Gunns, Cousins, Wood and Turnbull

Well, the story of the pulp mill proposed by Gunns in the state of Tasmania in Australia is the story of many names, environmental issues, political plots and cost-benefit analysis.

Starting with the names. Gunns is proposing the cleanest and greenest pulp mill in the world. Wood is the owner and millionaire founder of wotif.com; one of most successful internet travel site. Cousins was the politicial consultant to John Howard, the prime minister of Australia for a decade and is the Government-appointed member of the Telstra board. He also sits on big company boards like Seven Network and IAG. Turnbull is the $125 million  (2005, BRW) worth businessman turned Environmental minister of the Howard
government.

Gunns proposed a pulp mill in Tasmania which was fast tracked by the Premier of Tasmania and the Federal government along with the approval of the Labour opposition. With Labour losing 3 marginal seats in the 2004 election in Tasmania over its timber policy; current opposition leader Kevin Rudd was not ready to sacrifice the seats.

However, what changed in the entire game is the combination of big and small businessmen along with the Greens to campaign against the proposed Gunns mill.

Gunns is proposing to build the greenest pulp mill in the world in the beautiful Tamar Valley, north of the city of Launceston. I visited Tasmania last Christmas and Launceston is a beautiful town. Tasmania as a whole has one of the most well preserved natural beauty in Australia. And tourists like myself are a big growth industry.

As the Australian explains: While zoned industrial, the Long Reach site is on the Tamar Valley wine route, renowned for its world-class cool-climate wines and successful tourist industry built on fine food and quality produce.

With Cousins joining Wood and others in this campaign it is becoming one set of businessman against another busieness. And why is this happening?

However Tasmania’s peak wine group, Wine Industry Tasmania, which has a Gunns representative on its board, has bluntly warned the mill’s allowable emission of odours and air pollutants threaten to “devastate” the region’s 27 vineyards, visited by 150,000 tourists each year.

Tasmania’s peak fishing body, the Fishing Industry Council, has made similar dire predictions about northern rock lobster, abalone, scallop and shark fisheries if dioxins contaminate seafood stock.

Both industries are frantically lobbying Turnbull and the Upper House to ensure, at the very least, Gunns faces automatic fines and mill shutdown if it breaches the guidelines. But such controls appear absent from the state permit conditions.

Adding the 150,000 tourists who visit this area every year, this becomes a significant business issue for all those involved there. Interestingly, the only cost-benefit analysis conducted on the pulp mill has concluded negatively against the mill.

Gunns claims the mill, which will create 290 full-time jobs once fully operational, will add $6.7 billion, or 2.5 per cent to the Tasmanian economy and an additional $894 million in extra tax revenue between 2008 and 2030.

The roundtable assessment – the only cost-benefit study done on the project – concludes Gunns has double-counted the tax benefits and failed to show $847.3 million in subsidies to the project. It puts dollar figures on impacts predicted by the tourism and fishing industries and health impacts of emissions predicted by the Australian Medical Association.

“If you add up risks to health and other (local) industries, plus the costs and subsidies, the total is $3.3 billion,” it concludes. “On a range of realistic scenarios, the pulp mill project may cause an economic loss to the state. The proposed mill does not represent sustainable development for Tasmania.”

The entry of Cousins is significant in this as he is taking this to Turnbull’s marginal seat in the coming Federal elections in Sydney.

Yesterday he (Cousins) told The Australian that he and others planned a campaign in Mr Turnbull’s eastern Sydney seat of Wentworth to inform voters about the minister’s “total cop-out” in approving the mill, which he said would devastate Tasmania’s tourism industry.

“A number of us are looking very carefully at Malcolm Turnbull’s failure to handle this matter in what we think is the appropriate way,” Mr Cousins said.

A bigger story was published in the Telegragh which calls it “Paradise Razed”.

On the Australian island of Tasmania, primeval forests are being felled and then napalmed, protected species poisoned, and water sources contaminated with pesticide – all to satisfy a rapacious logging industry, and all with the blessing of the government. Richard Flanagan reports on an ongoing saga of greed, corruption, political cowardice and ecological catastrophe.

It needs to be seen what happens in the end, but with the fight between the big names out in the open it is a very different ecological campaign.

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One thought on “Gunns, Cousins, Wood and Turnbull

  1. Pingback: The Turnbull Saga « World is Green

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