Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Accounting, Economics and Finance


This is a case study of the company, Gunns Ltd, which proposed a pulp mill in the state of Tasmania, Australia, and had economic, environmental, social and political significance. The proposal was considered by various government processes and it is these processes and interactions (predominantly between the state and corporation) which the thesis analyses using critical discourse analysis. The thesis is theoretically informed by the theory of legitimation (Habermas, Turkel).

The development versus conservation debate is not a new phenomenon for Tasmania and Gunns Ltd reignited this debate in 2003 when it proposed the building of a pulp mill and continued until 2007. The Gunns’ pulp mill project was not only significant because of its potential to add value to the single biggest forestry export, woodchips, for Australia (ABARE, 2007), but also for its potential contribution to the Tasmanian economy (ABS, 2012; CommSec, 2013). The mill also had probable adverse impact on the environment. The purpose of this research is to explore the role of such financial discourse in the assessment of this project and understand how such a discourse interacts with, influences and/or is influenced by other discourses in decisions that require consideration of both development and conservation.

The Gunns’ pulp mill assessment process (a discursive event) was investigated in the context of a number of competing and complimentary public discourses. Critical discourse analysis (CDA) (Fairclough, 1992) has been chosen as a methodological vehicle for this study because of its capacity to analyse a complex discursive event and its key constituents/ dimensions. Three dimensions/ layers are analysed separately and then together. The outermost layer, social practice, involved consideration of socio-economic, political, historical, and legislative contexts. The innermost layer, the text, was drawn from publically available documentation from Gunns Ltd, the assessment authority, parliamentary Hansards and public submissions. The social practice and text layers were reconsidered in terms of discourse practice which exposed how discourse is produced, reproduced and influenced each layer (Fairclough, 1992).

The CDA analysis was informed by the theory of legitimation using the combined insights of Turkel (1980a, 1980b, 1982) and Habermas (1975, 1986, 1987). The analysis revealed that a pro-development bias was legitimated by privileging financial/ economic discourse. This privileging was evident in the government assessment processes, assessment entities/statutory bodies and the legislation which supported these. It is argued that a legitimation crisis was imminent whether the project was approved or not. This crisis involved the dissolution of the assessment entity, resignation of leaders (including the premier of the state), drafting of new legislation and eventually the withdrawal of the pulp mill proposal.

It was concluded that despite past experiences of the state, Gunns became complicit in the legitimation crisis. The findings in the Gunns’ pulp mill case confirmed that there were still lessons to be learned; development vs. conservation was still a contested terrain.