Thursday, October 2, 2014

Response to far left comment on ISIL

"Demonizing the enemy" says the anonymous author - 
Poor old ISIL.
It’s probably a good thing that “Bazabee” remains anonymous because this piece is simply embarrassing. By far the silliest piece of leftist drivel I’ve read about ISIL.
When most people in the world are lamenting what Amnesty International recently -
described as ISIL's "ethnic cleansing on a historic scale" we have contributions from internet experts like Bazzabee which are all about asking us to lay off ISIL.

Stop demonizing the enemy says Baz.  
Stop demonizing an internationally recognized terrorist organization who the UN says are committing crimes against humanity & should be hauled up to face the International Criminal Court. 

While the rest of the world recoils in horror at the firsthand accounts of ISIL atrocities including the rape of young girls & mass shootings "Bazzabee" is worried that this illegal army of butchers are being singled out for hacking our heads off with hunting knives.

Yes Saudi Arabia do behead people & yes the US is mute on Saudi Capital punishment. It’s also true that states like Saudi Arabia are partly responsible for groups like ISIS.

As middle east analyst/political commentator Catherine Shakdam wrote recently.....
"The cradle of Wahhabism - an ascetic and radical interpretation of Sunni Islam - Saudi Arabia has often been understood as the nurturer of radical religious thoughts, so much so that many analysts and scholars have actually blamed the rise of Islamic terrorism on the kingdom, arguing that Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabis have not only fanned sectarianism but also promoted Jihad as a religious paradigm, a new expression of one’s religious devotion as a mean to assert its control over the Middle East.

Beyond that there are some very obvious differences between the sovereign state of Saudi Arabia, its government & Laws which are enforced within its own borders & a rogue army cobbled together from different countries who have the express intention of illegally invading, occupying & murdering.

If you don't like Saudi Arabian law at least you can leave. Not so easy to leave with ISIL as their crusade brings the Islamic state to your town along with ISIL’s murderous interpretation of the Sharia. ISIL have swallowed town after town in Syria & Iraq at lite-speed. The territory they occupy is now roughly the size of Belgium & straddles two countries. ISIL have told Mr Obama & the rest of the world that it intends to replicate what it’s done in Iraq & Syria to the rest of the world. The ISIL fighter has pissed the whole world off not only because of his crimes against humanity but because he wants to come to a town near you. That’s why the majority of nations support the US coalition & are prepared to help. See any difference between the ISIL fighter & the Saudi executioner Baz? Or would you have the US invade another sovereign nation?
Indeed Baz doing his best imitation of a clueless 14yr old asks…. “How is it that an ISIS fighter beheading a western hostage is held to be more horrific than a Saudi Swordsman welding a sword in a car park in Riyadh, Khobar or Medina”.


 You can’t be that stupid.

I’ll give you a hint BB. It’s not just about the beheadings.
The 32000 ISIS fighters on the ground in Syria present a clear & present threat to many, many more people than a Saudi court executioner. Read the Amnesty International report.

 ...."Amnesty International has found that the IS has systematically targeted non-Arab and non-Sunni Muslim communities, killing or abducting hundreds, possibly thousands, and forcing more than 830,000 others to flee the areas it has captured since 10 June 2014".

BB is so determined to paint ISIL as victims of culturally ignorant westerners who just don’t understand beheading. So determined he reduces the criminal execution of James Foley down to the method alone, omitting any mention of the fact that Foley committed no crime, broke no Syrian or international law, never faced a court, a trial yet was captured, held – essentially terrorized, knowing full well during his time in captivity that he faced execution - not by a single swoosh of a cutlass (as the Saudi Govt do) but by having his head hacked off with a hunting knife after being forced to kneel before the camera & disavow his home country.

Perhaps BB that is why the majority of the western & Muslim world are focused on the “ISIS fighter” & not Saudi Arabian capital punishment

Perhaps it’s the fact that the ISIL fighter is killing thousands of Iraqis & Syrians at lite speed - every month. Carrying out mass executions, shooting men & women in cold blood, beheading children, raping women including those underage (see Amnesty Int. report), placing heads on stakes, marching men in their hundreds & even thousands into the desert, executing & then burying them.

