Water Week

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Roundtable costings indicate Tasmanian pulp mill project may cause economic loss to the state; mill does not represent sustainable development for Tasmania, say businesses

Posted by waterweek on 22 September 2007

While Gunns claimed its proposed Tasmanian pulp mill, which will create 290 full-time jobs once fully operational, would 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, a roundtable meeting of local businesses, believing it was absurd for any assessment not to examine the risks and potential negative impacts of the project, commissioned its own study, reported The Australian (23/8/2007, p. 13).

Subsidies hidden, benefits counted twice: The roundtable assessment — the only cost-benefit study done on the project — concluded Gunns had double-counted the tax benefits and failed to show $847.3 million in subsidies to the project. It put 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.”

Fast track approval: Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon was paying the price for his slavish support for the project. The public — not just greenies, but sections of middle Tasmania — were appalled at the Premier’s alleged attempt to “lean on” a planning judge to dump public hearings and truncate assessment of the mill. They were even more horrified when the Premier dumped the planning process and created his own fast-track process. A week from today state parliament would vote on the mill and 1100 operating conditions flowing from the Sweco Pic report. Amendments were not allowed under parliamentary procedure, as this was an approval motion, not legislation. Lennon was confident of securing the four votes among the 11 independents in the Upper House he needed, although their votes were notoriously difficult to rely on.

Conditional approval probable: Malcolm Turnbull, Federal Environment Minister, left without a federal assessment when Gunns dumped the RPDC, asked his department to conduct its own assessment, opting for a briefer form, which recommended conditional approval. He was expected to confirm this decision after a period of public consultation ends on 31 August.

Public support destroyed: Opinion polls showed Lennon’s handling of the issue — in particular his decision to “kidnap and shoot” the planning process, as one planning expert said — had destroyed public support. A TasPoll of 1000 northern Tasmanians in April showed 46 per cent opposed the project, 36 per cent were for it and 18 per cent unsure. More recently pollster Enterprise Marketing and Research Services found 64 per cent of Tasmanians disagreed with Lennon’s fast-track approach. The Premier does not face an election for two and a half years but major parties are nervous the mill will become a federal election issue, particularly in green-tinged marginal city electorates, such as Turnbull’s Wentworth.

The Australian, 23/8/2007, p. 13

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