Gunns Ltd red carding the umpire assessing its proposed pulp mill has sent the Tasmanian Government into a desperate struggle to prevent an own goal.
The timber company announced to the Australian Stock Exchange last Wednesday that it was formally withdrawing its $1.5b mill proposal from the State Government’s Resource Planning and Development Commission,(RPDC) claiming that the assessment process was taking too long.
The RPDC was an independent assessment process supported by both the State and Federal Governments’ with both having to sign off on the project in order for it to proceed.
Gunns CEO John Gay has set a deadline of June 30 for the assessment process to be finalised claiming that delaying construction into the next financial year would add another $60m to the project.
It’s been almost four years since the timber company first announced its plans to build a pulp mill with opinion bitterly divided as to the merits of the project.
The mill proposal has been dogged by bad publicity since its inception with the most recent chapter being the dual resignations of the former head of the RPDC, Julian Green, and fellow board member Warwick Raverty.
Both claimed that the activities of the State Government’s Pulp Mill Task Force were undermining the credibility of the independent assessment process.
Gay told Tasmanian media that the company was still committed to the project but it was now up to the State Government to promptly approve the project or risk the proposal being scuttled.
Premier Paul Lennon has pulled out all the stops in an attempt to salvage the mill proposal and is understood to be seeking advice as to how to proceed with direct parliamentary approval before Gunns deadline.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Even if the Tasmanian Government can approve the mill before Gunns deadline it may still fall at the final hurdle if it cannot satisfy the relevant provisions of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth).
Federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he was disappointed that Gunns had decided to withdraw from the assessment process and was waiting to see the Tasmanian Government’s new assessment scheme before finalising his position.
Green groups have condemned Gunns and the Premier claiming that any new assessment process will be “quick, dirty and lack transparency” and that the Government and opposition are too close to Gunns citing past electoral donations the company has made to the ALP and Liberal Party.