Image for Gillard: No bid for mill funding

The Independent Member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, today asked the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to rule out any further federal financial assistance for the proposed Tamar River pulp mill, either directly or indirectly, including through the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation.

Mr WILKIE (3.04 pm)—My question is to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, the Tamar River pulp mill would be Tasmania’s biggest infrastructure project, but it remains highly controversial, not least because of the complete breakdown in the state government approval process. While the majority of Tasmanians appear to support a pulp mill, many, including me, oppose this particular proposal also because it would be dirty and locally unpopular. Prime Minister, will you rule out any further federal financial assistance for the proposed Tamar River pulp mill, either directly or indirectly, including through the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation?

Ms GILLARD—I thank the member for Denison for his question. I say to the member for Denison on the question of federal financial assistance that I am advised that no application has been made for funding under the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation. On the question of the approval process: it is important to remind the House that that is not determined by cabinet; that is actually the obligation of the minister under the relevant piece of environmental legislation, and that legislation is, of course, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. I can also advise the House that Gunns have made public statements to indicate that, if the pulp mill does secure that environmental approval from the minister, the company plans to meet conditions that are stricter than those set out in the approval; so, if they get the approval, they have publicly stated that they intend to do better.

It is also important to note that the Tasmanian community is at the moment in a different position to the past. For generations everything around forestry in Tasmania has been characterised by conflict—and the member referred in his question to me that this has been a very divisive issue for the Tasmanian community. As he is aware, in an historic move several months ago the industry, union, community and environmental representatives sat down and started to work through a process to reach agreement on the future of forestry. They have produced a statement of principles. As I said in December last year, those involved have worked through a very complicated thing, a thing very much characterised by division. The fact that they have patiently done so is a credit to all of them.

That statement does include a commitment to a strong, sustainable timber industry, including a pulp mill, and a commitment to the progressive implementation of a moratorium on the logging of high-conservation value forests. This is not a government agreement; it was brokered by community, union, industry and stakeholder groups. Therefore, I view our role as a supportive role to bring that agreement to fruition and into life. In that regard we have announced, working with the Tasmanian government, the appointment of Mr Bill Kelty as an independent facilitator. He has been working through as an honest broker with the various stakeholder groups and is very well received by them.

On the process from here: as I understand the work involved that Mr Kelty is now facilitating, the stakeholder groups are planning to consult further to resolve outstanding issues. I understand there remains a great deal of goodwill. It is too early to say whether or not the statement of principles will form a lasting settlement of these difficult and divisive issues, but I am hopeful. I say to the member for Denison that there is cause for some cautious optimism.