Or perhaps it’s the ISIL fighter’s territorial aspirations Baz. The fact that the ISIL fighter illegally & criminally invades & takes control of territory that doesn’t belong to him? And murders & abuses the inhabitants to do so.

Perhaps it’s because the ISIS fighter’s murderous campaign has seen the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq & Syria including 200,000 in the last few week over the Turkish border.

Perhaps it’s because 500,000 people in Iraq could die if the Mosul dam which the ISIS fighter has taken control of ceases to function.

Still think the ISIL fighter is getting a bum rap Baz?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gun Law Debate. 2 Articles of interest.

I will write & publish some commentary on the subject of the U.S gun debate soon. In the meantime i will publish what i believe is good commentary on the subject.

From today's New York Times, Former Australian P.M John Howard on Australia's internationally respected Gun Laws which were instituted in the wake of the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre.
......University of Sydney research shows that Australians destroyed more than a million guns in response to shooting massacres but imports have restored the stockpile to the level it was at before the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.  Read more Here
"I was elected prime minister in early 1996, leading a center-right coalition. Virtually every non urban electoral district in the country — where gun ownership was higher than elsewhere — sent a member of my coalition to Parliament.
Six weeks later, on April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant, a psychologically disturbed man, used a semiautomatic Armalite rifle and a semiautomatic SKS assault weapon to kill 35 people in a murderous rampage in Port Arthur, Tasmania.
After this wanton slaughter, I knew that I had to use the authority of my office to curb the possession and use of the type of weapons that killed 35 innocent people. I also knew it wouldn’t be easy. Read more Here

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tasmanian Community Newspaper strays into dangerous territory with "genetically pure" shocker

North West Tasmania's Circular Head Chronicle has a circulation that includes Smithton and surrounding townships and takes in a total audience of around 12,000 people.
This bizzare & controversial editorial (excerpt below) was published in this weeks Circular Head Chronicle on the papers Facebook page on the eve of pro industry rally in Burnie. The article immediately caught the attention of facebook users and attracted a crowd much to the dismay of the papers editor.
The editorial has drawn widespread condemnation for its sinister reference to "the genetically pure" forest worker, aggressive vilification of environmentalists and unsubstantiated accusations of tree spiking and vandalism of equipment. Unsubstantiated allegations that the Premier of Tasmania, Lara Giddings was forced to retract and apologise for earlier this year.

"For too long Tasmania has been hampered by the ‘city greens’ who use Tasmania as a social conscience while they enjoy a not-so-green city lifestyle fed with myth and fantasy about the evils of the timber industry and the ‘red neck’ Tasmanian whose sole purpose is to cut down everything in sight. Hello! We want our people to enjoy the fruit of the land for generations to come and for that to happen a sustainable timber ‘crop’ needs to be managed carefully. This was once undertaken by the now threatened species - the forestry worker, the most genetically pure being proud individuals with a love and understanding of the forest well ahead of the legions of pseudo green ‘students of the world’.

Make up your own mind. Read the rest of the editorial and online debate here and here

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lance Armstrong Applies for Martyr Status

"Cue the photos of Lance Armstrong hung from a cross and dressed in bib shorts, pulled down awkwardly low revealing a tattoo that says “Only the UCI can judge me.” Late on Thursday evening less than two hours before the official deadline (ok three including the time zone difference), Lance Armstrong decided to accept the sanctions from the USADA instead of proceeding with the arbitration hearing. This means he will be issued a lifetime ban and stripped of almost all of his titles, most notably his seven Tour de France victories. If you read the publicity statement on his website, it sounds more like a noble hero conceding defeat in the face of the marauding enemy witch hunters who have so wrongfully persecuted him. Excuse me while I roll my eyes".
Read More Here

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Examiner's campaign for Majority Liberal Government continues.More bias & censorship

Here is the factually & historically correct comment the Examiner refused to publish today on This article.

The censored comment......"The former Liberal premier, who had a reputation as a strong political strategist during his 1982-1989 term, said that Tasmania desperately needed a government with a mandate".....
Yes Alison well thats one way to put it. Justice Carter of the Rouse Bribery Scandal Royal Commission also had some interesting things to say about Mr Gray.

