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Interview with Siobhan Maiden, ABC Northern Tasmania Drive Program
8 September 2008
SIOBHAN MAIDEN: Well, you may have heard in the news that Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett, has given timber company Gunns more time to prove its proposed pulp mill can meet Federal Government environmental guidelines. Minister Garrett joins me now. Good afternoon, Minister Garrett.
PETER GARRETT: Hi, Siobhan.
SIOBHAN MAIDEN: Can you tell us, why have you given Gunns an extension?
PETER GARRETT: Under the previous government's set of conditions for Gunns that Mr Turnbull approved, conditions says that an extension of timecan be granted to make sure that particular elements of the environment impact management plan are completed. Now Gunns haven't shown that there's going to be the possibility for all of those elements to be completed by 4 October and wrote to me seeking an extension. I recognised that we need the most comprehensive set of assessments to come before us in order to determine those modules, so we've provided that extension to enable that additional work to be undertaken.
SIOBHAN MAIDEN: And what reasons did Gunns give for not being able to meet the 4 October deadline?
PETER GARRETT: Well there's been a number of engagements between the department of -and the Independents Experts Group and Gunns in terms of resolving some outstanding issues of complexity in relation to the modules and because that's taken longer than the proponent anticipated, they were seeking that additional extension of time. But I have to say that this isn't about providing an approval for the project or green-lighting it in any way, it's really to make sure that all the relevant information has properly been determined by Gunns, the department and the independent experts group prior to modules coming forward to me for consideration and I think given that there's been quite a bit of time taken up to this point in time and only four modules have reached me for approval, then an extension of time is warranted.
SIOBHAN MAIDEN: Does this suggest though that the original deadline, set by the Federal Government was perhaps unrealistic?
PETER GARRETT: Well, look, I think extensions of time for proposals of this kind are quite common. What's not common is for it to be written into the conditions of approval for an EIMP as Mr Turnbull did with this 12 months figure on. And I am not sure why the minister did that. The fact is that most of the proposals that come through that government has to make determination on generally do run over time...
SIOBHAN MAIDEN: Can you give us some example of some, just how common is it, what other projects have been granted extensions of time?
PETER GARRETT: Well, the point I made at the beginning of the interview is that it was actually Minister Turnbull including the extension in the conditions for the approval. What normally happens is that the proponent will come to the department and seek extra time because further studies have to be done or there's additional material or information that needs to be sought and generally that's granted. This is the opposite way around for some reason. It's a part of the actual conditions and the approvals process that was presented to Gunns and which was delivered to them by Minister Turnbull. I don't think that it is anything other than a mechanistic action on my part to ensure that I have allowed all the relevant material to be dealt with, to be examined and to be produced in adequate time for me to be able to consider the ultimate set of modules when they come to me fully.
SIOBHAN MAIDEN: Minister Garrett, is this process any different to what would have been done with the RPDC process?
PETER GARRETT: Well, this process, Siobhan, as you know, is a process that was laid out by former Minister Turnbull. There are some 48 conditions and processes that exist within that. We've always said, and I've always said that my job as Environment Minister is to ensure, under the act, and under those existing conditions that have been identified and the process that has been identified, to ensure that those conditions are met that we'll continue to treat the approvals and the project on that basis andthat's what we're doing.
SIOBHAN MAIDEN: Have Gunns indicated to you, Mr Garrett which of the 12 modules they're needing more time with?
PETER GARRETT: At this point in time, we are not specifically referring to particular modules as being the primary reason for an extension of time. What is the state of play is a simple one. And that is that I've only received four of the modules, there are some 12 that are outstanding, they are subject to discussion and interaction with the department and also with the Independent Experts Group and they're at various stages, but the important point is that none of them have reached me yet. And until they're signed off by the department and by the Independent Expert's Group then they don't come to my desk and I wait until they come to my desk before I make any determinations on them.
SIOBHAN MAIDEN: And how confident are you that Gunns should be able to complete their management plans by this new deadline of January?
PETER GARRETT: Well, again, that is a matter for the proponent, in this case Gunns. I want to make sure that the process that was started by the previous government, which was approving a project with this environmental impact management plan sitting in the midst of it is actually given adequate scrutiny and evaluation.
SIOBHAN MAIDEN: But wasn't it always a matter for Gunns? I mean, the ball's always been in their court, essentially you're just giving them, you know, a longer time and a bigger court to play on.
PETER GARRETT: Look, I think that my primary task is to ensure that there is absolutely adequate and comprehensive examination of all of the relevant materials in relation to any modules that come forward to me for approval. And given that there are some highly technical and complex issues that sit within these modules and given that it's my overall total and non-conditional position that I need to be fully informed of all the relevant issues to ensure that the environment's adequately protected then providing some additional time, which isn't a great deal,but it's anticipated that it would be a sufficient to enable the rest of these modules to come through is a proper cause of action in these circumstances.
SIOBHAN MAIDEN: And what if it's not sufficient, how many more deadlines are you prepared to give a company who doesn't meet deadlines they had already agreed to?
PETER GARRETT: Well, Siobhan, I am not going to get into a hypotheticals with you on this, I've got one request for an extension under this project, there is the provision for the extension to be granted under the agreement as originally determined by Minister Turnbull. I've made that extension and I don't propose to say anymore until such time as we reach that point where we have to make additional decisions or have additional discussions or considerations.
SIOBHAN MAIDEN: Okay. So the deadline you have given is 5 January. Once you receive everything from Gunns, how long do you anticipate that your department will need to ascertain with or not the guidelines have been met by Gunns?
PETER GARRETT: Well, I want to see what these modules actually constitute when they get to me. They haven't reached me yet, they're pretty complex, I always go to every length to make sure that I fully understand all the issues contained within the modules fully understand all the data and the relevant material that's been presented to me, so I am not going to start putting timelines on myself at this point other than to say that I'll make sure that I provide adequate time for myself to ultimately fully inform myself when I get the position of having to make a decision about any of the modules that come through subsequently.
SIOBHAN MAIDEN: What about timelines for the company?
PETER GARRETT: What about them?
SIOBHAN MAIDEN: Is 5 January the very last deadline for them?
PETER GARRETT: Well, the point I've made in my release is that I've extended the period until 5 January in the expectation that all of the approvals, information that's necessary for meto consider will be completed and on my desk by that time.
SIOBHAN MAIDEN: Thanks very much for your time today.
PETER GARRETT: Thanks, Siobhan.
SIOBHAN MAIDEN: That's Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett.