Hello, and welcome to Spring! I'm finishing off my project this weekend before getting back to Webdiary, but just couldn't resist posting this transcript - an interview between Charles Wooley and the PM on the pulp mill. How tricky is this for our tricky PM?
Last election campaign he planted a story with his little mate Dennis Shanahan that he would announce a policy to save Tassie's old growth forests. In the last week Latham announced he would save them with an $800 million transition plan for logging workers and communities. Howard then become the logging workers friend, saved a few trees and gave them carte blanche to cut down the rest. Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull's in deep shit in Wentworth - businessman Geoffrey Cousins is campaigning against him on the mill, which has already seen him extend his 'Yes, Gunns' approval process from 10 days to six weeks. In the middle of the election campaign, most probably.
This is a game of patient, super stakes chess. Under Howard's tip toe - bolds are my emphasis, Wooley's interview of Howard is probably the most brilliant I've read - answers from Labor's environment man Peter Garrett to questions from Crikey published in its subscriber email yesterday (subscription recommended).
Who will blink first?
Please feel free to post relevant links. I haven't got time right now...
WOOLEY: The Premier of Tasmania is saying that if you delay the decision on the pulp mill until after the election it might put the kybosh on the project entirely.
PRIME MINISTER: Well I want the pulp mill to go ahead, provided...
PRIME MINISTER: It's up to scratch environmentally. I want to make it very clear that I am in favour of the pulp mill. The Federal Government in fact has provided a lot of, we put five million dollars in right at the beginning for the feasibility study and we've indicated a willingness to provide other assistance, so I don't know where Mr Lennon's getting this idea that we're in some way against the pulp mill. All we are wanting to do is to make sure that it stacks up environmentally, and...
WOOLEY: Are you, like Malcolm Turnbull, somewhat disquieted by the manner in which the Tasmanian Government has driven this project?
PRIME MINISTER: Well certainly the speed with which the Tasmanian Government dealt with it, whilst very pleasing to the industry and I understand that and I'm sympathetic to a degree obviously to their position because we're supporting it, on the other hand if you don't look as though you've got a completely transparent process, it does leave you open to criticism from people who are trying to stop the pulp mill, and the argument that's being used by people like Mr Cousins and others is that the process has not been transparent and what Turnbull is doing, correctly in my opinion, is making sure that the procedure to check it out environmentally is followed carefully, now he did say that he was going to give it to the Chief Scientist.
WOOLEY: Yes, Jim Peacock.
PRIME MINISTER: And said that some weeks ago, it's ridiculous if you say you're going to give it to the Chief Scientist to make a decision before the Chief Scientist has reported to you.
WOOLEY: And, and in the case of Jim Peacock, he's not the kind of bloke that could be leaned on to speed things up a bit.
PRIME MINISTER: I know Jim Peacock well and he's got great scientific and professional independence and if somebody tried to lean on him and say look Jim, you know, hurry this up and give us the answer we want, I mean, he would tell you to get lost.
PRIME MINISTER: And that is precisely what the situation is, so I, I think that everybody should take a deep breath, they should understand that our, my and our essential position is that we support the pulp mill and I want people to know that, but we've got to be satisfied that is stacks up environmentally. We have our own process to follow, we're not going to automatically follow the process mandated by the Tasmanian Government yet.
WOOLEY: No but PM, I, I mean, been through this a few times and covered them in other countries too, I mean, I suspect what's going to happen is Jim Peacock is going to come back and say well this isn't acceptable and that isn't, you're going to have to spend more money and you can't put that much of these dioxins or [inaudible] or whatever the chemicals are into Bass Strait, in which case the company may well say well we're going to take our bat and ball and go home.
PRIME MINISTER: Well I don't know what Jim's going to report and I'm certainly not going to speculate, but I do want...
WOOLEY: But if he doesn't just rule off on everything Gunns wants, would that worry you then, that the whole project might be lost?
PRIME MINISTER: What would worry me would be if we didn't have a proper process ( Margo: Excuse me???) and that the noisy opposition to any pulp mill anywhere succeeds. I hear that some people are saying ‘oh you should build it somewhere else'. Well I've heard that sort of thing before, I've heard, because what then happens is that the people who are opposed to it no matter where it's going to be built, find reasons why it shouldn't be built in the alternative...
WOOLEY: Well, so if it's outpourings are unacceptable it doesn't matter where you put it.
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah exactly, look I still remain, very optimistic that this pulp mill can and will be built. It is very important for jobs in Tasmania and I am pro jobs, I demonstrated three years ago that I'm, I'm a better friend of the workers in the timber industry in Tasmania than anybody in the Labor Party, and...
WOOLEY: Well you also, you also, which as you know I admit it's a passion of mine, you know, being a bit patriotic about old growth forests, you also saved more old growth forests in Tasmania than anyone else too.
PRIME MINISTER: And what I'm tyring to do with this is to preserve balance, and yes let's have the pulp mill, but let us have it in circumstances where it's environmentally acceptable. Now, I don't think those two things are irreconcilable and one of the things that annoys me about debate on the environment, debate on climate change is that too many people on what I might call the greener fringes of politics, no matter what party they're in, and have this attitude that you can't reconcile protecting the environment with jobs and development.
WOOLEY: There are some strange contradictions. Call me a redneck greenie, Prime Minister, but they're planning, planning to burn five hundred thousand tonnes of woodchips a year in order to produce energy to do this, now, you wonder at the same time as we are concerned about greenhouse that that's the right thing to do.
PRIME MINISTER: Well...
WOOLEY: That's beyond your, beyond your purview too, you have no say over that.
PRIME MINISTER: I don't want to pick out just individual parts of the proposal.
