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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Gunns pulp mill approvals extension

Interview with Louise Saunders, ABC Hobart Drive Program
8 September 2008

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LOUISE SAUNDERS: The Gunns pulp mill and today we have seen the Federal Environment Minister give the company some extra time, three additional months, to prove that its pulp mill can meet the Federal environmental guidelines.

I spoke earlier this afternoon to the Federal Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett, before he got on a plane, and asked himfirst of all why he decided to grant the extension.

PETER GARRETT [recording]: The conditions that were approved by Minister Turnbull originally included the opportunity for an extension to be granted. And, given that I've only received four of the modules, and there's another 12 that have yet to come to me, I considered that it was appropriate to provide an extension to enable the most fullest consideration possible to be given to the remaining modules and all of the issues to be properly and comprehensively examined by the department and the Independent Experts' Group before they finally come to my desk.

LOUISE SAUNDERS: Did you ask Gunns to provide additional information as to why it hadn't been able to meet the deadline and what it hoped to achieve in the next three months before granting your approval?

PETER GARRETT: Well we made some public comments several weeks back pointing out in fact that there were a number of modules that still hadn't come through to me. And I was advised by the department and by the Independent Expert Group that given that there were a number of matters that were still being discussed between Gunns and the department and the Independent Experts' Group, it was unlikely that in fact Gunns would meet their October deadline.

So that's always been understood as an issue that needed to be addressed. When Gunns wrote to me requesting consideration of an extension, they noted that in fact there were outstanding modules and that that was still subject to the undertakings and discussions between the department and Gunns, and the Independent Experts' Group and, that on that basis, they wouldn't meet the October deadline. And consequently they were seeking that extension and I've granted it.

LOUISE SAUNDERS: The three months, that was their choice, that was what they asked for, three months' extension?

PETER GARRETT: No, Gunns actually asked to, I think, the 31st of December, but I think that it's not altogether practical for us to be trying to determine matters of this magnitude on New Year's Eve and, as a consequence, I proposed a small additional period of time just so that we know that when and if all those modules are presented I have access to the relevant public servantsand experts if there's any additional information that I require to contemplate before making any possible further decision.

LOUISE SAUNDERS: Is this extension now a deadline, is there any possibility Gunns could come back again and ask you for further time?

PETER GARRETT: Well I only treat, Louise, the matters in relation to this Gunns proposal when they come to me, when they reach me, under the processes through both the EPBC Act and the 48 conditions as agreed by the previous government. And, to that extent, there is a provision for an extension in the 48 conditions. They've come to me, Gunns, and sought it.

I consider that it's much better for there to be a thorough scrutiny and evaluation of all the relevant issues surrounding each of the modules prior to them reaching me but, given that they had sought an extension to 31 December, my expectation is that all of the approvals will reach me for consideration by the given period of time that I've set.

LOUISE SAUNDERS: If they don't, is there any provision for further extension, however?

PETER GARRETT: Well, I'm not going to enter into an if they don't or if they do. The conditions which people would be aware of make provision for an extension, I have provided an extension which I think is reasonable giventhe fact that there still are a large number of modules that haven't been completed and brought through to me. And on that basis I propose to treat each of those modules as they come to me on their merits with all the advice that's necessary.

If, at some future point, there's an additional request or an additional change in request that comes from Gunns, then I would consider it. But I'm not making any comments about that in any other way.

LOUISE SAUNDERS: Do you share the doubts of people who have expressed concern that this mill may never in fact be built?

PETER GARRETT: Well it's not my role in this exercise, Louise, to speculate about those matters. I'm the determining decision minister; I inherited a decision that had been taken by the former government and, on that basis, my role is pretty clearly prescribed.

I've got to make sure that matters of national environment significance are properly contemplated in terms of any potential or likely impact; that each of the modules that comes to me is subject to comprehensive assessment including through the Independent Experts' Group and the conditions that were laid down at that point in time. And on that basis, and on that basis alone, I make a judgement about the proposal.

LOUISE SAUNDERS: Just finally, Minister, the Tasmanian Premier has spoken previously of a line in the sand by Christmas by which Tasmanians will know whether this mill will or won't go ahead. For a number of reasons that now doesn't seem to be a line in the sand. Do you have concerns that, as a process, this is becoming drawn out and the Tasmanian people still don't know whether this is a mill that will or won't happen?

PETER GARRETT: Look, obviously I'm aware of the high level of public interest in this process, but I have, at all times,sought to discharge my responsibilities as I'm required to under the act. I'm bound by the environment legislation at the national level and by the conditions that were laid down by the former government, I intend to fulfil my responsibilities in that way.

I think it is preferable for there to be an approvals process and a considerations process that isn't rushed, and I think it's preferable that the Independent Experts' Group has every opportunity to diligently evaluate all of the relevant matters surrounding each of those modules.

I clearly have the perspective of wanting to make sure that the conditions are appropriately identified and met and, additionally, that the environment is adequately protected. If that means an extra 12 or 13 weeks of evaluation and discussion between the department, IAG and Gunns, then I don't think that's unreasonable. And on that basis I provided for the extension and I will consider those modules when they get to me.

LOUISE SAUNDERS: Peter Garrett, I appreciate yourtime this afternoon. Thank you.

PETER GARRETT: Thanks, Louise.


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