The Tasmanian Government has flagged it is willing to consider all options to secure a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley.
Receivers for the collapsed timber giant Gunns have narrowed down to six the number of potential buyers for the company’s assets, including the mill.
The major projects sub-committee of cabinet met last week to consider whether the permits for the mill are still valid.
The Examiner newspaper is reporting parliament may be recalled before the election to consider legislation preventing a legal challenge to the mill, in response to a request from Gunns’ receiver.
A Government spokesman has refused to confirm the suggestion but said the Government was willing to consider all options to create jobs.
He also declined to comment on speculation Premier Lara Giddings will sever ties with the Greens and announce an election date tomorrow.
The environmental group which has challenged the validity of the mill’s permits has vowed to fight any legislation that would affect its ability to take legal action.
The director of the Tasmanian Conservation Trust, Peter McGlone, says limiting power of the courts is an abuse of parliament and he would take it further.
“We would have the perfect right and a strong moral case to then go to the High Court of Australia, pending on having finance and pending the details of the legislation which we haven’t seen,” he said.
“My initial response is that we would consider going to the High Court to have any state legislation struck out.”
Opposition spokesman Peter Gutwein says his party will support legislation to override a legal challenge to the pulp mill project, but he is sceptical of whether the Government would pursue it.
“If this does end up in the parliament then obviously, as we supported this project, we would support this legislation, I want to be clear on that,” he said.
“We want to ensure that this project has every opportunity to get up, but this is more about political posturing than anything else.”
Greens leader Nick McKim accused the major parties of politicking.
Mr McKim says they are trying to win votes based on a pulp mill “mirage” that will never eventuate because it does not have the necessary community support.
“Of course we won’t support any enabling legislation or doubts removal legislation on the pulp mill,” he said.
“But this is simply politics and politicking for politics sake and the Tasmanian people deserve better.”
Potential buyers pass first stage
Receivers KordaMentha say there are six potential buyers for Gunns’ assets.
The parties have gone through the first stage of the sale process and will now start due diligence.
Gunns went into administration in September 2012 and its assets, including the permits, design and site of the Tamar Valley pulp mill were put up for sale last November.
Also on the market are a woodchipping business and timber plantations.
It means they will be given full access to the company’s books and its assets but will be bound by confidentiality agreements.
KordaMentha spokesman Michael Smith says some of the final six are interested in the pulp mill.
“Some who are interested in the plantation assets, some who are interested in the woodchipping business, some who are interested in two out of three, some interested in three out of three,” he said.
“All the focus and the sort of public debate has been on the pulp mill but people forget that the rest of the assets, particularly the timber, and the plantations, they’re world-class.
“There’s not much of this stuff available around the world. There’s quite a bit of interest in that as well.”
Mr Smith says the assets are all in Tasmania and include a number of sawmills and timber treatment centres.
He says woodchip exports have continued since Gunns went into receivership.
The interest parties are from Australia, the Asia Pacific region, Europe and the Americas.
Final bids are expected by the end of March.
Tasmanian farmers have welcomed the news six potential buyers are entering the second phase of the sale process.
The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association’s Jan Davis says many farmers are owed money by Gunns and they just want the situation resolved.
“It doesn’t matter how many buyers we have going into the process, we just want one good solid one coming out,” she said.
“So we’d like to see a process that gives that outcome, that there is still someone still standing at the end of it with a cheque book open because that’s what farmers need out of this.”