Reference Here and Here


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Senator-elect Peter Whish Wilson: Confounding the Green stereotype

First published in The Australian
"IT was a confession I hadn't expected from the nation's newest Green and imminent Senate replacement for the party's departing deity, Bob Brown.
"I voted for John Howard, absolutely," Greens senator-elect Peter Whish-Wilson says.
I knew the 44-year-old vigneron had some conservative skeletons in his political closet, notably a career as a high-flying investment banker. But I hadn't realised that the man chosen by the Greens to fill Brown's Tasmanian Senate seat was once a virtual pin-up boy for the Christian Right.
 His upbringing and much of his adult life reads like a job application for a safe Liberal Party seat.
 The son of a former air force wing commander and Rio Tinto executive, descendant of Tasmanian timber men, Whish-Wilson was a prefect at a posh school, Guildford Grammar, near Perth.
There, on the banks of the Swan River, he took school colours in just about everything from debating, swimming, footy and rowing to athletics, while his father exploited Western Australia's iron ore resource.
As a teenager, he won the WA State Rostrum Award and a scholarship to the Australian Defence Force Academy, where he became a cadet captain and officer training graduate.
A self-described "strong Christian" until his early 20s, he studied a double major in economics and then a masters. While studying, he worked for BHP and the Institute of Public Affairs.
A career in investment banking almost inevitably followed, taking him to senior roles with Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank in New York, Melbourne, Hong Kong and finally Sydney.
 Throughout almost all this time he was anything but green. "I was a Liberal voter, in line with a lot of people in Australia and in line with my family," he explains with characteristic frankness. "I did have conservative values."
 His politics were not to change until 2003, when Howard led Australia into the Iraq war. "That was the last time I ever voted for the Liberal Party," he says.
 The September 11 terrorist attacks on his old New York stomping ground and the Iraq war led to a reappraisal of life, as well as politics.
 He had been taking a correspondence course in grape growing, with an eye to viticulture on his parents' farm in the Tamar Valley, north of Launceston.
 Part-time fancy became preoccupation. "It gave me a whole new perspective on things that were tangible because economics and finance (are) not always tangible, it's always chaos theory," he says.
 He quit as a senior vice-president with Deutsche Bank later in 2003 to take the next year out of high finance to "do my first vintage" and "get some head space" in Tasmania.
 His idyll on the banks of the Tamar River was shattered, though, by timber company Gunns' plans to build a world-scale pulp mill on his doorstep. Cue another life-changing experience, as he became a key figure in a national campaign to stop the mill.
 During the fever pitch of the debate in 2006 and 2007, he was visited by Brown, who brought with him sympathetic Sydney businessman Geoffrey Cousins. Brown impressed him, but he was not yet willing to embrace the Greens.
 "I didn't want to be associated with the Greens, for the sole reason that I felt that the organic status I had as a campaigner would be too easily swept from under my feet," he explains. "As soon as people branded you as being a greenie, what you said was worthless; you were just a trouble-making greenie."
 After state parliament accepted the pulp mill permits, on August 29, 2007, following a bitterly controversial fast-track approval process, Whish-Wilson opened his arms to the Greens.
 "I felt like, after that, whatever you did as an organic campaigner really didn't matter," he says.
 He surprised friends by "running my colours up the mast" and standing for the Greens against pro-mill upper house MP Ivan Dean in the local seat of Windermere in 2009. "The Greens had the resources in place and I looked at them and thought: 'Well, I've got very similar principles to them, they've supported me and the rest of the anti-pulp mill campaign, they've never deviated from their stance,' " he says.
 He scored 16 per cent of the vote in a wide field in a less than Green seat, and went on to run for the party in the 2010 state election, then on the Senate ticket with Christine Milne at the federal poll later that year.
 The transition from Christian conservative to Green convert was complete, although the process may still not have progressed far enough for some Greens.
 Whish-Wilson has never manned a barricade, much less been arrested. Until 2003, he hadn't attended a protest and even then it was against war, not on behalf of the environment.
 Widely seen as a "light green", the father of two talks of helping the party "evolve" and broaden its voter base. "That might raise some eyebrows, but I'm just being honest," he says.
 Encouraged by the party's stated willingness to tolerate "conscientious objections", he will continue to "speak from the heart".
 "If the Greens want to grow their vote, you need to oppose things you feel strongly about - as I have with the pulp mill - but ... propose alternative pathways," he argues. "If you just oppose things, you run the risk of being seen as purely oppositional and obstructive to a number of voters' wealth and wellbeing.
 "I think it's important for the Greens to be constructive. They'll get better environmental and social outcomes if they are."
 Milne, keen to increase the party's support in the bush and among "progressive" business, and to keep the hard Left of her party in check, appears to have given Whish-Wilson her blessing to continue eyebrow-raising.
 He hopes his experience of developing successful small businesses - the winery and, with wife Natalie, a growing Launceston physiotherapy practice - will "bring perspectives" to the Greens' partyroom table. "Perspectives of what it's like when you get an industrial relations change that impacts your business," he says, by way of example.
 He confesses he had to raise some "issues" about his view of Greens' policies with the party selection panel that chose him to replace Brown.
 "I don't think they're going to be huge issues for me," he insists.
 He believes in sensitive tourism within national parks, a tricky issue for the Greens, but stresses his support is for low-impact huts rather than hotels.
 Brown, who had a vote on the panel that chose Whish-Wilson, backs his replacement. However, Brown refuses to say whether he voted for him, citing the secrecy of the ballot.
 Whish-Wilson is unfazed: "I've got his support. I don't know if he voted for me. I never will."
 The first test of this passionate surfer and Surf Rider Foundation board member will be at next year's federal election, when his seat will be contested. He faces a battle to hold on to Brown's substantial personal vote.
 "It's like riding a giant wave: I've made a take-off, which is the scariest part. (But) the most dangerous part is whether I have enough speed to come up the line or whether I'm going to be devoured.
 "It could be the ride of my life or I could get held down. Who knows?"
 Either way, it will be a fascinating ride for the unlikely Green and his "evolving" party.

