Image for Kelty’s Claytons moratorium not the worst of it

The TCT supports the Huon Valley Environment Centre’s withdrawal from the Forests Statement of Principles (FSoP) discussions, because of the state government’s failure to deliver a true moratorium to stop logging of high conservation value forests (HCVF).

The TCT did not endorse the FSoP in October 2010 for a range of reasons, including that it ignored the need for conservation of biodiversity rich forests on private land and it did not exclude Gunns Tamar Valley pulp mill proposal. One positive in the FSoP was that it promised the protection of many HCVFs in wilderness areas, however this hope seems to be more unrealistic than ever.

Bill Kelty’s 11 March statement recommended a Claytons moratorium for six months, allowing Forestry Tasmania (FT) to continue logging in HCVF, including many wilderness areas. In the absence of a state government commitment, the Kelty statement fails to guarantee that FT will permanently protect a single hectare of forests after six months. No deal will deliver permanent protection unless the state government instructs FT, in writing, to do so (as required by law). The government’s only instructions to FT, Bryan Green’s 9 March letter, merely orders them to talk with conservation groups about a moratorium.

Minister Green’s letter makes it perfectly clear that FT is not obliged to reserve any forests or cease logging in any HCVF, is not bound by Kelty’s six-month deadline and FT is left to decide which forests are HCV.

So, what is the state government committed to? The letter to FT repeated its long-held commitment to maintain wood supply to industry and not to force buy-backs of licences. It also supports Gunns’ Tamar Valley pulp mill.

It appears that the state government will consider protection of forests only if a logging company wants to sell back their wood licences, and Gunns is the only logging company considering selling its licences. So the ‘forests for the pulp mill’ is the only deal on offer by the government.

Given the incomplete and corrupted process that lead to Gunns pulp mill approval by the state government, the TCT opposes such a deal and urges all other conservation groups to explicitly oppose it. Instead, we should follow the Huon Valley Environment Centre’s lead and call on the state government to make a meaningful commitment to protect HCVF while also seeking amendment of the FSoP to state that Gunns Tamar Valley pulp mill is not supported.

• Christine Milne, The Senate, Hansard:

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (1.29 pm)—As I stand here in the Senate today, Tasmania’s forests are still falling. That may well be news to people around Australia who have been hearing that there is a negotiation going on between the logging industry and the environment movement about ending the logging of high conservation value forests in Tasmania and that there had been an expectation that a moratorium would be in place by 15 March. It has not occurred. The logging goes on. It is absolutely disingenuous to say you have a moratorium when you continue to log coupes in identified high conservation areas and then pretend that somehow progress is being made. It is a real concern that what we have in Tasmania is the moratorium you have when you are not having a moratorium.

Worse still, as we continue to see these magnificent forests falling, are the reports in the media today suggesting that Mr Bill Kelty, who has been appointed as the mediator or to report on the status of the talks, has suddenly put the pulp mill on the table as being the price for conservation of forests in Tasmania. That was not, is not now and will never be acceptable. When the forest principles document was signed, it said there could be one pulp mill in Tasmania. There was a specific understanding between all parties that that was not the Gunns pulp mill in the Tamar Valley.

Senator Brown and I put out a statement last night making it very clear that we do not support the Gunns pulp mill and that it is wrong to now try and lob it into the middle of these talks, suggesting that forest protection is conditional on the Gunns pulp mill. It is not and it will not be. We will not be accepting that pulp mill.

I will explain why, especially in the light of the fact that this has been going on for seven years. People have lost sight of what the people in the Tamar Valley have had to put up with over that time—in fact, what all of Tasmania has had to put up with over that time. Gunns proposed in 2004 that they would build a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley. They said it would be 100 per cent plantation based. They said it would be totally chlorine free. Those two promises were made at the very start by John Gay, who was both the chairman of the board and the CEO of the company in 2004. That was the pledge at the time. The Tasmanian government then fell into line very quickly and ran around with their pulp mill task force. They appointed Bob Gordon from Forestry Tasmania to the task force to go out and run a propaganda campaign supporting the mill on behalf of Gunns.
Bob Gordon actually went on the radio and said that because there was an inversion layer in the Tamar Valley in the wintertime, which we all know, the stacks from the pulp mill would be so high that they would go up above the inversion layer and the pollution would go out into the atmosphere and not be trapped under the inversion layer in the wintertime—a patently stupid comment to make, but he made it in that capacity at that time. At the time he also said that there was no doubt that the effluent that would spew out of the pulp mill into Bass Strait would disperse. His logic and evidence for that was from a then recent shipwreck in Tasmania from which the lifeboats washed up somewhere on Flinders Island. He said that proved that the pulp mill effluent would disperse. That is the kind of nonsense we had to put up with in Tasmania at the beginning of the process. It was so bad that the chair of the RPDC, the appropriate body for assessing the pulp mill, wrote to the Premier at the time, Premier Lennon, and said, ‘Stop your task force going out there spreading propaganda. It is jeopardising a proper assessment of the process.’ That is how bad it was.

