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Pulp mill will cost clean, green jobs

THE Australian Greens, Prime Minister John Howard, Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon and federal Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd all agree that Gunns' proposed pulp mill must meet "world's best practice" environmental standards.

Lennon says: "A world-class pulp mill that meets tough environmental standards will make (the Tasmanian) economy much stronger."

Federal Labor's environment spokesman Peter Garrett says he supports a "world-class, best environment standards pulp mill".

The Greens support a plantation-based, chlorine-free, closed-loop pulp mill that doesn't use a Kraft (sulphur-based) pulping process.

And the Prime Minister committed $5million in taxpayers' money towards the costs associated with a "world-class total chlorine-free pulp mill" in Tasmania in June 2004.

To begin with, Gunns should repay that $5 million to Australian taxpayers. Its proposed pulp mill will use chlorine and it will log 200,000ha of native forests, reducing the habitat of rare and endangered species, including Tasmania's wedge-tailed eagle and the world's largest freshwater crayfish.

A University of Melbourne study shows that if the planned logging of Tasmania's northeast forests (the primary source for the pulp mill) goes ahead, the risk of Tasmania's giant wedge-tailed eagle becoming extinct there rises from 65 per cent to 99 per cent. Gunns' mill will pour the cancer-causing chemicals, furans and dioxins, into Bass Strait and pump more than 100million tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It will be denied "green power" accreditation for the electricity produced from its forest furnace. And it threatens the organic status of Tamar Valley vineyards and farms - as well as human health - so much that the Australian Medical Association opposes it. Clearly the Gunns pulp mill is not world's best practice, yet the Coalition and Labor still support it.

The Chief Scientist is due to report to Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull next week. The minister will make a decision by mid-October, potentially in the middle of the election campaign.

A national Galaxy poll found that voters oppose the mill in a two-to-one majority and, of those, 64 per cent say the issue will influence the way they vote. Lennon's popularity has slumped to 24 per cent in his own electorate.

The Greens and the old parties agree on a few other issues, such as the need to create jobs in Tasmania and for planning and development decisions to be made fairly and transparently. The Gunns pulp mill also fails these targets.

Since 2004, when forestry union flags waved in support of John "I'll save your jobs" Howard in Launceston, more than 300 jobs have been shed in the forestry industry. Gunns says its mill will create 284 permanent jobs for the forestry industry, but its odorous, carcinogenic emissions threaten many hundreds more jobs in the fishing, viticulture, agriculture and tourism industries. Why should Lennon be able to put existing jobs in clean, green industries at risk for fewer potential jobs in the logging industry?

Like Tamar Valley business owners, the Australian Greens support a diversified Tasmanian economy, not an economy that depends on one industry and one big-ticket, job-sparse project for its future. The cost-benefit analysis commissioned by a Tasmanian business round table found the mill could be a $3.3billion drain on business and government, after government subsidies and the costs to the health system and fishing, agricultural and tourism industries were taken into account.

Lennon promised Tasmanians a rigorous, independent assessment process, conducted by the Resource Planning and Development Commission. Instead his Government interfered with the RPDC, forcing two members - a pulp mill expert and the chairman - to quit.

The Premier then met the new chairman, former Supreme Court judge Christopher Wright, and asked him to finish the mill assessment process by the end of July.

Wright has accused Lennon of misleading parliament and hosting a fundamentally flawed assessment process.

In March, the RPDC decided Gunns' project information was "critically non-compliant". Gunns quit the RPDC, but Lennon announced a fast-track assessment using consultants to replace the RPDC. The consultants found the project could proceed with conditions laid out in permits. Gunns asked the Government to make more than a dozen changes to the operating permits and the Government acquiesced.

The Tasmanian Parliament - which, unlike Gunns, could make no amendments - passed the permits using its Labor-Liberal majority. If Tasmania were a Pacific island, the federal Government would withdraw its millions of dollars in government subsidies for Gunns' pulp mill because the farcical assessment process would not meet AusAID's principles of good governance.

Howard has declared that "the final decision to go ahead with the (pulp mill) project would be subject to all environmental considerations being fully satisfied". Gunns' pulp mill proposal for Tasmania's Tamar Valley is simply incapable of meeting that objective.

First published in The Australian

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