On April 2, federal environment minister Peter Garrett approved the third stage of the controversial Gunn's pulp mill. Bulldozers have been given the go-ahead at the Tamar Valley site in northern Tasmania.
Gunns is submitting its Environmental Impact Management Plan in a series of 16 modules and aims to start the mill's construction by the end of June. Garrett has already approved two other modules: the overview and vegetation clearing on the mill site and wharf access.
Gunns and the federal and state ALP governments face growing opposition to the mill. A survey by research firm EMRS, between March 20–28, found that 69% said public money should be prioritised on health infrastructure and services. Just 1% said it should be spent on pulp pill infrastructure.
The survey commissioners criticised the state government on April 11 for "misappropriating" $100-$200 million of public money "to expedite and promote the Gunns pulp mill".
The so-called jobs bonanza Gunns said the mill would provide has now been scaled back. The March 21 Mercury revealed that the mill will employ 1250 construction workers, not the promised 3000. Gunns CEO John Gay said more pre-fabrication would now take place in Europe.
Greens MP Kim Booth said on March 28 that, "The long-term jobs on this pulp mill are a handful of high tech positions running what is virtually a fully automated operation. The short-term construction jobs have collapsed by almost a third and now the entire 100-strong design team has been shifted to Melbourne by Gunns."
Two new bills, the Water and Sewerage Corporations Bill 2008 and the Water and Sewerage Industry Bill 2008, were tabled in the Legislative Council on April 8.
If passed, these Regional Authorities — businesses wholly owned by government — will take control of council sewerage and water assets and also have the power to borrow money for infrastructure. Councils and others have spoken out against what they believe to be the first step in the privatisation of these public services.
Kim Booth of the Tasmanian Greens questioned Lennon over whether the proposed Regional Authorities are destined to pay for the pulp mill pipelines to Long Reach and the effluent pipe "to its Bass strait dumping ground" and called on him to rule out using these regional boards "as a means of overcoming impediments to the construction of the Gunns' water pipeline".
Lawyers for Forests, which in 2007 filed against the federal environment minister and Gunns, faces its second hearing in the Federal Court on April 30. The group is concerned about the mill's adverse impact on the marine environment, native forests and those species relying on those habitats.
Meanwhile, key anti-pulp mill groups are organising in a new alliance, which brings together Tasmanians Against the Pulp Mill, the Wilderness Society, GetUp, the Greens, Environment Tasmania, Lawyers for Forests, Future Tasmania, Timber Workers for Forests, Students Against the Pulp Mill, Tasmanian Conservation Trust, local residents, community leaders and health professionals.