Read full article here in The Australian

Monday, May 7, 2012

This is what happens to people who tell the truth about the Tasmanian Government

"FORMER Lennon government whistleblower Nigel Burch cannot get a job in Tasmania.The once-highly skilled public servant has only worked three months since he was sacked four years ago from his role of government adviser to then-deputy premier Steve Kons.
This work was in the Northern Territory for an Aboriginal health service.
Mr Burch said he never set out to be a whistleblower but he would forever be known as the source of a shredded document that led to the downfall of a deputy premier.
``It all snowballed and became a nightmare,'' Mr Burch said.
``The government attacked me remorselessly, and one-eyed Labor people who did not understand what it was all about simply believed what the government said and vilified and abused me.
``I was cursed in the street and my property was vandalised.
``There was no way to tell people that I had nothing to gain and everything to lose by trying to do the right thing by them.''

Read More Here

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Response to a comment

Response to a comment Here

I read & re-read your article a number of times this morning Chris.

Chris if you were trying to make amends for ‘blaspheming’ (a patronising descriptor & indicator of where Chris’s argument is headed) you get off on the wrong foot with the title of the article.

I dare say “Lest we forget about what?” would neither sit comfortably with you or with many readers. Not just because it’s ignorant & offensive but because I actually don’t think its representative of what you are trying to say here.

What exactly is Chris Harries trying to say here? At times it’s hard to know exactly. I’m not even sure Chris knows.

That our reverence for the ANZAC’s and by extension ANZAC day is something akin to the dreamtime & religious stories? Religious/spiritual stories which try to explain the meaning of life. Stories not based on fact or empirical evidence.

That ANZAC day is a ‘white persons’ thing (The ‘ANZAC Spirit’ has become the white person’s veritable Dreamtime story” says Chris. Patronising twaddle if ever read it!), excludes aboriginals - essentially another slap in the moosh for Aboriginal Australians?

Chris you say - “It is for sociologists to explain why the quirk of a military failure nearly a century ago has become our national Dreamtime Story, the core of our national psyche. That’s a mystery to me but I must respect the fact, all the same”.

