Garrett gives mill go ahead

January 17, 2009

On January 5, federal environment minister Peter Garrett delayed final approval for the Gunns' Tamar Valley pulp mill in Tasmania, rejecting three modules of the environmental assessment while approving nine others.

Garrett said that it would have been "entirely inappropriate" to approve the mill without undertaking further environmental studies. However, deputy prime minister Julia Gillard made it clear at the same time that Gunns is now legally able to begin construction of the mill.

The rejected modules deal with ongoing monitoring of the mill's operation and the response required if environmental limits are exceeded, particularly in relation to the effect of mill effluent on the marine environment. Another two-year extension has been granted for Gunns to carry out these studies.

The penalty for the pulp mill exceeding environmental limits was revised so that the pulp mill will no longer be shut down if a breach occurs. Instead, the mill owners, Gunns Ltd, would be fined up to $1.1 million for each offence.

While Garrett presented the penalties as a tough environmental stand, the January 7 Australian Financial Review reported that Gunns has been calling for these penalties since August 2007 and that any changes to the conditions had to meet with the company's approval.

Residents of the Tamar Valley are unhappy with the Labor government's decision to grant Gunns another two-year extension.

A statement from Tasmanians Against the Pulp Mill said that this meant "another two years of fighting this project, two more years of low house prices and two more years of uncertainty. We are confident that it will never be built but we must keep fighting to make sure."

Meanwhile, on January 7, Gunns served a writ on 13 activists involved in a protest action at the Triabunna woodchip mill last December. The protest was held the day after the federal government released its white paper on climate change, which called for a too-small 5% reduction in Australia's carbon emissions.

The activists had locked themselves onto machinery and stopped work at the mill to draw attention to the impact of old-growth forest logging on climate change. Police charged seven of the protesters with trespassing, but the other six were not arrested because they left when asked to do so by police.

The names and addresses of the protesters were given to Gunns by the Tasmanian police, an action that the Civil Liberties Council said is illegal, according to a Hobart Mercury newspaper report on January 10.

Gunns initially claimed that it obtained personal information about the protesters from court documents, but later admitted that it was given some of the information by the police.

These 13 activists join a group of activists still being sued by Gunns over a protest action four years ago. Five of the original 20 defendants have had the cases against them dropped, one has settled and the other cases are still pending.

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