Christine Milne addressed the press in Hobart to respond to the announcement by Gunns that it has entered administration, and responded to questions on other issues of the day.
Subjects: Gunns, Tasmanian economy, Chinese investment, Australian Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness society, Tony Abbott's defence policy
CHRISTINE MILNE: Eight year ago Gunns announced it was building a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley in Tasmania. It has now gone into administration. There will be no pulp mill in the Tamar Valley in Tasmania. It is wrong to roll out false hope to the people who wanted a pulp mill or to punish those who don't want the pulp mill by suggesting that there is any hope that this project will be revived. Tasmanians really have to learn from the demise of the Gunns pulp mill. You can't keep on pretending that by doing deals with politicians who will bend the rules about assessment and imagine that you are going to get community support for a project. It won't happen. Tasmania has to get beyond the idea that a great big white elephant is going to come across the horizon and a one project wonder is going to drive the state economy and make people's lives better and create hundreds of jobs. The best way forward for Tasmania now is to look at what are our advantages in the world and our environment is clearly one of those. We've got a great reputation for clean, green and clever, we now have to invest in science, in innovation, in new technology, in small businesses, all of the things that will create resilience, that will have a great brand for Tasmania and about which the community can be excited and proud. That's the lesson of the demise of Gunns, that's the way forward. This project really died the day that Paul Lennon pulled it out of the assessment process and started to completely change the rules. The community lost any faith that there would be a proper environmental analysis and as details leaked out, as systems changed, as claims about whether the feedstock would be native forest or plantation forest all changed, people gave up on it and people in the Tamar Valley have been punished long enough. This is it, this is over, great future for the Tamar Valley, but not a pulp mill.
JOURNALIST: So is this a win for those that have opposed the pulp mill for so long?
CHRISTINE MILNE: The beneficiaries of Gunns going into administration are in fact those businesses in Tasmania which are going to go and flourish on the back of clean, green and clever Tasmania. Nobody likes to see a Tasmanian business going to administration. I think a lot of people were proud of the fact that Gunns was a Tasmanian company and had grown from a small company to the position that it held but it went off the rails. Gunns lost sight of the fact that to be a successful business now you have to embrace the triple bottom line, you have to actually value environmental integrity, you have to go out and talk to communities and bring them with you, you have to respect what the environmentalists are saying about forests and biodiversity. They lost all that, they threw in their lot with the political process that they thought they could do deals behind closed doors and ignore the community. That's where they went wrong, that's what we have to learn from. We actually learnt that lesson I thought after the Wesley Vale campaign where exactly the same thing happened and it's probably no surprise that Robin Gray who was the premier at the time of the Wesley Vale campaign went on to the board of Gunns, they made the same mistakes twice, let's not do it again.
JOURNALIST: I imagine that Gunns would say that yourself and other Greens and environmental groups have played a role in their downfall. What would be your response to that?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well the Greens and the environment groups together with the community in the Tamar Valley have struggled very hard to campaign against this pulp mill. It was a bad project for Tasmania. It would have polluted the Tamar Valley, it would have undermined our tourism industry, it would have undermined the small businesses there. We all know that that project should never have been put there in the first place. You cannot pretend that the emissions from the pulp mill would not have polluted the Tamar Valley. You can't pretend the emissions and the effluent going into Bass Strait would not have polluted Bass Strait. Of course they would have. I think Tasmanians ought to look at this and think well thank goodness that's over, this is an opportunity for a new start, and this time let's make what we pursue good for Tasmania, good for jobs, build diversity, build resilience, they're all the good things that we can do for Tasmania and the Greens and the environment movement and the people in Tamar Valley are very keen to put our shoulders to the wheel to make sure that happens.
JOURNALIST: The Premier said this doesn't mean that the pulp mill is dead, are you concerned that someone else might pick up the project and take it on?
