BIG BROTHER PULP MILL > by Paul J Oosting

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Big Brother Pulp Mill The World's Best, Greenest and Safest, Pulp Mill. Proudly brought to you by Gunns and the Department of Economic Development George Orwell would be so proud. Before reality TV, Orwell coined the phrase `big brother' in his novel `1984', first published in 1948. In the 1984, a satire on Western Society and government, Big Brother represents dominance and authoritarianism. We are now seeing a plethora of examples of Big Brother style control (governance) here in Tasmania, and throughout the world, through the control of language, civil rights and corporate dominance. The pressure of `Big Brother' watching is nothing new for the environment movement. Recently I was at the headquarters of a major environmental NGO in Sydney. They had just undergone a bug sweep of the building, even though most modern listening devices automatically switch off when they sense detection equipment. In my experience of environmental and community organisations it is seen as sensible to assume, without getting into the realms of paranoia, that what you are doing is open for all to see. But the most obvious example of this Big Brother totalitarianism is the situation surrounding Gunns and the state government with the current pulp mill proposal. On the 16th of December 2004 the Resource Planning and Development Commission (RPDC) announced it had received an application from Gunns Ltd, a Tasmanian based corporation and the largest woodchip exporter in Australia, to build a bleached kraft pulp mill. There wasn't a lot of media surrounding this announcement because other events squashed it out of the spotlight. Two days before, on the 14th of December, Gunns launched a writ `Gunns versus Marr and Others'; now popularly know as the Gunns20. Many have argued that Gunns' lawsuit against environmental advocates was designed as a “pre-emptive strike” to head off opposition to its pulp mill proposal. Whether that is the case or not, what is certain is that it has serious implications for public participation and freedom of speech. Gunns tells us “a new pulp mill in Tasmania will be clever, clean and safe.” You might think it's a good idea. And why not? You've talked to your friends, listened to the public debate and heard, via the media, what the experts are saying, then independently formed an opinion. Across the range of sustainability objectives, economic, social and environmental, there is a triplicate positive response. As all good salespeople know, three consecutive `yes's' is a sale. You're encouraged by the news, perhaps to the point where you feel a little civic pride; phrases like `world's best' and `world's greenest' abound, and they are so easy to palate. New meaning has been created. Considering that the pulp mill would be based on outdated technology, would use irreplaceable native forests, consume almost twice the amount of water currently used by all users (industry and domestic) in the Tamar Valley, and pump 30 billion litres of liquid effluent into the Bass Strait; considering all that, and more, I think George Orwell himself would have been hard pressed to invent a better sales pitch for the proposal than `the world's greenest pulp mill'. Gunns obviously have a good public relations team. Gunns Woodchip Mill And they aren't the only ones. Earlier this year the Premier Paul Lennon established the Pulp Mill Task Force through the Department of Economic Development, with a budget of over $2 million. What we have seen, or not, as the case may be, are things like the pulp mill bus. Contained within the pulp mill bus and available through the pulp mill web site (http://www.pulpmill.tas.gov.au/) is information explaining why the pulp mill is going to `keep our economy in the green': all the great, positive aspects of Gunns pulp mill proposal. In previous governments this has been referred to as propaganda. The Resource Planning and Development Commission (RPDC) should be given the opportunity to assess whether or not the pulp mill will actually be good for the Tasmanian economy, people and environment. The RPDC has the duty to ensure that the public can be involved in the process and are well informed. In the case of Gunns' pulp mill proposal, their position has been completely jeopardised by the Premier and the Department of Economic Development, through the Pulp Mill Task Force. The operations of the Task Force lead the Executive Commissioner of the RPDC Julian Green taking the exceptional step of writing to the Government bluntly requesting that the activities of the Task Force be reined in. He goes on to say “if the taskforce activities are not reined in, the commission will be compromised in the eyes of the public and therefore the assessment process will be seen to be contaminated.” Gunns have also managed to confuse the public over a number of integral issues regarding what their pulp mill development actually is. Late last year, John Gay, CEO of Gunns, said the pulp mill would be plantation based, totally chlorine free and world's best practice; only to later, somewhat quietly, retract and state: the pulp mill will not be totally chlorine free, will consume native forests (at least initially) and therefore will not be `world's best practice'. George Orwell's novel 1984 is seen by many as a warning showing us where we will end up if we allow things to carry on as they are. He was concerned about the control exerted by governments during World War II. Now corporations are more clearly exerting this power. Gunns Limited response to this article was sought. They responded by stating “Gunns Limited has serious concerns with statements and assertions contained within.” They declined to provide further detail. All responses to this article are welcome. Paul I J Oosting ©Paul I J Oosting 2005 Authors Note: This article was originally written for the University of Tasmania magazine Togatus. I wrote the article because of my concern over the state of society here in Tasmania. Because of the complexities surrounding the issues covered I sought advice to ensure that the article was not defamatory. I also contacted Gunns Limited and their lawyers requesting their response. The editor of Togatus said the article was “just what I was hoping we might get” and later “I can't see any reason why we shouldn't print it”. However the day it was to go to the publisher the article was pulled. The editor's explanation was “I showed it to the (Tasmanian University Union) President, some people in the Union got a bit paranoid. I think they just freaked out seeing Gunns letterhead.” Providing further evidence that Gunns `big brother' style tactics on freedom of speech are being very effective. Paul I J Oosting 24 is a writer and poet. He has had work published in River of Verse 2004 and Noise 2003. As well as writing Paul is a full time eco volunteer working in Tasmania. Tasforests gif For another look at the serious issue of Tasmania's woodchipping industry, watch Heidi Douglas' film Tasforests in the Undergrowth > Motion Pixels section. Also visit: www.tasforests.green.net.au for more information.