August 10, 2007
Construction of the nation's biggest pulp mill could start within weeks after Tasmanian environmentalists lost a crucial case against Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the Federal Court yesterday.
"We are disappointed," said Geoff Law from the Wilderness Society, one of the parties that took the case against the federal minister.
"But now all eyes are going to be on Malcolm Turnbull," Mr Law said. "He has to make the decision on an extremely destructive pulp mill being built in a marginal seat in Tasmania where the majority of people don't want it."
Mr Turnbull is expected to give federal approval soon to the $1.4 billion mill being built by the forestry company Gunns. The mill's opponents are expected to wait to see whether he puts conditions on his approval before appealing.
The mill, which will be the largest chlorine dioxide bleaching mill in Australia, has been strenuously opposed by local wine growers, fishermen and farmers in Tasmania, as well as the ABC's gardening broadcaster Peter Cundall.
The mill will be built on the banks of the Tamar River and has been supported by both the Federal Opposition and the Federal Government.
It is also strongly supported by the Tasmanian Labor Government, which plans to pass legislation at the end of the month giving the mill the final go-ahead. Both the Tasmanian Government and Gunns say the pulp mill will meet the highest environmental standards in the world.
But Gunns withdrew from the state's independent assessment process in March this year, citing undue delays to the project.
It threatened to drop its plans for the billion-dollar project until Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon agreed to fast-track the approval process.
Under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, Mr Turnbull is required to examine the effects the mill might have on marine species and migratory birds.
Scallop fishermen and the Wilderness Society have raised concerns about the estimated 64,000 tonnes of effluent that will flow daily into Bass Strait.
When the state's independent assessment review was scrapped, Mr Turnbull's department began its own review, telling Gunns that it would be completed by this month.
The Wilderness Society and a group of local businesses, calling themselves Investors for the Future of Tasmania, took the action in the Federal Court claiming that Mr Turnbull had not conducted an adequate review process.
Mr Lennon and Gunns say a new environment assessment has been done and outstanding concerns can be dealt with.