Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Trouble at the Mill - Gunns and Government force the issue

March 23, 2007 - The controversial Tasmanian Pulp Mill Assessment Bill has passed the Lower House of Parliament. Gunns withdrew its massive pulp mill from the independent planning body last week - forcing the Government to introduce legislation for a "special" assessment process. The Greens tried to move a number of amendments to the legislation, including changing its name to the Pulp Mill Approval Bill, without success.

The bill to fast-track a proposed $2 billion pulp mill in Tasmania reeks of accusations Premier Paul Lennon interfered in assessing the project...
FRIDAY March 23, 2007 -

The Tasmanian Parliament have voted down a Greens motion to kill the Pulp Mill Assessment Bill, which the Government introduced to allow for a special assessment of a $1.4 billion pulp mill in northern Tasmania.

Gunns withdrew the project from the independent assessment body claiming they were losing money on the proposal. Greens leader Peg Putt said. "I've been in the Parliament for quite a few years now and I've never seen anything as rank as this," she said. Tasmania's Labor Premier Paul Lennon accused the Greens of playing politics. The Opposition Liberals have flagged their support for the legislation, although they say it proves the State Government has mishandled the project.

Meanwhile, a document has been released that suggests Premier Paul Lennon misled the public about the pulp mill assessment. Retired Supreme Court judge Christopher Wright, the chair of the Resource Planning and Development Commission panel that had been assessing the pulp mill until proponents Gunns withdrew it last week, released a statutory declaration and draft resignation letter to support his version of events. In an unprecedented move, Mr Wright called a press conference and released a statutory declaration to counter "incorrect" statements made by Mr Lennon.

Mr Wright said: "That Mr Lennon had tried to "heavy" him at their February 27 meeting into agreeing to conduct a shorter and "severely curtailed" mill assessment; the "inappropriate" actions of Gunns boss John Gay and Mr Lennon had delayed the assessment of the mill; Mr Lennon's suggested July 31 timeline had been "ludicrous and impossible"..."

Tasmanian Greens deputy leader Nick McKim said the timeline proved Mr Wright's belief that Mr Lennon had given him an ultimatum. "He has clearly misled the House," he said.

Mr Wright said at that meeting that Mr Lennon made a "completely inappropriate" attempt to "pressure" him to fast-track assessment of Gunns Ltd's $2billion pulp mill project. The eminent jurist says Mr Lennon gave him an "ultimatum" to scrap public hearings and agree to a new timeline concluding the assessment by July 31 or face legislation and ministerial directions to that end.

Mr Wright says he discussed the Premier's ultimatum with his fellow panel members and they came to a unanimous decision that such a process would be unfair and "fundamentally flawed". Mr Wright wrote. "I am unable to participate in an assessment process which is severely curtailed both in content and duration in the way you have proposed. To do so would compromise the independence and effectiveness of the assessment process and would adversely affect the quality of the panel's report."

After Gunns withdrew its project from the Resource Planning and Development Commission panel, Premier Lennon recommended "fast-tracking" the project by legislation - to create an abridged version of the assessment.

Mr Wright was appointed last month after his predecessor, Julian Green, resigned alleging government undermining of the independence of the assessment process. The same charge was made by another panel member who also resigned.

Labor and the Liberals voted in support of the Tasmanian Pulp Mill Assessment legislation. The Bill will now be tabled in the Upper House.

Federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull says logging company Gunns Ltd must react swiftly to requests for information on environmental aspects of its planned Tasmanian pulp mill or the project might face delays.

Mr Turnbull said that the process could start as soon as the Gunns referral was lodged. "At this stage it is very likely we will proceed ... with our own process and deal with our own issues so that we're not caught up in whatever the Tasmanian process is," he said. "As I said to Mr Gay, the pace of our consideration of these matters will be determined by his ability to respond to our requests."

The Tasmanian Greens and Liberal opposition have asked the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Tim Ellis to investigate whether Mr Lennon broke the law by attempting to influence Justice Wright. Mr Lennon brushed the controversy aside, saying he was not giving up on the pulp mill.

"The benefits for Tasmania of having this project assessed are enormous. We cannot give up on the potential for 2,000 long-term, permanent jobs and an extra $6.7 billion being added to the economy," he said. The State Government is preparing to hire a consultant who will determine whether the mill should go ahead but the project may not have to meet Tasmania's environmental requirements.

Lennon faces new mill heat - Mercury
Greens' pulp mill motion voted down - ABC
Former judge says Lennon lied - The Australian
Pulp mill Bill passes Lower House - ABC
Answers needed from Gunns: Turnbull - SMH
Premier undeterred by pulp mill claims - The West
Fresh concerns about Tas pulp mill approval process - ABC

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