Austrian firm involved in Tasmanian forest vandalism


The Austrian industrial plant builder Andritz plans to build one of the world’s largest paper pulp factories for the Gunns corporation in Tasmania, the island state to the south of mainland Australia.  


The project endangers about 200,000 hectares of old growth forest. And along with the forest, the unique Tasmanian Devil could disappear forever. 


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The old growth temperate rain forest has an incredible biodiversity. Eighty per cent of Tasmania's rainforests are already destroyed – much of it by the timber products corporation Gunns. To operate the pulp factory at Bell Bay in the north of the island, Gunns would devour up to four million tonnes of wood each year. That would transform the land into monotonous industrial plantations.


 Andritz writes on sustainability: "The sustainable protection of the environment and the conservation of natural resources are major concerns of the Andritz Group.” Although it has offices in two Australian states, Andritz argues that Australia has very high environmental standards and says it cannot judge from afar allegations of the use of napalm in forest clearing,  the introduction of large amounts of wastewater and the massive release of greenhouse gases.  


Gunns has already razed large swathes of the island’s old growth forests, only 20% of which are left. The involvement of Andritz adds to their endangerment. A sticker on a truck reveals a lot about the attitude of the timber industry: "EARTH FIRST - we'll log the other planets later".  


The giant Bell Bay plant would be the third-largest of its kind worldwide. The pristine wilderness with eucalypts up to a thousand years old and 100 metres high is to be replaced by industrial eucalyptus plantations. Activists warn that, as in the past, napalm would be used to destroy forest.  


The dispute about the Gunns plant is right at the top of the current Australian environment agenda, with several court actions against it in progress.  


Australia’s “Wilderness Society” warns that the operation of the cellulose factory would greatly damage tourism and fisheries. The organisation says the forest razing and the operation of the factory would emit about 10 million tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year; every day some 64,000 cubic metres of effluent water would be discharged into the Tamar River and the sea.  

The unique Tasmanian Devil, the biggest remaining carnivorous marsupial, could suffer the same fate as the Tasmanian Tiger, which died out in 1936. The Devil is already endangered by a mysterious disease that is increasingly decimating its numbers. 


Based in Graz, Andritz sees no reason to stop its involvement. Austrian newspapers quote the company dismissing the statements of environment activists as “laughable and questionable”. The firm cites the long examination of the project. It responded evasively to specific accusations such as clearing with napalm: This couldn’t be assessed from afar. The fact that Andritz aren’t particularly interested in environmental issues is also shown by their activities in Turkey, where they are the only company still involved in the plans for the controversial Ilisu dam in the southeast. 


Because razing forests is a loss-making business, Austrian firms involved secure themselves with subsidies and export insurances provided by the government. Environment activists say for the Gunns project Andritz has been guaranteed 500 million euros by the Austrian Control Bank, a specialised institution owned by Austrian commercial banks which helps Austrian industry to compete in the global marketplace.


 The bank touts its subscription to the European Union's Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) and the United Nations Global Compact for businesses committed to aligning their operations and strategies with human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption.  


“Together with all our employees, working group members and partners we reach to implement our visions of sustainability in collaboration with our stakeholders in a credible and comprehensive manner,” the bank writes on its website.