So I was amused when I saw the Australian taking exception to my statement that the Tasmanian government was a company quisling. Let me tell you that it certainly is a company quisling. There has never been a time when Gunns has said, ‘Jump’ and the government has failed to jump accordingly. They have never stood up to Gunns. Even former Premier Bartlett’s famous ‘line in the sand’ was washed away pretty quickly when Gunns insisted it be washed away.

Right back in 1989, there was a consultant’s report that said that the Tamar Valley was unsuitable for a pulp mill for two reasons: (1) that the atmospheric inversion in the wintertime would trap the emissions from the mill and cause pollution of the valley, and (2) that Bass Strait off the Tamar is too shallow to be able to achieve the dispersion and dilution that is necessary for the effluent. That is why it was unacceptable in 1989 and nothing about the depth of Bass Strait or the topography of the Tamar Valley has changed in that time. What has changed is the desperation of Gunns to get a pulp mill up. They wanted it there because of the transport economics. That is all it is about. It is not about the amenity of the Tamar Valley at all. They imposed that pulp mill on the Tamar because their economics wanted it there and they tried to fit up the environmental conditions to make it acceptable. We know this now from leaked documents that have become available. One of these leaked documents says:

The process is critical to the defence of the Bell Bay site. If we are seen to be pushing flimsy arguments I believe there is a real risk you could be asked to better justify the choice of sites (ie undertake a detailed site selection process) which will result in additional costs and time delays. The site selection documentation is already significantly deficient in what is required in the Guidelines, given that a detailed assessment process did not take place. We only have some flora and fauna memos, a heritage memo and a very brief desktop report conducted by JP to substantiate the claim that Bell Bay is the preferred site.
The leaked document goes on to say that the documentation falls well short of guideline requirements and:

Drawing attention to these deficiencies would not be beneficial.

No, indeed it would not. It would tell the community there was never a proper assessment of the site in the first place.

In fact these documents say:

As Tony Dale and Julian Green have repeatedly stated, Addressing Section 5 (Site Selection) of the Guidelines is a critical requirement … The assessment process undertaken and documented by Gunns falls well short of the Guideline requirement and assessment which would be typically undertaken for such a project. By tampering or attempting to enhance that process you run a serious risk of jeopardising the validity of the site selection and consequently threatening the project approvals.

Assurance That No Ultimatums Issued
Nick McKim MP
Greens Leader

The Tasmanian Greens today said that they had sought clarification from Bill Kelty, the facilitator of the Forest Principles of Agreement implementation process, about reported statements that environmental signatories involved in the talks had been issued an ultimatum-style directive over the proposed Gunns’ Tamar Valley pulp mill.

Greens Leader Nick McKim MP said he had received an assurance that no such directive had been issued to environment groups, or any of the signatories, either privately or publicly.

Mr McKim also said that the most appropriate independent process to provide the community with a proper avenue to express their views on any industrial scale development proposal was the Resource Planning and Development Commission process which Gunns Ltd pulled out of four years ago.

“Mr Kelty has assured me personally that he has not issued any ultimatums to anyone participating in these talks, and that ongoing discussions are occurring within the signatories,” Mr McKim said.

“The Greens have stated consistently that the Gunns‘ Tamar Valley pulp mill proposal should be determined outside this process.”

“The only way that Gunns could hope to obtain any form of community support for their pulp mill proposal, which is clearly absent at the moment, is for the company to resubmit it back to the state’s independent planning body, the Tasmanian Planning commission, which was previously the RDPC.”

“It would also be consistent with the Statement of Principles objective to support down-stream processing for alternatives to this mill proposal also being assessed by an independent body such as the TPC.”
“We will wait to see the Interim Report due shortly which we believe should be made public at the earliest opportunity,” Mr McKim said.