Federal environment minister Peter Garrett has maintained for weeks that he had not been approached by Gunns timber company to extend the deadline on the environmental approval process for the company's proposed pulp mill in the Tamar Valley. Last week, however, the government extended the deadline from October 4 to January 5.
According to the August 29 Hobart Mercury, "In a statement coinciding with its annual profit announcement, Gunns also said it would not have finance for the mill finalised until the first quarter of 2009".
This makes securing extensions to Gunns' other pulp mill-related agreements with the government vital for the project to go ahead. For example, the Sovereign Risk Agreement, which guarantees a wood supply for the project from Forestry Tasmania, is due to expire on November 30.
"Last year we had Gunns saying it must have the pulp mill approved by July or it would not proceed", Paul Oosting, anti-pulp mill campaigner for the Wilderness Society, told Green Left Weekly. "Now, over a year later and with no approval and no finance in sight, the federal environment minister is allowing even more time.
"We have to ask whether there is a limit to the time and other concessions this company will be given to meet the inadequate environmental conditions imposed by the previous federal government. When will our leaders act in the public interest and help put this pulp mill out of its misery?"
Meanwhile, a CSIRO report on the hydrodynamic modelling of effluent from the proposed pulp mill is being kept under wraps by Garrett. The report examines the impact pulp mill effluent would have on the fishing industry and sea life.
In a September 3 media release, Greens Senator Christine Milne called for the release of the report. "I am told that the report identifies over 160 chemicals of interest in the proposed pulp mill's effluent, including phytotoxins and dioxins", she said.
"If the government releases this report, and the report says what I expect it to say, that Gunns cannot comply with its requirements, it will have to spend more money on tertiary treatment of its effluent stream. This will be a further $50-500 million cost to Gunns, including for acquiring more land for settling ponds", Milne added.
A series of activities were held in and around the Tamar Valley on September 19-21 that aimed to show more people the beautiful area that is at stake. The events included walks, picnics, and talks by celebrity gardener Peter Cundall and other environmental campaigners.
Last week Gunns' share price dropped to $1.15, one of the lowest levels ever for the company.