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Details of complex history of Tasmanian pulp mill assessment laid bare in Legislative Council

Posted by waterweek on 18 September 2007

The history of the hearings on the application for a permit to construct a proposed pulp mill by Gunns was detailed by T.L. Martin in the Tasmanian Legislative Council on 28 August 2007.

Life changing decision: Discussing the approval process decided on by both Houses of the Tasmanian Parliament back in March and April, Martin recalled: “I was one of five in this Chamber who voted against the process and for me, perhaps more than some of the others, I knew at the time that because of the ramifications of that vote it was going to be a life-changing decision.”

Deadline extended: “In July 2006, Gunns issued the Bell Bay pulp mill draft integrated impact statement and in October Beca AMEC, CSIRO and URS Australia issued their reports in the draft IIS to the Resource Planning and Development Commission (RPDC) and straightaway a directions hearing was held in Launceston to assist the RPDC to prepare for a public hearing into the Gunns’ proposal,” recalled Martin. “In November, Unicrest issued its report on the draft IIS to the RPDC and in December, the RPDC issued the directions arising out of the directions hearing. Basically they revolved around supplementary information to be provided by Gunns to address the new guidelines by 15 December and that was later put out to 31 January 2007.”

Non-compliance identified: “In January 2007, two things happened. The RPDC panel member, Dr Warwick Rafferty, resigned and executive commissioner of the RPDC and chairman of the pulp mill assessment panel, Julian Green, also resigned,” Martin said. “I am not going into that story. Gunns also were unable to provide the supplementary information by the due date of 31 January. In February, the RPDC reconstituted the assessment panel with two new appointments, but then issued the Bell Bay pulp mill draft integrated impact statement, supplementary information. A second directions hearing was held to facilitate and clarify those steps which were necessary to ensure the completion of the assessment process. The panel and the RPDC staff reviewed the supplementary information against the direction given by the panel to Gunns which arose out of the directions hearing of 25 October 2006 and, at that stage, significant non-compliance with that direction was identified.”

Gunns withdraw from process: “That really is an important point that I believe this Parliament should have been aware of when we dealt with the assessment bill legislation. In March 2007, the RPDC prepared a letter for Gunns in which the non-compliances with the direction were identified, the most serious of which was the failure by Gunns to integrate the supplementary information of the draft IIS. This letter was to be issued to Gunns on 9 March but it was not sent at the request of the Secretary of Department of Premier and Cabinet. On 14 March 2007, Gunns withdrew from the RPDC assessment process. At that stage the Parliament was not told about this non-compliance with the supplementary information that had been identified with the RPDC. In April, Gunns withdrew the referral to the Federal department. The Federal Government was to carry out an assessment of the project that included the impact on listed and threatened species, forests as well as the marine environment, and related international treaty applications. ‘The Commonwealth assessment process is an assessment on preliminary documentation’ and that is a quote.”

RPDC involvement ceases: “The Pulp Mill Assessment Bill passed both Houses of Parliament in the Tasmanian Parliament and was given royal assent on 30 April. As a result of the act receiving royal assent, the project ceased to be a project of State significance and the RPDC had no further involvement in the project. The Finnish consultancy group, SWECO PIC, and the Melbourne consultancy, ITS Global, were announced as the Tasmanian Government’s independent consultants of choice to assess the proposal by Gunns against the Tasmanian guidelines. In June, of course, SWECO PIC issued its final report, as did ITS Global, and that is what we are considering today.”

Reference: Doug Parkinson, Leader of the Government in the Council, Member for Wellington, Legislative Council, Parliament of Tasmania, Tasmania, 28 August 2007.

Erisk Net, 14/9/2007

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