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Senator Christine Milne is a Green from Tasmania in the Federal Upper House. She has fought all manner of environmental destruction, in particular the industrial consumption of Tasmania’s iconic forests over the last 30 years. Indeed, she was blooded in the fight against the Wesley Vale Pulp Mill in the 1980s and has brought that experience to bear in the fight against Gunns’ proposed behemoth in the Tamar Valley.

Last issue, investment banker Dani Ecuyer gave this prescient economic analysis of Gunns’ increasingly grim financial situation. This month, Senator Milne lets fly as Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, throws Gunns a lifeline.

 

Q> Ten months on – other than more relevant p.r. exercises, has the change
in federal government yet seen any substantive change in federal
environment policy’

Senator Christine Milne: ‘No, in fact in many ways it’s worse, because there is an alignment
between a Tasmanian Labor Government which will do anything and
everything to facilitate Gunns
, with a Federal Labor Government
supported by Michael O’Connor and the CFMEU. In addition, we have an
Environment Minister who hides in airports rather than face the
community on issues
pertaining to marine effluent and forests.

“Whilst Malcolm Turnbull as Minister wasn’t prepared to stop the mill in
its tracks as he should have done, at least he set some firm dates.
Peter Garrett is bending over backwards to facilitate Gunns to the point
of even suggesting to them that they might like to apply for an
extension. How is that for a wink wink nod nod'”

Q> Regarding Garrett on Gunns – dull though the observation may be, isn’t
it fairly standard at state and federal levels to grant administrative
extension periods when they are sought or necessary’

Sen. Milne: “It should be remembered that the State and Federal Governments agreed
to an assessment process for the pulp mill which Gunns pulled out of,
instead providing an ultimatum that, if the mill did not have all its
approvals by 31 July 2007, Gunns would not proceed because it would cost
them a million dollars a day. After having thrown down the gauntlet to
the Federal and State Governments, they both compromised their
assesssment processes and fast-tracked everything to help Gunns, which,
in turn, treated both governments with contempt.

“Gunns has not done the work on the environmental assessment, but needed
the extension in order to keep alive its hopes of getting funding for
the project. No joint venture partner would consider the project in the
absence of environmental approval. What Minister Garrett has done is
give Gunns cover in financial markets to try to secure its funds. The
extension will not make a jot of difference about compliance with
environmental guidelines, especially since we know that Minister
Garrett, with the full support of the Coalition, is keeping hidden from
the public CSIRO scientist Michael Herzfeld’s report which will
demonstrate that the company cannot meet the dilution and dispersion
requirements in the marine effluent mixing zone, and will have to invest
in tertiary treatment. That is another very expensive process.”

Q> Given all of the barriers facing Gunns – global credit crunch, impending
carbon economies, company debt, collapsed market value, lack of bank
support, ongoing community opposition – is it possible that Garrett and
the federal ALP are playing political aikido and allowing the mill to
fail without actually incurring blame from Gunns, Business Council of
Australia, Liberals, etc.’

Sen. Milne: “I have never believed that Gunns’ pulp mill was economically viable,
and the project is only still alive because of massive state and federal
governnment subsidies, including the 30 year wood supply agreement
giving away Tasmania’s forests at rockbottom prices.

“Keeping the project on life support is completely misreading public
sentiment. If Minister Garrett thinks such action will endear him to the
community, he is wrong. If he thinks it will endear him to the business
community, he will not earn their respect, but rather will confirm their
view that Labor is a push-over for lobbyists from the big end of town,
and will encourage the trend to spend money and time in Canberra, rather
than on science and due process.”