Chris I dare say that to many Australians it’s not a ‘mystery’ and the nations annual observance of ANZAC day is something that is reasonably well articulated by most Australians. Dare I say Chris (a former Greens party advisor) that your struggle to identify with & understand ANZAC day is emblematic of your Party’s inability to identify & resonate with mainstream Australia.

The story of Gallipoli whilst being, among other things, an example of the senselessness & sheer violence of war speaks to Australians about our commitment to each other, to our commitment to our right as a nation to guide our future free or fear & oppression. It’s about the powerful legacy of the actions of Australians during that war campaign. About what our forebears were prepared to do, the sacrifices they were prepared to make to defend Australians & Australia. Whilst patriotism (Nationalism Chris? – where is the evidence that “nationalism is Australia’s core belief system”? You’ve got to explain that one Chris) inevitably, to some degree informs our reverence for the ANZAC’s so does respect. Sheer respect.
Chris you also say - “What has irked me through the years is that our ANZAC culture is generally intolerant of, or forgetful of, the Aboriginal war experience”.
Where is the evidence for this? To say - ‘Australian culture is generally intolerant of, or forgetful of, the Aboriginal war experience’ would have been much more accurate.
As far as I can see ANZAC day, led by the RSL is very inclusive of aboriginal diggers.

Chris I would like our nation (perhaps expanding ‘National Sorry Day’) to sanction & dedicate a day recognising & reflecting on aboriginal victims of genocide.

Is it smart or helpful to push such an idea on ANZAC day? Nope.

Is it realistic or sensible even to hope that ANZAC day could be shared (as you now appear to have recognised Chris) with a day recognising aboriginal victims of genocide? Maybe if you are a year 10 student with little or no life experience.

If Chris Harries ANZAC day confusion & defensiveness is reflective of the discussion on ANZAC day being had in the Tasmanian Greens Party then it’s very disappointing. It highlights the ongoing problem of immaturity in Greens party thinking and is indicative of why so many Australians simply can’t relate to the Greens.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ban Pollies from the Friday Forum

Dear ABC Hobart

Question re the Friday Pollies forum.

Over the period of a week, ABC listeners will have already heard the same lines, same spin and the same sermons from the 3 parties via the nightly news (across 3 channels), the radio news (on the hour), and on the internet.

Pick up the newspaper and you can read the same stuff.

Then theres talkback radio where political parties are given more time than anyone else to make their points. The pollies also spend the whole week screaming and yelling in parliament. Thats now broadcast live and then recycled across all media. We also get their propaganda in our letter boxes. You cant get away from political opinion.

Why then do ABC radio continue with this stale pollies forum after we've already heard the same political parties spinning the same lines all week? Isnt it time in this age of multi media for radio to cut back the amount of time it gives political parties?

Isnt it time to ditch the Friday pollies forum and invite some ordinary, interesting fresh voices from the Tasmanian community?

Does the ABC earnestly believe its listeners want to hear political parties all the time?

I guarantee the ABC if it surveyed its listeners they would much rather hear everyday tasmanians than politicians.

I say to the ABC - ban politicians from the Friday Forum barring exceptional circumstances.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Huon MLC Paul Harriss has some explaining to do

Follow links Here

What Paul Harriss said in parliament................................................"I would like to mention another matter to do with Ta Ann. When I was in Malaysia last year, I met with the World Wildlife Fund and they have Ta Ann at the absolute pinnacle of forest operations in Malaysia. That does not come lightly. They have them at the pinnacle - number one - but, of course, the Greens here seek to discredit the WWF in Malaysia because it suits their purpose to do so".

For more - type WWF or World Wildlife Fund into parliamentary hansard Here

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Oh what a tangled web we weave. Jonothan West dumps on ENGO's over pulp mill.

Here are Jonothan Wests comments (today on ABC radio) on the future of protests and particular pulp mill protests arising from the forests deal.

Key comments on the pulp mill come with 7.00 min remaining on the audio and continue for around 4 minutes. Have a close listen.

West’s comments are not surprising but incredibly damning where the ENGO signatories are concerned.

