GUNNS was two weeks away from securing a joint venture partner to finance the proposed Bell Bay pulp mill when it went into administration last week, former managing director Greg L'Estrange has said.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the company folded last week, Mr L'Estrange said the project was the closest it had ever been to going ahead when the voluntary administrators were appointed last Tuesday.
And he said he believed the company would have been able to provide ``a better outcome'' for its employees, shareholders and creditors than that currently proposed by receiver-manager KordaMentha.
KordaMentha was appointed by ANZ Bank, Gunns' biggest lender.
The former timber giant was put into receivership within hours of its announcement last week, and Mr L'Estrange's position was terminated the next day.
Mr L'Estrange said the deal that was on the table last week had a better chance of going ahead than any in the past, because it had been skimmed down to a plantation and pulp business and most of its ``ongoing issues'' had been resolved.
``All of those things that were landmines within Gunns were being dealt with,'' he said.
He said that the banks ``absolutely'' knew about the deal, but they ``might have taken a different view, that it was less possible''.
Mr L'Estrange said he still believed the pulp mill project would go ahead, adding ``this state needs it''.
``I think this state needs to get the balance right,'' he said.
``It's not about cappuccinos and tourism.''
Mr L'Estrange was in Launceston yesterday to give evidence in a preliminary proceedings hearing on the insider trading trial pending against former boss John Gay.
He would not comment on the court proceedings, but said Gunns was ``a very different company in terms of governance than it was three years ago''.
``We were confident that we had been fulfilling our duties step-by-step,'' he said.
``When one of those steps came in doubt two weeks ago, we took the appropriate step.''