Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Tasmania: unbleached pulp paper mill proposal unviable, says joint venturer of abandoned Wesley Vale pulp mill.

PAUL MURPHY: Next weekend the Tasmanian Labor Opposition is expected to begin its last week of election campaigning with some good news from the Federal Government. Canberra's tipped to give the go-ahead for a pulp mill producing unbleached paper and then guarantee the Federal Government will switch over to use the unbleached product. But, even before the plan's been officially announced it's been rejected by one of the joint venturers in the abandoned Wesley Vale mill. APPMs General Manger for Forest Products, David Bills, told Philip Russell it's not a viable proposal, even if the Commonwealth adopts a policy of using only unbleached paper.

DAVID BILLS: If that is the kind of concept then it does have problems because the Federal Government are using, I think Senator Richardson said, 60,000 tonnes of paper a year, that's equivalent to about 50,000 tonnes of pulp. Now the kind of pulp mill that we need to be economic on a world scale is going to produce over 400,000. So, it's certainly not going to rescue the mill by giving some unique market. I think the other very important thing that I understand is that right now the Federal Government is buying its paper needs from Australian pulp and paper mills producing bleached, well bleached product anyway, so as soon as they stop doing that and buy from some new mill, whether we own it or whether somebody else owns it, they're just going to be creating another problem with existing mills. Our Burnie mill, for example, supplies a lot of high quality bleached paper to Australian Government Departments, as does the APM mill in Victoria.

PHILIP RUSSELL: So, in effect what you're saying is the whole idea is, what impractical?

DAVID BILLS: Well, yeah to me it is. It hasn't been described in any detail.

PHILIP RUSSELL: But, even Premier Gray, who so strongly supported the original proposal for a chemical kraft mill or a bleaching process at Wesley Vale, says he wouldn't object to a new non-bleaching mill.

DAVID BILLS: Well, of course he wouldn't object to it. I mean Premier Gray is very keen to have evaluated product made in Tasmania and he is saying that if somebody can build it and somebody can have a market for it, then he won't object to it and that's a perfectly reasonable proposition.

PHILIP RUSSELL: Well, why wouldn't you want part of the action yourself?

DAVID BILLS: Well, of course we would, but we don't have the market and there's no point in making something ...

PHILIP RUSSELL: Is there no way that the market can be built up?

DAVID BILLS: Again, just to put it into perspective, we've just had the biggest paper buyers in Australia, the speculation that the biggest paper buyers, the Government, might well provide the market. And I've just told you that that's worth 50,000 tonnes of pulp out of over 400,000 and at the same time it would rob existing markets which our existing mills are very dependent on, so it's zero sum in that sense, and yet we'd still have to export some 380, 390,000 tonnes of pulp overseas where the market for printing and writing and business papers is demanding bleached kraft pulp. It's a billion dollar pulp mill is what we've talking about and even the small ones people are talking about are 6 or 700 million. If the market is there, then somebody will do it and they will produce unbleached kraft pulp. But, I'm saying that Commonwealth Government's contribution to the market is quite insignificant within the total context of the size of any reasonable mill.

PAUL MURPHY: APPMs David Bills with Philip Russell in Hobart.