Tasmanian Pulp Mill assessment process vindicated by the Federal court
The Federal court confirmed today that the Assessment of Tasmania’s proposed pulp mill was fair and reasonable and that the public had ample opportunity to state their views.
A Federal Court judge rejected the claims by the Wilderness Society and a group calling itself Investors for Tasmania’s future and dismissed their application to overturn the Commonwealth assessment process.
The Federal Court was asked to review two decisions made by the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.
The first decision was to make the mill a controlled action in relation to threatened and migratory species and Commonwealth Marine Waters. The second decision was that the relevant impacts of the proposed action be assessed on preliminary documentation (eg all the documentation created under the failed RPDC process, including the Draft Integrated Impact statement, Peer reviewed reports, Supplementary information and 700 odd public submissions that had been gathered since 2004.)
The Wilderness Society made the following allegations:
• there is no valid referral of the proposal to support either decision;
• in making the first decision, the Minister misconstrued the EPBC Act, failed to take into account for the potential adverse impact of sourcing timber from Tasmanian forests to supply the pulp mill;
• in making the first decision, the Minister failed to consider whether the pulp mill would have or is likely to have a significant impact on the environment on Commonwealth land;
• the Minister misconstrued and/or misapplied the EPBC Act in making the second decision;
• in making the second decision, the Minister denied members of the public interested in the assessment procedural fairness;
• the second decision is invalid because it is affected by apprehended bias in the Minister;
• the second decision involved an improper exercise of power by the Minister; and
• the second decision was manifestly unreasonable.
The Investors appear to have also alleged that the Minister took into account Gunns’ commercial imperatives in making his decision.
The Federal Court rejected all allegations.
This means to me that the Assessment approach and decisions leading to it are valid.
The Judge was satisfied that the Minister acted in accordance with the Law, with fairness and without bias in making his decision on the assessment process that was demonstrably reasonable.
That there is no need to assess the impact of the mill on Tasmanian forests as these and the species of flora and fauna are protected by the Regional Forest Agreement.
That is was entirely appropriate for the Minister not to consider Commonwealth land. In relation to World Heritage Values the green groups did not even raise this as an issue, thus claims to UNESCO that WHA will be impacted are clearly unsubstantiated.
Many people in Tasmania have been concerned about the process of assessment since the developer withdrew from the RPDC assessment in February, some 2 years three months after the start of the “18 month” assessment. However much of the challenges raised with the Federal Court would have applied to the RPDC process, in fact one member resigned due to a claim of bias by the Greens.
The decision now means that Tasmania can get on with the assessment process and have a decision by both the Federal Minister and the State Parliament based on the scientific evidence.
Copies of the Federal Court’s Judgment are available here.