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Australia: Mill focus back on money Garrett tipped to approve permits

Source:  Copyright 2009, Examiner
Date:  January 5, 2009
Byline:  Ellena Midgley
Original URL: Status DEAD

THE Gunns pulp mill focus will again shift to finance if the Federal Government approves the project's last environmental permits today.

Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett is expected to announce approval of the remaining 12 modules today at 5pm, and Gunns chief executive John Gay is hopeful of the "issue being cleaned up" so the company can continue planning for the $2.2 billion project.

There has been speculation that the pulp mill will be approved, but with additional conditions relating to tertiary treatment of effluent.

The company has been unable to secure a financier for the project but Mr Gay was yesterday confident that if the pulp mill was approved the project would get financing.

"Although I just can't give a guarantee when," he said.

The campaign for a financier has been fraught with delays due to the global financial crisis but yesterday forest industry sources also blamed Gunns management for potential investors shying away.

"The environmental permits are hard facts and banks like them - but that's only half the story," the source claimed.

He said there was significant concern about the quality and style of management, a claim rejected by Mr Gay.

Mr Gay, who will step down as chief executive in June but retain the position of chairman, rejected the accusation that management was partly to blame for finance delays and said the federal approval process had stalled the project's progress.

Meanwhile, pulp and paper industry analyst Robert Eastment said Federal approval for the pulp mill would be an important step in Gunns receiving finance.

"Getting the environmental approvals is essential for financial completion," he said.

"The permits will make the project more attractive to prospective investors."

A spokesman for Bass Labor MHR Jodie Campbell would not confirm yesterday if she had been briefed by Mr Garrett on the outcome of the permit approvals.

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