorate who have grave doubts about the approval process and the proposal itself. I suggest it would be 70 per cent of my electorate of Rosevears. I cannot have on my conscience in the years to come the probably adverse effects on the environment in the Tamar Valley and the risk to my electors' health and mental welfare and their children's health. I do not like the way the handling of this issue has divided our Tasmanian community.
I cannot in all conscience say yes to permits for this project in this place.