Pulp Mill Protesters Rally as Tasmanian Parliament Gets Down to Business on Bill


by Zoe Edwards / ABC

Hundreds of anti-pulp mill protesters have rallied in Hobart as the Tasmanian Parliament considers a bill to extend the validity of permits for the controversial project.

The Labor and Liberal parties have combined to bring forward debate on the bill to extend permits for the Tamar Valley pulp mill project originally proposed by collapsed timber company Gunns.

It looks likely to pass Tasmania’s Lower House later tonight.

It has been two weeks since the Premier, Lara Giddings, formally ended Labor’s power-sharing deal with the Greens and recalled Parliament to debate legislation shoring up the pulp mill permits.

The Greens have used their first Question Time since being dumped to push the Government on its plans for the project.

Their move to delay the debate failed and an attempt to move a no confidence motion was also voted down.

Greens leader Nick McKim says the major parties are colluding to force a toxic piece of legislation through the Parliament.

Mr McKim told Parliament it was undemocratic.

“We’ve given you another chance to right the wrong that you perpetrated by your collusion this morning when you formed the new Labor-Liberal minority government…and by extension to table and debate our no confidence motion,” he said.

Earlier, he asked the Premier to hold a referendum on the pulp mill bill saying the project has divided Tasmania for nearly a decade.

Ms Giddings rejected the call.

“I don’t accept this as a toxic and divisive issue,” she told Parliament.

The Opposition used the debate to criticise the legislation’s timing, questioning why the Government did not introduce the bill when Parliament last sat in November.

Gunns’ receiver KordaMentha says six investors are interested in buying the failed timber company’s assets.

It is understood only two are interested in the pulp mill permits.

Protesters claim ‘Tasmanians betrayed’

As parliament debated the legislation inside, hundreds of protesters rallied outside chanting “no pulp mill.”

The crowd heard from the Wilderness Society’s Vica Bayley, activist Peter Cundall and the Tasmanian Conservation Trust’s Peter McGlone.

The trust launched legal action against the mill in 2011 and the case is still before the Supreme Court.

Constitutional law expert Michael Stokes told the crowd he was opposed to the process of the legislation.

He said the fundamental principle of equality before the law was at stake.

“There should be no special deals, no changes in the law because particular special interest groups want it,” he said.

A market economy required a level playing field and Mr Stokes said tabling of the legislation around the pulp mill was a change in the rules.

“Now what we have here instead of equality before the law is special deals being done. We’ve got crony capitalism which, of course, is phoney capitalism.”

Earlier today, Environment Tasmania warned that the proposed changes to legislation governing the mill would remove environmental protections.

Spokesman Phil Pullinger says the bill deletes a subsection of the Pulp Mill Assessment Act that allows the permits to be suspended if the mill breaches its conditions.

He says that will allow any future mill to flaunt environmental conditions.

“The amendments tabled today propose to completely delete that sentence from the Act and, if that was passed, basically what that means is that a pulp mill operator is outside the terms of the permit,” he said.

The Deputy Premier, Bryan Green, says under the changes it will be up to the Economic Development Minister to enforce conditions of the permits.

“It has become obvious that it is commercially unrealistic to expect a proponent to wear such a high level of risk, where a complex and large-scale operation can be completely shut down because of even the most insignificant technical breach of a condition,” he said.

Parliament is likely to sit for three days.