PRIME MINISTER: But overall, I have been supportive, from the very beginning of the idea of having a pulp mill in northern Tasmania, and it remains the strong position of the Federal Government that if it stacks up environmentally, and that can only be determined by us according to our procedures. The Federal Government has a role in these things, it will determine things in accordance with its own procedures and we won't be told by the Tasmanian Government, and let's everybody be patient and let's see the outcome of it.
Crikey Q and A
1. Would you, as Environment Minister, support the native forest-based pulp mill that Gunns is proposing or would you require it to be plantation-based at inception?
Labor's position is clear -- as we have said many times over -- we will support a pulp mill as long as it meets world's best environmental standards and outcomes. If Mr Turnbull approves the mill, he must put such terms and conditions on the mill's operation (e.g. strict discharge controls and other environmental outcomes).
Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (the EPBC Act), the Commonwealth Environment Minister is required to determine whether proposals have, or are likely to have, a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance, including listed threatened and migratory species and the Commonwealth marine area.
One example of the matters he should be studying carefully is -- will there be any long-term ecological damage to matters of national environmental significance as a result of cumulative discharges and emissions?
We will continue to review the situation and the process undertaken by the Minister and look closely at the results of the scientific committee appointed by the Minister.
If I had the privilege to be Environment Minister, I would ensure that a comprehensive environment assessment process is undertaken. I would not -- as Minister Turnbull has done -- have chosen one of the least comprehensive assessment options.
Mr Turnbull now says he has to get further scientific advice. Of course he does -- but that is the advice he should have got in the first place instead of choosing one of the least rigorous assessment processes.
I note Mr Turnbull initially made what he called a "proposed decision" with "draft conditions", but he is now merely calling that "departmental advice" and has sought further advice from the Chief Scientist. The question is, what will he do with that advice?
Mr Turnbull is privy to technical advice and information and assessment in regard to this proposal that we are not currently privy too.
Mr Turnbull is wrong when he claims that Labor has access to all documentation pertaining to the Gunn pulp mill proposal. The following documentation is not publicly available:
* Public submissions (from this and previous public consultations)
* Any departmental advice pertaining to public submissions
* Any legal advice received from the Department or other agencies.
We are awaiting his decision and any terms and conditions he places on any approval.
2. According to Gunns, the pulp mill will be 80% based on native forests when it opens. That violates the forest policy of ACF, the organisation of which you were President. It will necessitate the logging of high conservation-value forests throughout northern and south-eastern Tasmania. Why haven't you opposed this aspect of the pulp mill?
A Rudd Labor Government would seek to maximise the proportion of wood supply for the pulp mill which came from plantations. We will use every endeavour to ensure high conservation value forests are not used for mill feed stock.
3. The consumption of such large quantities of native forest by the pulp mill (over three million tonnes per annum) will make it one of the biggest contributors to climate change in Australia. How does that fit into Federal Labor's climate change policy?
Labor is absolutely committed to tackling climate change. A Rudd Labor Government would cut Australia's greenhouse pollution by 60% by 2050. Labor is committed to establishing a national emissions trading scheme, substantially increasing the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target, implementing comprehensive energy efficiency measures and helping Australian families green their homes through solar rebates and low interest homes of up to $10,000.
A Rudd Labor Government will also establish a climate change trigger under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act which will require major new projects to be assessed for their climate change impact as part of any environmental assessment process. At present, the Howard Government's major environment act does not address Australia's greatest environmental challenge, climate change. A Labor Government will fix that.
4. In your view, are the permit conditions as applied to the project by the Tasmanian parliament sufficient to protect local businesses - tourism, fishing, wineries, and otherwise - from any harmful environmental effects of the mill's operation?
There is legitimate and serious community concern over this proposal, a concern I have been on the record as recognising from the outset of this debate.
Any conditions on any mill approved by a Rudd Labor Government would be tough and fair because as you rightly point out there are many local businesses and jobs dependent on protecting the natural assets of the Tamar Valley.
5. Do you believe a pulp mill using chlorine-based technology can be world class, or would you require it to be totally chlorine-free?
Generally, chlorine-based technology does not provide as high a level of environmental outcomes and standards as chlorine-free technology. However, a proposed mill needs to be properly assessed on its merits.
A chlorine-free mill avoids a lot of problems and so does a 100% closed-loop mill. It comes down to a question of risk assessment and Labor has consistently said that we would insist on the most stringent environmental controls.
Any proposal that was put on my desk would be evaluated according to world's best practice and any proponent would have to factor this into their design.
Labor doesn't have full access to all the specifications and reports concerning the proposed Mill nor has Minister Turnbull provided Labor with all of the assessments of the proposal conducted by either his department or independent experts.
6. When Senator Bob Brown's legal action in the Federal Court exposed the fact that logging in Tasmania was threatening endangered species and was therefore illegal, the Tasmanian and Australian Governments simply changed the law to make the logging legal again. Will a Rudd Labor government overturn those laws? If not, why?
Biodiversity protection will be a national environmental priority under a Rudd Labor Government. We will announce more details on our policies in relation to biodiversity protection in the lead up to the federal election.
7. You said the Tasmanian government "did a very disappointing job in their first round of assessments" of the mill? Would you instigate a thorough, independent investigation into the actions of the Tasmanian government, and in particular premier Paul Lennon, in the assessment of the pulp mill?
What I am most concerned about is outcomes. Are we going to get a world's best practice pulp mill or not? A Rudd Labor Government would not have undertaken one of the least comprehensive environmental assessment processes, and it would have adopted mechanisms to properly allow for community concern to be expressed.
The ball is now in Mr Turnbull's court and we are watching his actions closely.