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Interview with Steve Murphy, 3AW drive
5 January 2009
MURPHY: It seems the end could virtually be nigh for the pulp mill proposed by Gunns in Tasmania, with Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, today announcing that he will not approve the mill until there has been a longer term study into potential impacts from the mill's discharged effluent. Now, the Minister has said today that incomplete modelling had left him uncertain about impacts on marine life from the mill's discharge and has effectively said Gunns needs to do more work to gain approval.
The Minister joins us from Sydney. time. Mr Garrett, thanks for your time.
GARRETT: Hi, Steve.
MURPHY: This decision is not final, is it?
GARRETT: Well, it's the final decision at this point, until such time as the modules that relate to the modelling that you've just referred to in your introduction is completed and then brought forward to the Government.
MURPHY: So, when will that additional modelling be completed? Have you set a timeframe?
GARRETT: Well, we've brought forward the modelling that would have been undertaken in the event that approval had have been given to Gunns and that period of time is roughly 26 months. So, the real time modelling takes about 12 to 18 months and then we're allowing an additional period for the scientists to have a look at it and to make sure that response strategies are identified and agreed between Gunns and the Government.
And the period that I've designated that it ought to be all completed with, so that's the modelling plus the interaction between the department and the proponent, is the third of March in 2011.
MURPHY: Many people see this issue as the twenty-first century version of, you know, the Franklin Dam environmental battle. So, how much more work do you require from Gunns and what will that work need to demonstrate for you to approve it?
GARRETT: Well, I think the key thing about the approvals that Malcolm Turnbull put in place when he approved the mill, and that was a thing which really struck me when I started to look very closely at the various modules that have come through to me, was that the key issues that have got to be resolved, in terms Gunns pulp mill, is when it's operating and discharging large volumes of effluent into Bass Strait, will there be an impact on Commonwealth marine waters on matters of national environment significance.
How can we tell what that impact will be? If there's going to be an impact, what measures ought to be put in place to deal with it? Can we identify what those measures are and how will we actually describe that as a condition of approval for Gunns? Now, what I've said is that work needs to happen before we will approve any potential mill. Now, you're asking me what the work is. It's, effectively, real time studying of the likely impact of the effluent in the discharge zone.
And it takes into account the different rates of dispersal, of the volumes of the effluent; there's different seasons, the tidal currents, water temperature and the like. And it's done in such a way that it's -it's a robust enough modelling exercise that it provides the scientists, as they consider it, with the opportunity of identify what measures, if any, you additionally need to make sure that there aren't any impacts on the environment.
MURPHY: Just finally, there are some reports this afternoon that suggest that Gunns are indicating that they could commence construction of the mill. Is that possible?
GARRETT: Under Mr Turnbull's original decision and approval, he approved gave approvals in stages, called modules. And the construction stages, which don't have anything to do with the operation of the mill, are modules that have been approved. So, in principle, they could do that.
MURPHY: Terrific. Thank you.
Peter Garrett, Federal Minister for the Environment.