Image for Burke and the EPBC Act: Beyond  Ignorance and Ineptitude

Under the terms of the federal EPBC Act, the Minister responsible for its administration, Tony Burke had a duty to carry out the final stages of the approval process in relation to effluent from Gunns’ pulp mill polluting Commonwealth waters, and to ensure that the mill would not impact adversely on threatened species, whether in that same marine environment, or on land.

But there is absolutely nothing within his remit under the EPBC Act to have power to impose conditions on wood supply for the mill.  He has no authority at all to claim, as he did on Thursday 10 March, that conditions had been stipulated by him in relation to the mill only using plantation feedstock.  It is simply not within his legal authority to make such a statement about such conditions.

Therefore, when Burke gave his tick of approval for “dioxin lite” being pumped into Bass Strait, he was giving the final green light in the approval process required under Commonwealth law, but his claim of “no going backwards on plantation-only feedstock” is not a condition that has been written into Commonwealth law under the terms of the EPBC Act.  Nor is it condition which has been written into Tasmania law under the terms of the PMAA.

For Tony Burke to say that conditions have been imposed on Gunns which are legally binding in relation to use of plantation-only feedstock is untrue.  It is not merely grossly misleading.  It is completely untrue. 

No doubt Burke understands very well – or he should do – that part of Gunns’ strategy to get finance has been to get out of native forests, to sell of all assets in native forests, to close down mills and shed hundreds of jobs involved in using native forest wood supplies.  It is another thing entirely for him to take that information and use it, as a federal government minister, to say or even to imply that legal conditions have been imposed which now force Gunns to only use plantation-based wood in the pulp mill.

Tony Burke has abused his authority as a federal government minister within the remit of his responsibility under the terms of the EPBC Act, by telling the Tasmanian people that he has imposed conditions, on his own authority, which extend to areas of jurisdiction beyond his power. He has made false claims, in radio interviews and in press statements, either through his own ignorance of the law, or his willingness to be used by Gunns as part of their marketing strategy, or both.

This is not the first time that Burke has made false claims about Gunns’ pulp mill and acted as a marketing spokesman for them.  In June 2009, in a straight lift from Gunns’ own propaganda, Burke said that the mill would create 8,000 jobs.

There is nothing legally binding in Commonwealth law and in Tasmanian law for Gunns, or for any joint venture partners of Gunns or for any buyer of the current pulp mill project, to use plantation-only feedstock.  For Tony Burke to deliberately convey that impression to the public, using his position as a federal government minister to do so, is reprehensible.

Peter Henning