(Dis)Integrated Assessment: the pulping of an integrated assessment process
Baxter, TI, (Dis)Integrated Assessment: the pulping of an integrated assessment process, Proceedings of the Conference of the Australia New Zealand Society for Ecological Economics, 27-30 October 2009, Darwin Convention Centre, Darwin, pp. 1-19. ISBN 978-0-473-16089-0 (2009) [Refereed Conference Paper]
Tasmanian law provides for integrated assessment of major projects by an
independent, quasi-judicial statutory body, the Resource Planning and
Development Commission (RPDC). A bilateral assessment agreement between
Tasmania and the Commonwealth accredited this integrated assessment process
for the purposes of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 (Cth)
Gunns Limited proposes to construct and operate the world's fourth largest pulp
mill at Bell Bay in Tasmania's Tamar Valley.
In November 2004, the Tasmanian Government declared Gunns' proposed pulp
mill a 'project of State significance' and referred it to the RPDC for integrated assessment. The Australian Government decided, under the EPBC Act, that the RPDC's integrated assessment was the appropriate assessment method for
By March 2007, the RPDC assessment panel had formed the view that Gunns was
critically non-compliant with certain requirements. Gunns then withdrew from the
RPDC process, saying it was taking too long and that project delays would cost the company about $1 million per day. The State Premier immediately announced
project-specific legislation: the Pulp Mill Assessment Act 2007 (Tas).
When Gunns resubmitted the same project to the Australian Government, then
Minister Turnbull agreed to EPBC Act assessment on 'preliminary documentation',
excluding public hearings and wood supply issues. EPBC Act environmental
impact assessment is limited to matters of national environmental significance.
Gunns' withdrawal from the RPDC's integrated assessment, and associated events,
had profound consequences.
This paper examines how the independent, Commonwealth-accredited integrated
assessment of Gunns' $2 billion pulp mill proposal was abandoned (at the
proponent's behest), then replaced by separate State and Commonwealth
'disintegrated' assessments. It is argued that the sum of these two 'disintegrated' assessment paths is of less value than the holistic integrated assessment being undertaken by the RPDC prior to Gunns' withdrawal.