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Matters of Public Importance - PET scanners and Pulp Mill

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (1.06 pm)-I rise today essentially to speak about Gunns, but since Senator Humphries has just been referring to the PET inquiry I just wish to reiterate that what we found as a committee was that the report was changed. It was changed from saying that the technology was ‘clinically effective' to ‘potentially clinically effective', and the impact of that for cancer patients was felt not only in Australia but also in New Zealand and Canada, because New Zealand and Canada were waiting on the outcome of that assessment to determine what to do in those countries. As a result of that changed report, New Zealand did not get a PET scanner until last year, I think, and Canada is looking at it again through their ombudsman. So the impact of this report was on cancer patients not just in Australia but around the world, and that report was changed.
To say that now we have the benefit of hindsight is all very well, but in that supporting committee there were specialists who were saying exactly the same then as they are saying now. What is even more appalling is that some of those people have been forced to use their expertise for the last eight years to justify something which they already knew eight years ago to be true. As a result they have not been able to use their brilliance-and I would describe some of the medical scientists involved here as brilliant-to pursue other uses of PET for other forms of cancer because they have had to go back and re-prove something they already proved eight years ago.
We all agreed that the report was changed. The question is who changed it and what their motivation was. Professor King took responsibility for having changed that. As to Professor Kearney, he said before the supporting committee had even met that the Commonwealth would not be providing unrestricted funding and they had better find something else in relation to this inquiry. I still stand by the view that there was a political direction to the Medical Services Advisory Committee, and that is why the Commonwealth put in place a different process for this assessment than otherwise would have been the case. They put in a political component because it came hard on the heels of the then minister, Mr Wooldridge's, MRI scan affair, which cost the government so much in political terms at that time.
However, I am not surprised that Senator Humphries is defending the processes of the previous government or Minister Wooldridge. We did not get Minister Wooldridge before the committee. A criticism Senator Humphries has made is that we did not go back and get the former minister. It was because that at that point in the inquiry the government of the day was the Howard government and the chance of a government dominated committee bringing back a previous minister on a matter like this was zero. I just put that on the record.
I am glad to say that PET is now being rolled out, but tragically it is not being rolled out fast enough because the big centres have to do the testing on it, which means that rural and regional centres-North Queensland, south-west Western Australia, Tasmania and so on-cannot get a Medicare rebate for a whole lot of the PET scans that are still being done and, as a result, it is not cost-effective or viable in those rural hospitals. The upshot is that rural and regional Australians are missing out because that report was changed in the way it was all those years ago. Might I also say that we proved that the department did provide false and misleading evidence to the inquiry. I will not go into its motivation for doing so today, but I was able to demonstrate that clearly in relation to correspondence from the secretary, Jane Halton, and I stand by that. The correspondence is there for anybody to see that you could not have drawn the conclusion she drew from that correspondence in her report back to the committee.
I now want to turn to the Gunns pulp mill and talk for a few moments about the disgraceful set of circumstances going on in Tasmania. Gunns have held successive federal and state governments to ransom and made fools of them. It was Gunns who said that, if they did not get all their approvals by 31 July 2007, they would walk away from the project. As a result, the Tasmanian government withdrew from the proper assessment process and went into fast-track mode and the Commonwealth agreed to it. Everyone fell over themselves for this company to get the approvals by 31 July last year, and what has happened? Here we are in September 2008 and the company cannot get the money and has no prospect of getting the money. So we compromised proper assessment processes for a company that has never been upfront with this parliament or the Tasmanian parliament.
Secondly, in this Commonwealth bureaucracy we have a report from the government's very own Gunns pulp mill independent expert group to advise the minister for the environment in relation to the pulp mill, and the government refuses to release it under FOI. In fact, this parliament made the decision that it should not be released. I will explain why it is critical that it be released. The report is on Gunns' hydrodynamic modelling. The key guideline is the size and extent of the mixing zone and the concentration of pollutants inside and outside this zone. There are over 160 chemicals of interest in the proposed mill effluent, including polychlorinated aromatic compounds, which are dioxins and furans, phytotoxins-that is, plant-killing compounds-and resin acids. Breaches will have serious federal compliance consequences, and one option to ensure less impact on the marine environment will be full tertiary treatment.
That is the significance of the report that the Commonwealth has. If it is released and it shows exactly what I expect it to show-that Gunns cannot achieve what it says it can achieve in dilution and disbursement in the mixing zone and that those compounds will impact on waters around the zone-then the obvious consequence is that it will have to install tertiary treatment. This is not a tertiary treatment plant. I do not think this parliament realises that this company is just going to dump this into Bass Strait without tertiary treatment. If that report shows that it cannot meet compliance, which I do not believe it can, then the consequence is that it will have to spend more money on tertiary treatment. That will mean that Gunns will have to acquire more land for huge settling ponds and it will cost anywhere between $50 million and $500 million. Every financial investor now looking at that project needs to know that it is on the cards that the costs will blow out even further because of this issue of tertiary treatment.