West is very clear and his comments most certainly require a response and clarification by the ENGO’s. They also deserve a strong response from anti-pulp mill groups.

When asked by the ABC about the pulp mill protests (and Ta ann protests) West said he had talked to ALL the protest groups & relevant individuals (we can assume that this includes anti-pulp mill groups).
Professor West said the protest groups had made it clear to him that once a resolution on native forests is reached - one that is satisfactory to the major ENGOs - the protests will stop. West comments are being made in here response to questions about pulp mill & taann protests.
This blogger could list a host of groups including anti-mill groups from whom West would most certainly NOT HAVE recieved such assurances. Certainly not on pulp mill protests.

I know for a fact West did not talk to Code Green and i know he would not have recieved such assurances from Pulp The Mill, Friends of the Tamar Valley, Tasmanian Conservation Trust, The No Pulp Mill Alliance or TAP.

I would invite any other groups that feel misrepresented by Wests comments to say so here.

West then claims that BASED ON HIS DISCUSSIONS with the major ENGOs he believed opposition to the mill was primarily based on feedstock and that once the IGA was finalised and a resolution reached on native forest use the ENGOs would stop campaigning against the pulp mill.

West believed the ENGOs wouldn’t support the mill, rather just stop the campaigning.

West said based on talks with major Enviro groups he believed it was reasonable to expect the ENGOs would stop campaigning against the mill after a resolution has been reached on native forests.
Its important to note that West claims his comments on the future of pulp mill protests are based on his discussions with the major ENGOs

This flies in the face of what ENGOs are telling anti-mill groups privately.

If West is wrong and has misunderstood & misreprepresented his discusssions with ENGO signatories to the forests deal then the two ENGOs must clarify this and correct the record publicly. The time for private assurances are over Vica Bailey& Phil Pullinger. Its meaningless unless its out there in the public domain.

Indeed TWS/ET lack of public opposition to such explosive public statements (and others by the Premier & DP) from such a key player in the forests deal is effectively to assist Gunns in getting its pulp mill a social licence. To say this is probably understating things.

Remember Greg L’Estrange’s definition of a social licence? “Less Opposition”. L’Estrange was very clear about this.

Do we have more or less opposition to the pulp mill these days, what role (or the lack of) are TWS/ET playing in this and how does it relate to the forests deal?

Basic questions, old questions but questions i intend to keep asking and putting on the public record.

As for Tamar Valley based pulp mill opponents.

Pulp Mill opponents are making a mistake if they believe keeping their heads down will stop them being demonised, steretyped and blamed for the demise of the IGA.

Its too late for that now. The landscape has shifted.

Silence and flying under the radar is not the solution. It might be the easy option but its not the best option.

Silence will suit the ENGO’s, Gunns and the mates of the mill. It will also reinforce the belief that there is less opposition to the pulp mill and henceforth a social licence.

The debate has shifted and what is required of pulp mill opponents is to develop and articulate effective arguments that speak to the current situation and to go out into the battlefield and argue them.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Huon MLC Paul Harriss - Rogue Politician?

"‘Questionable’ is the word, you are right. That is what they do. So then they (conservationists) say that, by connection, Ta Ann’s operations in Tasmania are also questionable. They then say the chief minister in Sarawak is corrupt. Well, there are elections over there, I do not see any uprising to get the bloke out of the place. I have never met him but these are the allegations". (Huon MLC Paul Harriss, Legislative Council Hansard, 14-3-2012)

MLC Paul Harriss' offhand dismissal of allegations of corruption against the Sarawak Chief Minister (CM) is the most significant aspect of the Huon MLC's recent coward's castle rant

Mr Harriss' comments should be of concern to every Tasmanian - including those in his electorate  - who care about democracy, justice and human rights. Paul Harriss’ put him at odds with many of Australia's closest allies and the wider global community on the issue of corruption and the Sarawak Chief Minister.

In 2010 Malaysia (of which Sarawak is the largest state) scored its lowest ever score in Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index. Malaysia plunged to a 'serious corruption' rating with an index score of 4.4/10, with 0 being highly corrupt and 10 being very clean.