CHRISTINE MILNE: The Premier saying that the pulp mill is not dead is just ridiculous. It is over, Gunns has gone into administration and whilst she might have done a deal with the opposition in Tasmania to see that they can sell the approval permit to somebody else, doesn't take into account that the company Gunns wrote off the whole project in its financial accounts. No one actually looking at winding up this company is going to find any value in an approval permit for which there is no social license. Anyone looking at Gunns would look at the history of what happened to that company when it took on the community and tried to abuse proper process. It lost and ended up in administration. This pulp mill permit has no value. Lara Giddings is misleading the Tasmanian people and she should stop it. It isn't good for those who wanted the pulp mill and is not good for those who didn't want the pulp mill. I think the most sensible thing to do and the most statesperson thing to do would be just to simply say as I'm doing now, let's put a line under this, let's learn from it and let's actually now make a renewed effort together to build the kind of businesses, the kind of economy, the new jobs in Tasmania that will be long-lasting, resilient and a network of small to medium-sized businesses across the state.
JOURNALIST: Is this only about the pulp mill, what about job losses and shareholder losses with the other businesses?
CHRISTINE MILNE: I certainly have a great deal of sympathy for people who may be losing their jobs across Tasmania as the business is wound up, no one really knows the extent of that at the moment, it's premature to comment except to say that we will be doing everything that we can do to support them and to be able to create the kinds of job that they may be able to go into. So everybody recognises that there is a real cost to this but those people should look to the board of Gunns, they should look to the way Gunns conducted itself throughout this entire pulp mill project. Gunns actually put all its eggs in one basket and it jeopardised the jobs, the livelihoods, the well-being of all of its employees across its networks, throwing the lot into the pulp mill basket, it was a white elephant, it couldn't survive the high dollar, it couldn't survive the cyclical nature of pulp and paper globally and it certainly couldn't survive community opposition. So the real culprits here in terms of putting people's jobs at risk are actually the board and the management of Gunns who made some seriously bad decisions.
JOURNALIST: What does it mean for these workers though? Where are they going to go now?
CHRISTINE MILNE: It's too early to say what will happen with the administrators and the winding up of the company but of course we're all mindful of the fact that it will mean people will lose jobs around Tasmania. How many is yet unclear. But it's up to all of us, and I'm sure I can speak for all members of Parliament in this regard, to do everything we can to not only support people in the transition but try to make sure that we can now come together and create the kind of long-term jobs in Tasmania that will support communities and make us more resilient.
JOURNALIST: You talk about the positive investments that Tasmania could have and a bright future but we don't see it do we, the pulp mill was pretty much the only major project on the books. Tasmania's open, they say Tasmania isn't necessarily open for business because they see the criticism towards projects such as the pulp mill, so where is this bright new future that you talk about?
CHRISTINE MILNE: The bright new future for Tasmania is everywhere if you look for it. Just look at the investment we have had in the food and beverage sector for example. Tasmania is now known as the epicure state capital of the nation. People talk about MONA, people are flying into Tasmania just for the weekend in order to go to MONA and then that has flow on effects through the hospitality sector here in Hobart. If you go and look around the state you see people are investing in value adding in the rural sector, people are investing in information businesses, they're investing in the arts, they're investing in all kinds of tourism ventures. We need to get behind all of those small business ventures. Here in Hobart we've got a fantastic science hub, we need to be the gateway to Antarctica, that's something we can all get behind and the Greens are arguing very strongly in Canberra for more money to support this whole science hub. We need a diversified economy, an economy that is based on a range of businesses that actually value the environment, see where we are strategically relative to Antarctica, take up our clean, green image in terms of our food and beverage products, we have got a bright future in this state but we cannot compromise our future on the one big project coming over the horizon. That has failed us endlessly, we must not go down that path again.
JOURNALIST: Where do you see this impacting on the forest industry as a whole, going forward, the demise of Gunns?
CHRISTINE MILNE: I think clearly the demise of Gunns accelerates the need for the restructure of Forestry Tasmania, we have to make sure that any forest industry in Tasmania is based on downstreaming the existing plantation estate. We now need to get on with protecting our high conservation value forests, making sure that any forestry projects in the future are clever, sustainable, resilient and managed appropriately and I think what we've seen from Forestry Tasmania and from Gunns is a litany of bad decisions and debt. We want to get out of that cycle and build a completely different industry for the future.
