Australia

Posted: 24 May 2007 in Pulpmillwatch.org

Pulpmillwatch

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The woodchip industry in Australia and the proposed new pulp mills are focussed on the island state of Tasmania and the southeast of mainland Australia. Tasmania’s old-growth forests are ancient and unique in the world. The swamp gum tree (Eucalyptus regnans) is the world’s largest flowering plant and the tallest hardwood tree in the world. Tasmanian forests being converted to pulpwood plantations include areas of temperate rainforests that provide habitat for many rare and endangered animal species, including the famous Tasmanian Devil, that can be found nowhere else. [1]

These old-growth forests are logged for wood chips to be exported mainly to Japan to be made into paper. When the forest is logged, only the largest trees are removed. What’s left is piled up and burned. Huge clouds of smoke hang over Tasmania, sometimes for weeks. Then the land is sprayed with herbicide and carrots laced with 1080 poison are left between the rows of seedlings to kill any wildlife , which survived the destruction of the forest. The monoculture plantations established to provide wood for the pulp industry are sprayed with a cocktail of chemicals to control pests and weeds. As a result, some local communities’ water sources have become contaminated with atrazine. [2]

Australia plans to increase the area of industrial tree plantations in the country to three million hectares by the year 2020. Approved by the government in 1997, the report “Plantations for Australia: The 2020 Vision” was drawn up as a “strategic partnership between the Australian State and Territory Governments and the plantation timber growing and processing industry.”

In the five years after the 2020 Vision was launched, about 85,000 hectares a year were planted, mainly of eucalyptus. The government set up a system of tax benefits called the “managed investment scheme”.

Bill Manning worked as a forester in Tasmania for 32 years. His last forestry job was with the Forestry Practices Board, which regulates forestry practices in Tasmania. “From my extensive experience in the forestry industry,” he told a Senate Committee in 2003, the 2020 Vision has led, among other things, to “corruption of forest management in Tasmania such that there is no enforcement of this weakened code of forest practice and no silvicultural outcome other than the clear felling of native forest for plantation establishment of exotic introduced plantation species.”

Manning also testified to the Senate Committee that the logging industry was destroying native forests: “The clearfelling is out of control,” he said. “The scale of clearfelling in Tasmania is huge.” [3]

New pulp mills planned

Two massive pulp mills are currently being planned for Australia. If these are built, they will consume at least six million tonnes a year of wood.

  • For several years, an Australian investment company called Protavia has been planning to build two 350,000 tonnes a year pulp mills at Heywood and Penola in Victoria. In April 2007, RISI , an information provider for the pulp industry, reported that Protavia plans to drop the Heywood pulp mill scheme and build one mega-pulp mill in Penola. It is difficult to know how serious Protavia is about its pulp mill plans. Tim Woods, of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union told The Australian newspaper that “At every turn they [Protavia] have promised the mill would go ahead. A lot of people have planned their futures on that promise and Protavia let them do it, knowing they would get up and walk away.” [4] Woods described Protavia’s director John Roche as a “deal maker” and suggested that Protavia was fulfilling a public relations role by providing the illusion that the tax breaks for plantations were producing a larger, diversified industry. Meanwhile, the South Australian government has offered to draw up a special bill that would ignore planning laws and allow parliament to decide whether the larger pulp mill at Penola could go ahead. [5]
  • Gunns is planning to build a pulp mill with a capacity between 800,000 and 1.1 million tonnes a year near Launceston in Tasmania. The US$ 1.2 billion pulp mill is to be supplied by a mixture of wood from plantations and native forests. In its first year of operation, 80 per cent of the wood supplied to the pulp mill would come from Tasmania’s native forests.

Gunns’ proposed pulp mill would consume Tasmanian native forests

Sean Cadman, a forest campaigner with the Tasmanian Wilderness Society, points out that Gunns proposed mill would “consume millions of tonnes of native forest and dump millions of tonnes of pollutants into the ocean and air. Thousands of tonnes of hazardous chemicals will be produced, transported, stored and consumed.” The impact on Tasmania’s forests and wildlife of the increased logging associated with this massive pulp mill would be severe. “Gunns have been responsible for clearing huge areas of Tasmania’s native forests and converting native forest including rainforests to monoculture plantations,” says Cadman. The endangered Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle needs mature native forest to nest and breed. “If the planned logging goes ahead,” says Cadman, “the eagle will be driven further along the path towards extinction.”

In March, 2007, Gunns withdrew its application from the Resource Planning and Development Committee, arguing that the approval process was taking too long. Gunns then petitioned the government to create new legislation to avoid the assessment procedure. Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon agreed and put a “Pulp Mill Assessment Bill 2007” to parliament specifically to allow Gunns to bypass state planning legislation , which requires that large-scale developments minimise environmental damage.

Parliament passed the bill and agreed to fast-track the approval process. The government appointed Finnish consulting firm SWECO PIC to carry out an assessment of the proposed pulp mill by 30 June 2007. The process will involve no input from the public, but will cost Tasmanian taxpayers US$ 625,000.

Tasmania’s Minister for Planning, Steven Kons states that SWECO PIC “has been serving the pulp and paper industry since 1971”. This is precisely the problem – SWECO PIC is not independent from the pulp industry. If SWECO PIC decides that the project can go ahead, several of its past (and potential future) clients stand to win lucrative contracts supplying equipment and services to the pulp mill. If the project doesn’t go ahead as a result of SWECO PIC’s report to the Tasmanian government, SWECO PIC is in effect depriving its own clients of work – and the probability of future contracts for itself.

Since resigning from the Resource Planning and Development Committee, Warwick Raverty has become an outspoken critic of the proposed pulp mill. Raverty has nothing against pulp mills in general, having worked for 20 years in the pulp industry before joining CSIRO in 2000. However, he is concerned about the approval process for the proposed mill. Speaking in a private capacity, he told freelance writer Roger Hanney that he’s “not impressed” with the selection of SWECO PIC as consultants [6]. “One of the mills that they designed equipment for is the now infamous Arauco Valdivia bleached kraft pulp mill in Chile which has had to be shut because it polluted wetlands and caused mass killings of swans,” he said.


Footnotes

[1] “Trees not Gunns”, Rainforest Action Network. http://www.treesnotgunns.org

[2] Richard Flanagan (2007) “Paradise Raised”, Sunday Telegraph , 21 April 2007.

[3] “Plantation forests industry”, Proof Committee Hansard Senate, Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee, Canberra. 8 October 2003.

[4] Roberts, Jeremy (2007) “Town devastated as pulp mill project dumped”, The Australian, 20 April 2007.

[5] Neales, Sue (2007) “SA gets a Tassie-like mill battle”, Mercury , 10 April 2007.

[6] “Interview with Dr Warwick Raverty”, 17 April 2007.


Further Reading

Tasmanians Against the Pulpmill
Trees not Gunns
Wilderness Society
Tasmanian Times
World Rainforest Movement

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