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Tasmanian political rot: the 'Pulp Mill Assessment Act' revisited

By Peter Henning - posted Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The recent “highly publicised” activities of Gunns at Longreach and the Trevallyn Reserve have revived and broadened public interest and public scrutiny of the now infamous Pulp Mill Assessment Act of 2007 (PMAA) and its associated permits. Not that there is a need any more to spell out the name of the legislation. It’s now a well-known acronym, and continually growing in stature, but has long since left behind its aura of a model of controversially undemocratic Tasmanian legislation. It has acquired a more singular authority, as a thorough exemplar of political rot, the template for the failure of Tasmanian political processes at their worst.

The carefully orchestrated publicity between Gunns and its unfailingly fawning propaganda arm, the Launceston Examiner, has rebounded in quite spectacular fashion on both parties. The Chinese government couldn’t have done it better. The Examiner has become more of a laughing stock than ever, and Gunns has provoked a barrage of new questions about the permit arrangements, its public credibility (yes I know that’s not new) and its motives.

We should thank both Gunns and the Examiner for sharpening our focus a bit more, and inviting us to have another look at the contents of the PMAA and the permit conditions.


The Trevallyn Reserve is a good place to start, now that the Examiner has provided us all with a lovely glossary of photos at Gunns’ request (here). Very kind, clever and connected.

This is what Michael Stokes (Tasmanian constitutional law expert, UTAS) has just written on the matter: “If the Trevallyn Reserve is crown or council-owned land, it is clear that the PMAA permit did not give Gunns any property rights over the land of others, including government agencies - the Solicitor-General agreed on that. Therefore, before it can do anything on such land, Gunns needs the permission of the owners. There are often statutory formalities attached to the sale or disposal of government land which would prevent Gunns’ carrying out the work with a bare permission from the government agency which controls the land. To know what those formalities are, I would need to know the status of the reserve, the legislation under which it is created and the agency which is responsible for its management.”

Taking this in conjunction with the information provided to John Day by the Environmental Protection Authority, Gunns’ activity on the Trevallyn site provokes the obvious question - why the heavy publicity and why now? There are other questions Michael Stokes raises, but it is Gunns’ motives which are front and centre here.

“Gunns may be doing some work because of doubts about whether their PMAA permits survive the end of the month. Those permits take effect as if issued under LUPAA and LUPAA permits expire after two years unless substantially commenced, so these permits may expire then. Substantial commencement requires a real commitment of resources to work referable to the particular development. Substantial progress or completion is not required. To count for the test, the work done must be referable to the permit granted. Land clearing is ambiguous because it is a part of any development, not just the approved development. However, if a permit is needed for land clearing and the only permit is one for the development, then land clearing may count towards substantial commencement.” (August 11, 2009.)

It is rather pointless asking Gunns about any of this, but it is abundantly clear that the Tasmanian Government has a responsibility to the public to clarify the situation in relation to the expiry date of Gunns’ permits. The public should be informed about the truth of this matter. The question David Bartlett should be answering is whether in fact the “work” Gunns is spruiking as “start of construction” of the pipeline at the Trevallyn dam and the mill at Longreach is to ensure an extension of the permits beyond their current expiry date.

If Bartlett fails to answer this question and the permits are then extended beyond their current expiry date, the issue of the Labor Government’s honesty in relation to this matter, given the way the matter has been publicly reported, will be examined in detail. That is a given.


There are other matters that have been raised about the absurdities of this current situation which, individually and in their entirety, tell an abysmal story of the continuity of Labor and Liberal corporate cronyism and chronic bad faith with the Tasmanian people since the change of the guard from Lennon to Bartlett.

All the issues relating to abject dereliction in governance which Bartlett inherited remain unresolved, in limbo or brushed under the carpet, with the Liberal opposition quiescent, fearful of their own undoubted complicity being released like some Pandora’s box of closeted skeletons.

One of those issues, that of mandamus, has now been thrown into the mix of questions about what is happening with Gunns’ recent activities, and that is an interesting matter, because it opens another window into the minds of those who wrote and voted in support of the PMAA, and what they think about the people they are elected to represent.

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First published in the Tasmanian Times on August 18, 2009.

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About the Author

Peter Henning is a former teacher and historian. He is a former Tasmanian olive grower, living in Melbourne.

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