JOURNALIST: Christine, you were talking about investment earlier but Lara Giddings has actually compared you to Barnaby Joyce for opposing Chinese investment in dairy, what's your reaction to that?
CHRISTINE MILNE: I think the Premier needs to inform herself a little bit better about the global trends occurring with the purchase of agricultural land and water. The issue here is that foreign investment in agriculture has been in Australia for a very long time but those investments have been in a market-based economy, the sense has been that people have bought in and have traded in the economy in the way that everybody always had previously. However that all changed when after the 2008 food crisis countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and China realised that they couldn't buy food because other countries were banning the export of grain. The result is China, the Saudis, Qatar are now outsourcing their food production to Australia, to Africa, hundreds of thousands of hectares around the world are being bought up, water licences are being bought up, not to trade on the international market, not to make food available to everyone in the world, but simply to get it home to the home country when food shortages occur. You have to ask what is that going to do to distort the markets in Australia? What is it going to do to land prices in the long-term? Is it in the national interest? Now I think the Premier resorting to insulting remarks is just seriously ill-informed and unhelpful. Let's get real about what's in the national interest and let's take into account the global trends about which even the food and agriculture organisation globally is concerned.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Wilderness Society and the ACF have betrayed the environmental movement by writing a letter to customers of Tassie's wood products?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Well I don't think it's very helpful to see the environment movement split in the final month or so of negotiations to try and get a good outcome for the protection of Tasmania's high conservation value forests. My entire focus is to get legislation through this Parliament that protects our high conservation value forests once and for all. Having said that though I cannot see why ACF and TWS wrote to Ta Ann's customers and undermine the work that is Markets for Change, Huon Valley Environment Centre and other forestry groups have been doing over some time. In fact anyone knows in a negotiation the leverage you have in the negotiation is as a result of the hard work of activists out in the forests, and I think ACF and TWS would have been better to remember that.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the State Government may have played a hand in the letter?
CHRISTINE MILNE: I have no idea about the role of the State Government, the role of the signatories in sending the letter. Clearly the forest industry wants the conservation movement to back the ongoing sale of high conservation value timbers by Ta Ann but the environment movement has no interest in that.
JOURNALIST: Sounds as though you're saying that perhaps they were manipulated or forced into it in some way.
CHRISTINE MILNE: I haven't been part of the negotiations, I've got no idea what goes on in the rooms, in those negotiations but I don't think it was wise to write such a letter because we need to get our high conservation value forests protected, that is the objective of every environmentalist inside and outside the talks.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you a quick a quick question Christine on Tony Abbott's defence policy. Do you -
CHRISTINE MILNE: I haven't actually heard it but -
JOURNALIST: Oh it's a general question on whether or not you think it's a priority for the budget, he's talking about real growth spending in defence and also the use of drones for surveillance on the north coast.
CHRISTINE Milne: I think Tony Abbott ought to actually explain to Australians where he's going to get the money from for his expanded defence force and exactly what the role of drones is going to be. Tony Abbott talks a lot about how he's going to spend money, he never explains where he's going to get it from. There's already a $70 billion black hole in the Coalition's costings, they're running away from Parliamentary Budget Office scrutiny of any of their costings going into our election next year so it's all very well to talk up military spending but where is he going to get the money from if he supposedly abolishes the carbon price for example? Where is he going to get the money from for national disability insurance? What's he going to do about education spending? Pretty typical of the Coalition to talk up increased military spending, what about the social spending that this nation really depends on into the future and there's no greater priority there than investing in education, research and training, innovation.
JOURNALIST: So the idea of defence funding being a matter of real growth you don't support?
CHRISTINE MILNE: Before you talk up the idea of increasing defence funding you need to explain to people what exactly it's for. What is Australia's defence force going to do under Tony Abbott with his slavish adherence to an increased defence budget? Let's hear from him what he intends to do with the defence forces before he starts talking about exactly how much more money he intends to spend on it.