Everybody knows that, if you are going to put a liquid effluent from any pulp mill back into the environment, you have to go to tertiary treatment. In this day and age, European mills are all doing tertiary treatment; we should be doing it as well. Yet we have Bob Gordon over at Forestry Tasmania, and his offsider, Ken Jeffreys, arguing that not only should Tasmanians be supporting the pulp mill but we should honour their wood supply agreement to guarantee Gunns access to native forests for 30 years. But-surprise, surprise!-when they went to Scandinavia recently because they cannot get the money looking for a joint-venture partner, they said, ‘Oh, well, we told the governments that we could not go to plantations for quite a while. That's why we had to have a wood supply agreement for native forests.' The Scandinavians have said, ‘Not interested.' Their ethical and social responsibility requires them to use only plantation based mills and suddenly Gunns says, ‘Well, actually we could meet the plantation requirement a lot sooner.' So the government has been made a fool of yet again in terms of what Gunns and Forestry Tasmania claim.
Let me go to these two people in Forestry Tasmania. Bob Gordon was put in charge of the Tasmanian Pulp Mill Task Force by the former Premier, Paul Lennon. It was supposedly an independent task force, but it was a propaganda machine, and Ken Jeffreys was the PR man on that task force. They went around with their bus trying to persuade Tasmanians what a fabulous idea it was to have the pulp mill. This propaganda machine was funded by the taxpayers of Tasmania.
In 1989 the Tamar Valley was ruled out as a site for a pulp mill because the atmospheric inversion in the wintertime would trap the pollutants under the layer of cold air and cause excessive pollution in the Tamar Valley. That was one reason why it was ruled out 20 years ago. The second reason it was ruled 20 years ago was because Bass Strait off the Tamar is so shallow that it does not actually flush very much for six months of the year, so if you pumped effluent in there it would not be diluted or dispersed but in fact would be concentrated because it would just slop backwards and forwards like in a bath.
I went on the radio and put those arguments, and on came Bob Gordon of the Pulp Mill Task Force saying, ‘No, no, no, Gunns are going to build a stack that is so high it is going to go above the inversion layer.' I pointed out at the time that it would become something of an aviation hazard if the stack poked out from under this massive inversion layer. He could not, of course, say how high the stack would be-but it would have to be very high to get above the inversion layer. Then he went on to say I was wrong about the hydrodynamic modelling in Bass Strait because after a shipwreck some of the lifeboats had washed up on Flinders Island and therefore that proved there was enough flushing and movement in Bass Strait to get rid of the effluent out into Bass Strait and off into deeper waters.
The Pulp Mill Task Force were completely discredited after they interfered and made a fool of the Resource Planning and Development Commission, to the point where the chair of the RPDC wrote to the then Premier saying, ‘Tell them to stop interfering because they are making a mockery of the assessment process.' But the then Premier then had Bob Gordon appointed as head of Forestry Tasmania and made the head of Forestry Tasmania the head of the Department of Premier and Cabinet. So Tasmania is actually governed by Forestry Tasmania: they are the de facto government in exactly the same way as the Hydro used to be. And the de-facto government, Forestry Tasmania, is run by its association with Gunns. That is the current situation. And Ken Jeffreys, Bob Gordon's offsider on the Pulp Mill Task Force propaganda bus, was moved across as PR man for Forestry Tasmania. So it is a beautiful set of circumstances! But it is worth reminding this parliament of the ludicrous claims these people made as part of the Pulp Mill Task Force and that now they are across in Forestry Tasmania. And in spite of the fact that the Premier said there was a line in the sand on the pulp mill approval process and he would stick to it, we now find they have been so incompetent that Gunns did not even sign the sovereign risk contract-so it is null and void, for goodness sake, and we have to fall back on the old one. So much for a line in the sand and the level of incompetence down there in relation to the sovereign agreement contract.
On the wood supply agreement, the Premier initially took a stand and then deferred completely to Forestry Tasmania and said, ‘Forestry Tasmania says it needs this long-term wood supply agreement with Gunns and therefore it is going to have it.' The upshot is that Forestry Tasmania has not told Tasmanians about the opportunity cost of putting those forests through a pulp mill when it should be looking at the carbon stored in those forests as part of the whole new perspective on what that carbon is worth and how it would contribute to Australia meeting its new and, hopefully, stringent 2020 and 2050 emissions targets. Protecting the standing stores of carbon is a major way for Australia to meet deep cuts, and it is the fastest way to do so. Gunns, by its own admission now to the people it is trying to get in as a joint venture partner, has agreed that it can now go to plantations and does not have to rely on the native forests which this wood supply agreement guarantees. So what we have here are people who cannot think beyond logging native forests and who are dictating to the Tasmanian parliament, and the Premier is rolling over to Forestry Tasmania and Gunns, refusing to see the benefits of moving to a low-carbon economy, protecting our native forests and biodiversity and meeting our greenhouse gas emission targets.
I wanted to draw to the Senate's attention the extent to which this company continues to make a fool of politicians around the country. We ought not to be standing for it. I would be insisting that Minister Garrett does not in any shape or form extend the deadline for the Commonwealth approvals to this project. It is 4 October; it should remain 4 October. I trust that Minister Garrett is not going to roll over but, instead, will be talking to his colleague Minister Wong about the real potential now to look at that defunct agreement with Gunns and to look at the potential to end this divide in Tasmania, to protect our native forests, to downstream the plantation estate and to bring the Tasmanian community back together to move forward to a genuinely clean and green and low-carbon economy. All that is possible now-it is utterly possible. The only thing that stands in the way is an ideological view that logging native forests is something Tasmanians have a right to do. Well, we do not have a right to do that in a carbon constrained world where we desperately need to protect biodiversity and carbon stores. We now have the opportunity to do it. So I will be seeking an undertaking from the Prime Minister and from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts not to extend that date for Gunns. I also urge people to reconsider the release of that document- (Time expired)

 

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