Questions & AnswersCommittee Work









MPs get 10-day pulp mill junket
• Matthew Denholm
• July 03, 2007

TAXPAYERS will fund a 10-day trip for Tasmanian independent upper house MPs to study pulp mills in Europe and South America.

Legislative Council president Don Wing last night confirmed state government funding was available for five MPs to tour pulp mills overseas before a vote on Gunns' proposed Tasmanian mill.

Although the Lennon Government justifies the spending as being in the interests of informing MPs before the vote on Gunns' $2billion project, several representatives expressed concern about other motives behind the tour.

Independent MP for Rosevears Kerry Finch told The Australian he would not be going on the trip, believing it to be of questionable worth.

"It is being put on by the Government, someone from the Government is going with them - it's not a good look," Mr Finch said.

He believed sufficient material on the Gunns project already exists and that information on overseas pulp mills is readily available without having to leave the country.

However, five of the 11 independent legislative councillors have seen merit in the tour and have accepted the offer of government funding.

Lobbying of the independent MPs is intensifying. On Friday, Gunns took them on a tour of the Tamar Valley mill construction site, north of Launceston.

The company, which has hired a retired legislative councillor of 24 years experience, Tony Fletcher, to lobby his former colleagues, also provided them with a briefing, lunch and helicopter ride over the site and forest plantations.

The state Government is expected to release a consultant's assessment of the project as early as this week.

Under the Lennon Government's fast-track process, the final say on whether the project proceeds effectively rests with the Legislative Council, where the Government needs the support of four of the 11 independents to win the vote.

The project also requires federal environmental approval. The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union yesterday failed in an attempt to join the Howard Government in defending a legal case that threatens to halt the federal assessment of the mill.

The CFMEU had hoped to be able to cross-examine witnesses in the case, in which the Wilderness Society and an anti-mill business group are challenging the legality of a paper-based assessment ordered by federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Federal Court judge Shane Marshall rejected the application, ruling that the union would not be directly affected by any orders issued by him or relief sought by the applicants in the case.

He ordered the union to pay costs associated with its failed application. The case is scheduled for a three-day hearing starting tomorrow.

The Wilderness Society alleges Mr Turnbull allowed Gunns to "process shop" by deciding the project would be subject only to a paper-based assessment after the company withdrew from a broader integrated approval process.

Justice Marshall said the CFMEU could still seek to intervene to make submissions on individual issues, but would not be able to cross-examine witnesses in the case.