Media Release - 11th May 2009

LEGAL OPINION ADDS ANOTHER QUESTION MARK OVER PULP MILL LEGITIMACY

Mill fails some guidelines and not assessed against others

The opinion of University of Tasmania constitutional law expert Michael Stokes that the pulp mill permits approved by the Tasmanian Parliament in 2007 could be invalid and open to legal challenge, places another question mark over the project and its ability to attract finance.

“The pulp mill is currently subject to two existing legal challenges and this new advice identifies yet another shortcoming of the assessment that could prompt a fresh court challenge,” said Vica Bayley, Tasmanian Campaign Director for The Wilderness Society.

“This just adds to the uncertainty of the project.

“Along with the mill’s lifetime dependence on the logging of native forests, its outstanding Federal Government approvals, the lack of a access to land for the water pipeline and lack of social license, this new advice confirms the pulp mill represents a high-risk investment for any potential financier.

Matthew Denholm Australian:

STATE approval for Gunns Tasmanian pulp mill is invalid and wide open to legal challenge, according to an analysis to be published by a leading administrative law expert.

Michael Stokes, University of Tasmania senior law lecturer, told The Australian his detailed analysis revealed an apparent fatal flaw in the mill assessment process.

The flaw was a “time bomb” for the $2 billion bleached eucalypt mill, proposed for the Tamar Valley north of Launceston, providing solid grounds for a legal challenge.

Mr Stokes’s analysis concludes that the assessment of the project by consultants under former premier Paul Lennon’s fast-track process failed to comply with Mr Lennon’s own fast-track legislation.

“These are not just minor, little things; these are big things - it’s quite clear that the assessment done was not mandated by parliament,” Mr Stokes told The Australian.

The Pulp Mill Assessment Act - introduced by the Lennon government to fast-track the mill outside the independent planning process - allows approval for the project if consultants recommend it can proceed.

Under Section 4 of the act, this can only occur after the consultants “undertake an assessment of the project ... against the (pulp mill) guidelines”.

However, the consultant hired by the Government - Scandinavian firm Sweco Pic - conceded in their assessment report of June 2007 that they did not assess the project against 15 of the mill guidelines.

Sweco Pic said these guidelines related to “permit conditions, monitoring and the operation of the pulp mill”.

“At this stage of the project development, it is not practical to undertake an assessment of these latter requirements,” their report said.

However, Mr Stokes said it was not open to Sweco Pic to restrict the assessment in this way. “These deficiencies are so major that we don’t have an assessment required by the act,” Mr Stokes said.

“Therefore, there was no power (held by Sweco Pic) to recommend the mill go ahead and therefore the permit is not a valid one.”

Without a valid permit, construction of the mill could not begin and Mr Stokes said the problem could not be easily overcome.

A Gunns spokesman rejected Mr Stokes’s legal analysis as “ridiculous” and insisted the company was confident in the legality of the state approval and permit. However, he would not say whether this view was based on a legal opinion. “We’re not going to make any comment (about that),” he said.

It is understood anti-mill groups are aware of the nature of Mr Stokes’s analysis and that it could be used in a new legal challenge to the project.

Gunns failed to be able to provide the original assessor the RPDC with enough accurate and up-to-date information for assessment to proceed and it deemed Gunns’ information as ‘critically non-compliant’. This new legal opinion indicates Sweco Pic could not do a full assessment either. Sweco Pic also identified where the pulp mill failed to meet the requirements of several other guidelines that were assessed.

“The fact this pulp mill failed to meet some guidelines, and was not even assessed against others should serve as a clear warning to any potential investor that this project is fraught with uncertainty and risk and its approval has been via a very flawed process indeed,” concluded Mr Bayley.

Read more here

Vica Bayley

Tasmanian Campaign Director

The Wilderness Society (Tasmania) Inc

130 Davey St, Hobart TAS 7000

Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Website: http://www.wilderness.org.au

 

 

VICA BAYLEY

The opinion of University of Tasmania constitutional law expert Michael Stokes that the pulp mill permits approved by the Tasmanian Parliament in 2007 could be invalid and open to legal challenge, places another question mark over the project and its ability to attract finance.

Michael Stokes talks to the Australian …