Some very important explanatory background info has just been presented by Warwick Raverty – principal scientific adviser on the Resource Planning Development Commission (RPDC) Assessment Panel for the Gunns proposal – in an article for New Matilda. The science is difficult…maybe this is why the details haven’t ‘come out’ in the media… a bit hard for non-scientists to digest?
The cleanest, greenest kraft mills exist in environmentally conscious nations: Sweden, Germany, Finland. The best mill — in Stendal, Germany — was built between 2002-5 by a private company, Mercer International, using a € 250 million government subsidy that enabled it to be built in an area of high unemployment, plentiful plantation forests and low population density. Mercer’s mill is exactly one half the size of the one proposed by Gunns.
Many inconvenient truths indicate that this German paradigm is highly appropriate as we enter the 21st century.
Misguided economic rationalism has forced many industries into direct conflict with environment and communities and the pulp industry is no exception. We all use lots of paper — it’s just as essential to developed societies as electricity, public transport, ports and health services; all of which are subsidised for the public good with taxpayers’ money.
Likewise, kraft mills are legitimate infrastructure. They rely on public assets like sustainably managed native forests, groundwater for plantation forests, public fresh water for processing, oceans to accept highly treated, non-toxic wastewaters and the atmosphere to disperse and biodegrade unavoidable fugitive odours.
The cost differences between a pulp mill at the ideal location of Hampshire and the totally unsuitable site in the Tamar Valley should therefore become the first beneficiary of John Howard’s Infrastructure Fund (and Kevin Rudd’s equivalent). Subsidy of the additional wood transport costs identified by Gunns would create more jobs for Tasmanian forestry workers, who justifiably fear unemployment and a diminished future.
Federal subsidies would only be needed for 15 of the mill’s 100-year lifetime. Local plantations could then meet the mill’s total requirement.
Federal intervention with well-directed subsidies would demonstrate ‘aspirational nationalism’ and visionary leadership at their best.
The involvement of influential, fair-minded people like Geoff Cousins, Leo Schofield, Rebecca Gibney, David Williamson and the other 120 Australians of note who have signed an advertisement asking Minister Turnbull to insist on the most stringent assessment available, is very welcome. It shows that grass-roots democracy is alive and well in Australia and that people on the mainland will actively support people in Tasmania who have been fighting the ugly aspects of this issue since November 2004.
It is now time for our politicians at both Federal and State levels to respond to this call. Prime Minister Howard’s pronouncement that ‘Australians are interested in good outcomes, not theories of government’ is even more applicable to a pulp mill that will last 100 years or more than it is to a small regional hospital. A project of national significance like a giant chemical pulp mill needs rigorous assessment and sensitive siting. If government subsidy is required to achieve that, so be it.
Australia should model itself more on the forward-thinking nations of Europe and less on the ‘head-in-the sand’ attitudes of the Tasmanian Labor Government.
Between January 2005 and December 2006, Warwick Raverty served on the RPDC Assessment Panel for the Gunns proposal as principal scientific adviser. He has 27 years experience as a scientist in the pulp and paper industry. The opinions expressed in his article are his own personal views and do not reflect the views of his present employer, CSIRO.