Letter 6 from TAP to RPDC re exclusion of wood supply issues

Resource Development and Planning Commission
GPO Box 1691
Hobart TAS 7001

17 December 2006

Re: Exclusion of issues of wood supply from RPDC consideration

Dear Commissioners,

The Tamar pulp mill draft IIS and the guidelines for its production have excluded the impacts of wood supply from consideration. It is our contention that this exclusion is illegitimate and makes any mill decision void in the context of the RPDC’s charter, the governments’ responsibilities to its citizens, and the web of checks and balances that provide a stable and predictable investment environment in a structured economy.
We believe that there can be no democratic legitimacy in ignoring the needs of a broad population that is contributing its fair share of tax revenues to all levels of government. We believe our arguments are valid on moral, ethical, philosophical, political and legal grounds.

The exclusion of issues related to wood supply was justified in the draft IIS as follows “As there will not be any significant change in the extent or nature of current levels of forestry operations in Tasmania, there are no relevant environmental, social, economical (sic) and community impacts to be assessed and/or mitigated.
The pulp mill project is a downstream processing initiative and is not based on any required changes to forest access or intensification. It is based upon diverting resource which would otherwise have been exported in chip form to the pulp mill for further processing”

We point out that these statements are false or misleading because:

1) “The pulp mill project…is not based on any required changes to forest access or intensification” is false. Gunns intends to increase its logging activities to some 7Mt/yr from the pre-pulp mill 4 Mt/yr which is clearly an intensification of activity. There will thus be a ‘significant’ change in the nature and extent of forestry operations to accommodate the increase in logging from 4 Mt/yr to 7 Mt/yr. Therefore the pulp mill is not based on ‘diverting a resource which would otherwise have been exported….”, it is based on increased logging activity to allow Gunns to both engage in wood chip and pulp sales.

2) Just because there is logging currently, it does not follow that there ‘are no relevant…impacts to be assessed’. In fact, impacts are already occurring and, were they to continue, it is entirely possible that community, business and political pressures could change the situation and demand a change to logging practice or cancellation of any RFA.

3) We argue that it is not appropriate for a project proponent to define what is, or is not, significant. Neither is it appropriate for a project proponent to define what is ‘relevant’ to a broad community of taxpayers. Official acceptance of such precedents would have a calamitous effect on economic stability and the predictability of Australia’s investment environment.

The RFA is an agreement between governments and has no relevance to the proponent nor does it preclude deleterious impacts from political and planning consideration. If the conditions under which the RFA obtained become calamitous, the RFA can be cancelled, as has already occurred in 2 states of Australia. Thus the RFA itself does not imply in any way, that harmful outcomes from logging activity should be ignored or minimised.
The Minister’s order that the RPDC must give effect to the RFA in matters of wood supply means that the conditions of the RFA could reasonably be expected to be maintained during the life of the agreement i.e. until 2017. No evidence has been presented to support other constructions for the RFA having effect.

The ‘world scale’ of the pulp mill proposal requires world scale logging, apparently the fastest forest clearance rate in the world. Such a scale and intensity of logging in the modest area of Tasmania must impact all other users of the same resources and infrastructures i.e. forest, land, water, sea, air and roads and those impacts could be very severe and detrimental to country people, communities and businesses. We estimate that the costs of those impacts alone could easily exceed $15 billion during the mill’s 30 year projected lifespan. Indeed the cultural and social landscape will be irrevocably changed to the detriment of both Tasmania and Australia.

In any structured economy, there exists a web of checks and balances that create security and predictability for businesses and thus help them have the confidence to invest. Deliberately excluding impacts of an industrial proposal from consideration blinds the authorities to potential problems or disasters and exposes existing businesses and investors to needless risk. If that web of checks and balances is breached in such a way, then there is no security for any investor as future proposals may disrupt the security of their investment. We argue that such a breach would be a major strategic and political error that will have profound repercussions throughout the Australian economy and will position Tasmania as having Third World weak governance status.

We also contend that by way of paying taxes, Australians are all equally entitled to full consideration under the law and that discrimination against any one, or group, of Australians by their paid government representatives is illegitimate, illegal and repugnant.
As a consequence of the foregoing, we argue that a planning body such as a State RPDC has no authority to exclude members of affected populations from consideration and must direct the proponent to include those impacts in their impact statement. We are also of the view that the project proponent cannot effectively represent the public interest nor comprehensively define impacts of the proposal on the community because their own Articles of Association give them no authority to do so. For this reason, the public interest is not being represented by any of the authorities.
Therefore we assert that ALL impacts should be considered and propose that the RPDC modify its systems to consider ALL impacts and to report comprehensively on the SUM of those impacts on the whole affected population and environment. We argue that failure to include ALL impacts is a breach of the RPDC’s charter, a breach of the planning laws and a breach of duty by the State and Federal governments.
If the RPDC does believe it has the authority to exclude future impacts from consideration, we request a clear set of reasons so that we can take appropriate action.