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

Gunns pulp mill

Interview with Scott Bevan, 7.30 Report ABC TV
5 January 2009

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BEVAN: And a short while ago, I spoke with the Environment Minister, Peter Garrett in our Sydney studio.

Peter Garrett, in October 2007 when the former federal government decided to give the green light to the plan for the mill, then Prime Minister, John Howard said it would have been cowardly to put off making a decision about the project. How cowardly are you feeling tonight?

GARRETT: That's a very colourful question to start 2009 with mate, but I feel in no way, in the way that you've described it. Rather I feel as though I've done exactly the right thing that the public would require of me, and also that the environment legislation requires of me in making this decision in the way that I have.

BEVAN: But isn't the Government having an each way bet here?

GARRETT: I think the important thing to remember is that it was Malcolm Turnbull who approved this mill and who laid in place the conditions for the mill. And he separated them into modules, including the construction modules.

The Environment Minister's role is to determine whether or not any of those modules will have an impact on matters of national environment significance. If they don't have that kind of impact, then the modules can be and should be approved. The critical modules in the Gunns proposal are the L, M and N modules, the modules that I haven't approved, because they're the ones that go to the issues of effluent dispersal, of the potential impact on the marine environment, and the potential for having proper measures in place to deal with any impact if it arrives.

And it's always been the case that in order to make that decision, you have to be fully availed of the necessary modelling and the scientific response to that modelling and that that ought to be something which takes place before approval is given. Now I think that's the sensible way to go about dealing with this proposal and that's what I've decided today.

BEVAN: But do you believe, as the Gunn's media release says, that you recognise this mill will be the most environmentally friendly mill in the world?

GARRETT: I want it to be that. But the only way that we will know that it can be that is for this work to be done and to be done properly and thoroughly over a full 12 month seasonal period with necessary time for the scientific inquiry to consider that modelling and to determine whether or not we need strategies to deal with any issues that arise. So that will be the information that should come back to me to make a determination on and that's as it should be.

BEVAN: Do you think, at the moment, that - as it says here -that you recognise that the mill will be the most environmentally friendly mill in the world?

GARRETT: Well Scott, everybody is going to spin today's decision, whoever you speak to. Can I be really plain with you about this? My decisions are actionable in law. I make sure that I make them carefully and properly and that's what I've done today.

Additionally, if we are going to have a mill that operates to discharge a large volume of effluent into Bass Strait, I want to be certain, as Environment Minister, discharging my responsibilities, that in fact there will not be unacceptable impacts on the environment. The only way that I can make that determination is for that long period, 12 months plus of hydrodynamic modelling to take place. Once that's taken place, we'll have the information, we can consider what, if any, responses are necessary and make the subsequent decisions as appropriate.

BEVAN: Why should the mill be allowed to be built if these environmental questions are still outstanding?

GARRETT: Well that's a consequence of Malcolm Turnbull's decision making process and approval. And I think it would be reckless of a subsequent government to completely overturn a decision making process and approvals that was put in place by a previous government. No-one would expect us to do that for this project or any others. What they would expect is that we would set the right high environment standards for considering all of the issues that come to us. I will do that. I will make sure, as I've done in my decision today, that matters of national environment significance are properly protected. I've also made a decision about ensuring that if we have an exceedance of the maximum allowable limits in the effluent discharge, above that which is identified, then Gunns will be subject to sanction.

So, I'm strengthening some of Turnbull's conditions, but I'm making clear that all the conditions have to be met before a final approval, if that's to happen can take place.

BEVAN: How much is this conditioning of the community so that down the track you can say, well this mill is being constructed or has been constructed, it wouldn't make sense for it not to be operational, so lets look at this and it does get approved?

GARRETT: Look, I'm very aware of the high level of community concern. I mean we went and had a community cabinet in Launceston. I spoke to people about it. I stayed another day and spent time hearing people's views. But my decision making role as a minister is a very clear one, and it relies on the me being very careful to observe diligently those matters that I'm required to under the legislation and to follow those conditions and make sure that they are the right conditions, strengthen them if necessary, that Turnbull laid down. That's the way in which I've approached this decision making, and it's on that basis that it'll be judged.

BEVAN: Peter Garrett, you've allowed for two more years for the process of dealing with those last three modules. Why so long, given Gunns has already had years to prove that this project needs environmental standards?

GARRETT: Well look, to be clear, the hydrodynamic modelling that I'm requiring to be done now would have had to be done, in any event, under Mr Turnbull's condition approval. So, all we've done is bring forward that hydrodynamic modelling, ensure that there's an appropriate length of time for it to be done properly and have that as a condition precedent to any final approval of the mill.

I mean this is actually getting the decision making the right way around. Don't approve it and then go off and have a whole series of environmental studies and modelling take place. Rather, make sure that that modelling is done properly and adequately and comprehensively and then make the decisions that you require to make under the act.

BEVAN: Minister, what do you think this uncertainty is doing and will do to those Northern Tasmanian communities?

GARRETT: There is anxiety, mate, about the fact that there are people in this community that want this issue to be resolved. Now I'm aware of that. But I'm also aware that my primary responsibility is to ensure that I actually make sure that all of the conditions that attach to this proposal, are conditions that are set out in such a way that we won't have an unacceptable impact on matters of national environment significance. That is my brief as minister. I intend to discharge it fully and on that basis, and then on that basis particularly, make a decision about whether to approve the mill in the future or not.

BEVAN: Peter Garrett, thanks for your time.

GARRETT: Thanks Scott.


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