Alan Jones interviews Chris Kowal and Brett Mason

Alan Jones Breakfast Show 16 April 2002 7:20AM
Charcoal Plant
Published with permission
AJ Alan Jones
CK Chris Kowal
BM Brett Mason

AJ Intro
It is almost impossible to give justice to the issues that come across my desk which remain unaddressed or else to use a colloquial expression – buggered up by Government.

On Hunter’s Hill High, for example, the Government doesn’t listen to the people, it just tells the people, and then we find that information is withheld. On Hire Cars and Jet Skis, the Government doesn’t listen to people – it doesn’t want to know their concerns.

On Land Tax, an issue we are going to have to address again, it doesn’t listen to people – it doesn’t want to know. Who’s representing who? We turn to the south coast, where by any objective analysis, it’s a story of utter chaos, and can I use the word “dissembling”? Someone not telling the truth.

Now the south coast, as you know, is one of the most beautiful parts of the State – they call it the Nature Coast. But that may not be the case for much longer. It hasn’t received much publicity outside of the area, but they certainly have written to me in droves. There is a proposal for a massive, and I mean massive, near the little towns of Mogo and Broulee.

That’s about half way between Moruya and Batemans Bay. And this plant would produce Charcoal, which would then be taken to a proposed silicon metal production plant at Lithgow. There they’d make the like of solar cells and silicon chips – all very laudable.

Now the Mayor of Lithgow, Neville Castle, has written to me to say how the Council is well aware “that a number of projects could be hijacked by a minority of emotive protestors”.

If you are going to accuse “emotive protestors” of having a vested interest, you’d have to level the same accusation at the Mayor of Lithgow – he has a vested interest, after all, the Lithgow factory will not go ahead unless the charcoal factory is approved. But it’s the very scale of this proposed charcoal plant and the potential impact on the environment and local communities, that has people fuming.

How big? Well try 73 hectares, or put it another way, it’s the size of 107 football fields. But only 25 have been cleared. The site is surrounded on three sides by bush. The proposed plant will have 5 chimneys, each more than 30 metres, or 11 stories high. It will operate 24 hours a day for 350 days a year. The plant will consume around 200,000 cubic tonnes of timber per year which will be turned into between 30,000 and 35,000 tonnes of charcoal. It will be located between 2.2 and 2.6 Km from three local schools. It will be 2.5 km from a proposed college. 2.9 km from the Broulee retirement village.

But above all else, is that very few people in the area want it. The Eurobodalla Shire Council has reportedly been pushing for the plant to be built – once again, local government riding roughshod over the wishes of local residents.

What’s also clear is that the State Government is also pushing for the plant to be built. But Andrew Refshauge the Planning Minister will tell you that no decision has been reached.

But on the 14th of February this year, Bob Carr was quoted in the Eurobodalla Sun News paper as saying “It’s going ahead, end of story I am certain that it’s environmentally sound it’s going ahead it’s as simple as that.” Now that is another story that I will come to in a moment.

Chris Kowal is the head of the Charcoalition, the group fighting to keep the plant out, and he’s on the line. Chris, good morning,

CK Good morning Alan

AJ How long has this proposal been on the drawing board?

Ck It came to the community’s attention way back in August/ July last year.

AJ So who’s pushing for it to be built?

CK State Government’s pushing for it to be built

AJ and why have they chosen Broulee and Mogo

CK they have chosen the South Coast, Broulee Mogo area because the regional manager for State Forests has been flogging off our forests for the silicon proposal

AJ so there is plenty of timber down there?

CK well there is plenty of timber, but that timber performs other functions

AJ sure, but what I am saying is that would be the reason for them wanting to locate it there?

CK that’s correct

AJ how many people live in the area

CK you’ve got a ball park figure, 30,000 is the permanent population of the Eurobodalla Shire

AJ right, it’s known as the nature coast isn’t it, that is it’s attraction to tourists?

CK That’s it attraction to tourists, that’s it’s attraction to retiree’s too, there is a huge market for people retiring to the south coast because they have had enough of the hectic industrialised ….of their working lives

AJ I mean, 73 hectares is a big lump of land isn’t it, with only 25 so far cleared, does that mean that close to 50 hectares of bush land would have to be ripped out?

CK a large part of that yes, there is a buffer around the edges but the majority of that would be cleared out, yes

AJ and 5 chimneys the equivalent of 11 stories high, I mean that’s not small is it?

Ck Oh absolutely not, you would actually see this from such prominent places as Broulee and Tomakin Headlands where you have beautiful spectacular coastal scenes, with a beautiful mountain back drop and smack bang in the middle of it you would have these five retorts going 24 hours a day

AJ that’s what I was going to say, 24 hours a day 350 days a year, where will the timber come from? Because I notice Australian Silicon operation saying that no trees will be cut down for the sole purpose of charcoal.

CK that’s a wonderful play on words by the beaurocrats in State Forests, what they’ve actually done is, in short they have jiggled the figures and come up with rhetoric like that so that most people would like to believe, oh that’s nice they’re just doing a more thorough job.

AJ yeah the timber’ll fall out of the sky

Ck that’s right, but the reality is far from it, extra trees will be cut down and extra impacts will be made within the catchment and will bugger up people’s drinking water and aesthetic values and for the reasons why they came down here in the first place.

AJ What about trucks though? How many trucks are we talking about on a daily basis, cause you’ve then got the additional trucks taking the charcoal to Lithgow.

CK Look, the truck numbers is huge, we are talking about possibly in excess of a hundred percent increase in heavy vehicle movements, because of this industrial proposal

AJ and Australian Silicon says well traffic won’t increase by more than 2.7%

CK that’s right, it’s an absolute joke

AJ hard to believe isn’t it? Just for the benefit of our listeners, the charcoal’s produced – am I right here Chris, the timber’s brought to the plant, it’s weighed, unloaded, chopped and in the air it’s dried, it’s fed then into a drying chamber and a carbonising chamber, and the charcoal is then made and cooled and loaded on to trucks and off to Lithgow.

