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South Australia’s Penola Pulp Mill Authorisation Bill introduced: fast-track for establishment of larger pulp mill by Protavia Pty Ltd

Posted by waterweek on 12 October 2007

Introducing the Penola Pulp Mill Authorisation Bill in the South Australian Legislative Council on 12 September 2007, Gail Gago MP (Australian Labor Party) advised that the Bill incorporated the recommendations of the Select Committee.

Initial approval from DAC followed by legal challenge: Gago said the Development Assessment Commission approved a 350,000 tonne pulp mill on land at Penola in 2006. This approval was the end result of an exhaustive process that had taken into account comments from a wide range of Government agencies including the Environment Protection Authority and the Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation as well as neighbours who were entitled to make comment under the Development Act. Approximately six months later, a legal challenge was made to the DAC’s approval of the development, meaning that for the intervening six months the applicant and the community had faced uncertainty as to whether, if at all, the approved development would be constructed.

Larger pulp mill requested by Protavia: With changes in circumstances, the Government had been informed that the proponent, Protavia Pty Ltd, wished to establish a larger pulp mill on the same approved site at Penola. Whilst the application would ordinarily be assessed by the DAC, this, in the view of the Government, could have led to another six months of uncertainty and unnecessary cost for the proponent and wasted opportunity for the State and for communities in the South East.

Legislation necessary: The Government believed this project to be of such significance that it warranted use of the legislative process to approve key elements of the proposal. The Select Committee had determined that the use of special legislation for this project was acceptable. The Bill additionally sought to establish procedures for the assessment of reserved matters and associated applications as well as stringent compliance procedures to ensure that environmental standards were met. Gago said it was important to emphasise that, in taking this approach, the Government was not reducing any of the environmental standards that would normally have applied had the proposal been assessed under existing Acts and Regulations. She said the Bill set very high environmental standards that the proponent had to achieve.

Precedent explained: Gago said whilst the Government supported the normal processes contained within the Development Act, there was precedent for the use of legislation to advance major projects with development. Roxby Downs was an example of such an approach. This approach, however, had to be careful and considered. The Government was mindful to ensure that there was an appropriate assessment process for reserved matters and variations incorporated into the Bill itself. In addition, the Bill made the Governor responsible for determining reserved matters and associated applications after consultation with the relevant agencies.

Robust processes in place: Gago said the Government sought to ensure that a robust and considered process was put in place that appropriately balanced the interests of the proponents with the interests of the community and the environment. The Bill set a procedure similar to that relating to the assessment requirement under the Development Act. The Select Committee determined, and accepted, that planning, resource sustainabliity, environmental, social and economic factors that otherwise would be integral to a major development process had been addressed by the Bill and the Select Committee’s consultative and review process. Further, the Select Committee was of the view that the Bill, and the consultation and review processes conducted by the Committee, addressed the significant issues that an environmental impact statement would normally address.

Reference: Gail Gago, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Environment and Conservation, Legislative Council, South Australia, 12 September 2007: Penola Pulp Mill Authorisation Bill.

Erisk Net, 12/9/2007

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