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Minister will not release the environmental assessment report for Gunns' proposed pulp mill until he has made his decision.



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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in an y other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.

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PM

 

Monday 1 October 2007

Minister will not release the environmental assessment report for Gunns' proposed pulp mill until he has made his decision

 

MARK COLVIN: The Federal Environment Ministe r, Malcolm Turnbull, appears to have done a U-turn on a promise he made over the Tasmanian pulp mill. 

 

Mr Turnbull said five weeks ago that the public would be able to read the Chief Scientist's report on the environmental impact of the mill before he made his decision. 

 

Now, with an announcement expected this week, he's revealed that he's already shown the report to the timber company Gunns, but the public won't see it until after he's made his decision. 

 

Felicity Ogilvie reports  

 

FELICITY OGILVIE: The Federal Environment Minister may have hoped to hose down the row about the pulp mill for a while anyway five weeks ago before he extended the assessment process. 

 

The wealthy businessman Geoffrey Cousins had used a full-page ad in Mr Turnbull's local newspaper to put the Minister under intense political pressure in his marginal Sydney electorate.  

 

These are the words Mr Turnbull used shortly after that ad appeared, when he extended the assessment process after already bringing in the Commonwealth's Chief Scientist, Jim Peacock, to prepare a report about the mill' s environmental impact: 

 

MALCOLM TURNBULL: When the Chief Scientist gives us his report, we'll obviously consider it very carefully, we will publish it, the process I am undertaking is completely transparent, and completely accountable. 

 

So we'll publish it, and Gunns and everybody else will have an opportunity to comment on it, and then I would hope to be in a position to make a decision. 

 

FELICITY OGILVIE: That was five weeks ago.  

 

Today, Mr Turnbull's changed his tune - he's backtracked on the undertaking to let the public as well as the company see the Chief Scientist's report before the decision's made. 

 

Mr Turnbull's office calls this a 'clarification' of his comments. 

 

In the new version, there was never any intention to have another period of public consultation.  

 

Mr Turnbull received the Chief Scientist's report last Monday, and says he'll abide by it when he makes his decision later this week.  

 

But he says he'll release it on the internet at the same time he announces his decision, not before. 

 

MALCOLM TURNBULL: The report will be released when the decision is made, it is again, I said right at the outset that we'd release the report at a time when we are able to indicate with some precision what our decision was with respect to the pulp mill.  

 

 

FELICITY OGILVIE: The public has to wait to see the report, but the company that wants to build the pulp mill has already seen it. 

 

Mr Turnbull's office says Gunns saw the whole Chief Scientists report during a meeting last week. 

 

They say that under the federal assessment act the company has to be given a opportunity to comment on any scientific reports commissioned during the assessment process.  

 

MALCOLM TURNBULL: I haven't had any discussions with Gunns, but there have been discussions between the Department and Gunns, certainly, following the provision of the report. 

 

FELICITY OGILVIE: When the Minister put off the decision to wait for the report, he placated the businessman applying political pressure to the pulp mill issue, Geoffrey Cousins. 

 

But that's all changed today.  

 

GEOFFREY COUSINS: He was quite clear that this report would be published before he made a decision, and that Gunns would know about it and know what was in it, at the same time as all the rest of us. 

 

And that doesn't appear to be what is happening. 

 

Now that was the whole problem of course with the process under the Tasmanian Government, discussions behind closed doors. He was at pains to say that would not happen, and we would all see the report before a decision was made. That's what he said. 

 

Now, where is the report? 

 

FELICITY OGILVIE: Mr Turnbull's office says Mr Cousins has misunderstood the Minister, and that no one ever thought there would be another period of public consultation.  

 

But Mr Cousins insists that Mr Turnbull said he'd make the Chief Scientist's report public before announcing his decision, and that's what he should do. 

 

GEOFFREY COUSINS: It's beginning to sound as if somebody is trying to put together an arrangement behind closed doors, with Gunns. I am hoping that isn't the case.  

 

But if it isn't the case, why hasn't Mr Turnbull done what he said so clearly that he said he would do, that he would not make a decision until that report was made public. Why is that not happening?  

 

FELICITY OGILVIE: Gunns has told the ABC the company wont' be commenting on the pulp mill until after Mr Turnbull announces his decision.  

 

MARK COLVIN: Felicity Ogilvie.