CK that’s correct Alan

AJ and there are by products of a result of all this aren’t there?

Ck yes there is wonderful by product called pyrolingus acid, which is more commonly known as a tarry sludge but, we’re told there will be no sludge produced and it won’t be an issue as it will in a sense be treated on site with a wonderful biological treatment that hasn’t worked anywhere else in the world.

AJ I notice the national parks and wild life service has laid questions about a number of aspects about this and it say’s and I quote ” the national parks and wild life service considers the information provided is not sufficiently adequate to permit an informed decision in regard to the potential impact of the proposal and what is potentially an important natural and cultural setting, critical areas such as the impact on threatened species and their habitat, wet land ecological values and aboriginal sites haven’t been investigated to an appropriate level. What sort of promises have been made about jobs?

CK That’s a wonderful area, jobs, well we’ve been promised up to a 120 odd jobs when the particular document signing over the project as a project of State Significance, it was signed off on the basis of only 10 jobs

AJ so if it is a project of State Significance it gets taken out of the control of local authorities and everything and is solely in the hands of the state government.

CK that’s correct, Andrew Refshauge becomes the decider

AJ right, Now I believe that two proposals similar at Dubbo and Gunnedah were rejected, so why, if it’s no good for Dubbo and no good for Gunnedah why is it OK for Broulee and Mogo

CK Well that’s got us beat, as far as we can figure, the will of the people just doesn’t count when it comes to the will of the government, and this is being clearly driven by apolitical agenda which said ” Well we promised some heavy industry jobs for Lithgow, and they’re going to get it regardless” The labour party has got nothing to gain in the seat of Bega, so we can put all our unpleasant stuff down there, because they’ll rant and rave, and it doesn’t matter to us.

AJ This is, as I say to my listeners, Hunters Hill revisited, this is Hire Cars revisited, Jet Ski’s revisited, you don’t listen to the people, you tell the people. Now premier Carr would have us believe that no decision has been made. Now remember, I said that the Eurobodalla Sun Newspaper carried a story on the 14 February, and that story quotes the premier as saying “It’s going ahead, end of story, I am certain it is environmentally sound, it’s going ahead it’s as simple as that.” Well enter a young fellow by the name of Brett Mason who is seventeen years of age, he was the reporter who wrote the story, just hang on there Chris, and I’ll go to Brett, Brett, Good morning.

BM Good to speak with you

AJ you too, you’re seventeen years of age, still at school

BM that’s right, year 12

AJ In the middle of exams

BM just finished my half yearlies

AJ right, but you are the person who actually wrote this story, so you are prepared to say on a million Bibles that you did have a conversation with Bob Carr

BM I did in fact have a conversation with Bob Carr, and it was reported correctly on the 14th February,

AJ You represented your self as Brett Mason, representing the Eurobodalla and Shoalhaven Sun Newspapers

BM Yes, that’s how I introduced myself to the Premier

AJ and you had a visible press pass?

BM I did

AJ Was there anyone else present?

BM pardon

AJ Was there anyone else present?

BM yes there was another fire fighter that was with me, his name is Rodney Morley, he is a resident of Moruya, and I have dealt with Rodney in the past, I have covered a lot of stories on the charcoal issue, and we both went over to speak to the Premier about the story.

AJ and Mr Carr said what

BM we introduced ourselves, and Rodney started the conversation by saying that he wanted the charcoal plant to go ahead and at first Mr Carr was a bit confused, he wasn’t sure what he was referring to, and he asked where Rodney lived and Rodney said in the Eurobodalla, and the Premier shook his head and said well it’s going ahead end of story, I mean as though to say why are you bringing this up, it’s happening, and he said he is personally aware of the issue, he had spoken with council, and other departments, and he was certain that it’s environmentally sound, it’s going ahead it’s as simple as that, and that was kind of what happened

AJ and is the Premier now saying that no decision has been made?

BM that’s the impression that I’ve got, and in other local media sources the Premier spoken to other local newspapers and radio stations and their spoke person, and it’s painted a picture that the Premier’s denied the conversation and makes me out to look as though I am a liar, which is very disturbing that the Premier has forgotten our conversation.

AJ a seventeen year old doesn’t have too many recourses against the Premier, does he?


AJ You’ve written to Mr Carr, haven’t you, outlining your proof and seeking an apology – have you heard back from him?

BM Actually he rang yesterday afternoon – well not the Premier himself, it was Michael Salmon the senior press secretary who rang me at 10 to 5 yesterday and spoke with me but he did inform me that this was an off-the-record conversation, so I’m still waiting for a formal reply to my letter.

AJ All right – well you just hang in there, you keep your chin up, we need people like you in the media and good luck with your exams and good luck with your future employment.

BM Thank you very much

AJ OK and let’s go back to Chris Kowal. If it’s not too late, and the government hasn’t already made up it’s mind, what’s your message to Premier Carr and the Government?

CK Our message to Premier Carr is that he needs to listen to the people. There has been an overwhelming response from the community against this proposal from a wide variety of sectors. From the Tourism industries down here, from teaching industries, health industries, from the community at large, Canberra has spoken out loudly against it, and as Sydney becomes aware of it they too are speaking out loudly against it because they know we do not want another industrial heartland, something like Port Kembla, down the South Coast, that we are the Nature Coast and with good reason.

AJ OK Leave it there – thank you for your time. This is another classic story isn’t it about the way in which government does or does not listen to the concerns of the people. What is government of the people by the people for the people if it doesn’t listen to the people?

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