Letter 9 re: critical weaknesses in the decision making process

To: Resource Development and Planning Commission enquiry.rpdc@justice.tas.gov.au and Pam.Scott@justice.tas.gov.au

Submitted on 19 February 2007



This is a follow up expansion to our last letter (No 8) of 16 February 07 and clarifies two key concerns.

  1. We believe that process and other structural flaws prevent the RPDC being either independent, or reaching a fair and balanced conclusions: and
  2. That the community needs to know now what levels of protection are to be provided from the various hazards and threats presented by mill operations.

We have taken the liberty to express ideas about how some of our concerns might be usefully addressed.


Robert McMahon TAP


We write further to advise the Commission that TAP has applied lessons from the discipline of process design and management, and we wish to advise the RPDC that there exist serious process deficiencies including that;

  1. it is not possible to reach a valid conclusion about a complex whole by only exploring selected parts. (There is a story of blind men and elephants that illustrates this point). Any conclusion reached on partial data will likely be invalid; and
  2. the process delivers ‘information dominance’ to the proponent resulting in bias which is amplified by resource dominance created by distorted government support. The result is a process strongly biased in favour of the proponent and against existing businesses and communities; and
  3. the process is triggered by information provided by the proponent. If a critical area is missed by the proponent then the needs of that area may be overlooked entirely, or minimised, presenting a range of potentially dire threats; and
  4. the process only explores impacts selected by the proponent whereas the SPPA specifies that the RPDC must deal with ‘all’ impacts, therefore the RPDC cannot fulfil its charter if it only considers impacts ‘selected’ by the proponent; and
  5. the current situation splits responsibility for community safety between government, the proponent and the RPDC. This is not satisfactory for such a large and important project and is likely to confound rational public debate. There should be one independent group accountable for assuring public and industry protection, not 3.

In short, it appears that the current process is entirely illegitimate because;

  • it creates substantial bias; and
  • it discriminates against the public living in wood supply areas; and
  • it creates unequal access to the public services; and ? it prevents the Commission from fulfilling its Charter; and
  • it will produce outcomes contrary to SPPA Schedule 1.

It is our position that these weaknesses are intolerable and unnecessary and should be corrected in order to place the process on the ‘independent’ footing that it is represented to be.

We argue that as long as these structural dysfunctions remain, it not possible for the RPDC to reach a fair and balanced conclusion and that such a result is against the objectives of the various Acts. If the RPDC is the ‘independent umpire’ then we contend that the RPDC should be allowed to pursue its objectives under the relevant Acts at its discretion and that the RPDC should control the conditions under which its charter and the objectives of the SPPA are likely to be achieved.

We therefore argue that the process and resources available be changed forthwith to allow the RPDC to study and report on all impacts that would be created by a pulp mill. Only after such impacts are established and quantified can their importance to the approval process be understood, we cannot understand impacts or their importance by ignoring them.

Also we ask that the public and businesses be advised on the total levels of protection planned for communities and industries prior to public hearings or further advancement of the proposal. Given the nature of hazards, exposures and threats (see table) it is clear that without knowing the levels of protection to be provided, the public and businesses cannot make sense at any public hearings, or indeed comprehend the impacts of the proposal itself. Are we to presume adequate protection will be in place? What is ‘adequate’? Should we assume no protection unless we argue for it? Are we to believe that the government knows best?

We need to know the levels of protection on offer to the various communities of interest (see example at end of letter) so that people can decide whether or not they may have a problem (e.g. crop exposures, water access) and act accordingly. They can then decide how to present their information cogently to any public hearings and how to respond appropriately to this proposal.

Respectfully submitted



Example schedule of rational protection conceived for the fishing industry.

a) a full independent scientific baseline study of the Strait as it relates to commercial and recreational fishing – to establish ecological norms and identify sentinel species;

b) a complete and independent analysis of likely pulp mill effluent outputs, along with their toxicity, that identifies all likely risks and contaminants in respect to changes in growth, development, reproduction, physiology, and behaviour of all marine organisms and species – to assure that actual mill outputs are included in planning and framing regulations to protect Bass Strait and ocean ecologies;

c) an independent report on sensitivities of Bass Strait marine life (including plants) to the risks identified at b) – to determine the effluent sensitivities of key species within the marine ecosystem of Bass Strait.

d) independent baseline studies - to determine rates of change and cyclical norms in the Bass Strait of seaborne chemicals,

e) clear and acceptable (to fish markets) standards for maximum amounts of items identified at b) in the water and in the fish.

f) an independent and credible monitoring regime that reports publicly and frequently. It must sample sufficiently often, and at sufficient resolution to pick up identified contaminants before they become a problem;

g) a credible regulatory regime designed to protect the marine environment, and the fishing industry, from harm, (Note - guidelines are insufficiently rigorous)

h) establish pollutant concentration trigger levels (lower than in part e above) that, when exceeded, trigger rigorous and effective shut down procedures or other strong actions to prevent toxic or excess pollutants entering the Strait;

i) mill performance guarantees to assure that any damages are compensated in the event of performance, design or operational problems.

j) agreed compensation procedures for every person and industry impacted via low cost arbitration and recognition of a persons lifetime opportunity within a fishery.

Each of the steps of the process above is designed to achieve specific goals and should be based on rigorous scientific approaches. Variations of the process would need to demonstrate that the same goals would be achieved.