The world’s biggest privately-owned paper mill operation, owned by one of the richest people in Australia, Anthony Pratt, received $10m from the Federal Government under the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund, the aim of which is ‘helping people in bushfire communities get back on their feet.’
Pratt Holdings/Visy donated $3m to the Liberal and Labor parties ahead of the 2019 election.
Surely there is a serious conflict of interest for the Government in so richly rewarding one of its major donors, particularly since there appears to be little transparency in the assessment of the projects that won grants.
The $10m was to purchase a stacker-reclaimer to ‘boost productivity in Visy’s Tumut Mill’.
These days stacker-reclaimer systems are fully or semi-automated so this is unlikely to create many ongoing jobs.
Here’s what the Bushfire Recovery Agency says the grant was for:
$10 million to Visy Pulp and Paper in Snowy Valleys, to install a Stacker Reclaimer system, an advanced wood fibre handling augmentation. This upgrade/adaption will lead to a material and transformational shift in the processing of plantation softwood resources, ensuring the sustainability and continued growth of the region’s forestry industry and jobs.
The claim of ‘ensuring sustainability’ seems doubtful, as does the idea of creating jobs for communities hit by bushfires in the area.
Stacker-reclaimers are huge and costly pieces of machinery and they are not made in Australia so it’s hard to see how this $10 million will benefit anyone other than Visy. Meanwhile, the Royal Commission was told many people are still waiting for financial assistance to rebuild after the fires – 7 News.
The Australian National Audit Office is inviting people to contribute to its audit of the bushfire fund agency. We have made a submission and suggest you pass the ANAO link on to anyone who might have something to say (Contributions close 23 Dec)
Back in October 2019, the ABC reported that the Visy paper mill in Tumut produced 80,000 tonnes of waste a year – a mix of contaminated raw recycling material that Visy was unable to process – as well as by-products from its recycled papermaking operation.
Environmental impact documents indicate the recycling waste contains potential chemical contaminants including chromium, lead, nickel, zinc and copper, and local residents are concerned the waste has the potential to affect the local water supplies.
And let’s not forget the Federal Court judgement against Richard Pratt and his Visy group, also in October 2019, for fixing the cardboard market with Amcor. Fining the group $36 million, Justice Heerey said Mr Pratt and his senior executives were knowingly concerned in the cartel which involved price fixing, and that ‘This was the worst cartel to come before the courts in 30-plus years.’