Leaked U.S cables (wikileaks) show that the U.S govt regard the Sarawak Chief Minister as 'highly corrupt' and the Sarawak state govt as "highly corrupt in the hands of the Chief Minister".  Wikileaks also showed the U.S govt recognises that Chief Minister Taib and his relatives are widely thought to extract a percentage from most major commercial contracts - including those for logging - awarded in Sarawak.

On human rights Wikileaks showed that......The US embassy also informed itself on the plight of Sarawak’s indigenous people. It was told by commissioners of Malaysia’s government-funded national human rights commission, SUHAKAM, that the government largely ignores SUHAKAM’s recommendations ‘to safeguard the rights of the state’s most vulnerable citizens’.

Then there is Mr Harriss's quip that Sarawak citizens use elections or an 'uprising' to deal with the allegedly corrupt Chief Minister and his powerful regime.

Mr Harriss’ blissfully - and dare I say wilfully naïve riposte rolls of the tongue from the relative safety of Tasmania. Yet when we look at the political climate in Malaysia and the actual culture and practices of election campaigns in Sarawak it exposes the perversity & stupidity of the Huon MLC's comments.

The recent 2011 Sarawak election (as with previous Sarawak elections) was widely regarded as a giant exercise in pork barrelling. The Malaysian Government (the same political party as Chief Minister Taib's Sarawak state govt) poured millions into Sarawak as a form of ‘gratitude’ to Chief Minister Taib’s Sarawak state government for delivering the seats to secure the ruling party a majority at the Federal level.

Chief Minister Taib's government spent nearly $2Bn Ringgit Malaysia (RM) in Sarawak leading up to the last election and also blatantly exceeded election campaign spending regulations. Leading up the 2011 election it was revealed some Sarawak village heads received RM6,000 while the villagers were given RM2,000. The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) routinely sent its cronies to villages and door by door handed out cash for votes.
The amounts handed out were aften the equivalent of a months wages. 
In Sarawak rural communities are cleverly controlled by community leaders. The appointed community leaders do the bidding of the Chief Minister's ruling BN party as they recieve their allowance of RM800 from BN. Any community leaders found supporting the political opposition are inevitably sacked and material government assistance in the form of fertiliser, seedling and herbicide is withdrawn.

World renowned pro-democracy activist/politician Anwar Ibrahim who has been jailed & tortured for leading an 'uprising' against the powerful Malaysian ruling elite claimed the 2011 Sarawak election saw electoral fraud with pro-democracy activists stopped from entering Sarawak to observe the elections. But what would this globally recognised and decorated defender of justice and human rights in Malaysia know……right Mr Harriss?

Perhaps Mr Harriss could call in on Anwar Ibrahim during his next Malaysian fact finding mission and get some facts from an insider on how business is done in Sarawak? Mr Harriss might then travel to Sarawak to exhort disgruntled locals to exercise the vote and lecture them on how to initiate an uprising.

Or perhaps Mr Harriss who has used the Tasmanian Parliament to record his indifference to one of the worlds most corrupt regimes, could  simply tell us at the next sitting of cowards castle why Anwar Ibrahim, the U.S govt and wider global community are wrong about the Chief Minister of Sarawak?

Anyone reading Mr Harriss's easy dismissal of allegations of corruption against the Sarawak Chief Minister would be justified in wondering if there is any allegation, anything which reflects poorly on the Tasmanian logging industry that Mr Harriss is not prepared to overlook?

The word rogue has been bandied about a lot lately in relation to the Tasanian logging industry.

There is no doubt that the logging industry globally, including Malaysia's is widely regarded as one of the most corrupt industries on our planet. Such a claim can be supported by decades of evidence.

To my mind the Huon MLC's off hand dismissal of allegations of corruption against the Sarawak Chief Minister is rogue behaviour and places Paul Harriss out on the fringes in terms of global opinion of Sarawak's Taib regime. But ask any Tasmanian and they will tell you in an instant, rogue politicians and rogue behaviour are nothing new in Tasmanian Politics.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Who is driving the Liberal's Pulp Mill policy?

Last year in response to a question (May 2011) during a live chat on the Liberal's Turn Tasmania Around Facebook site, opposition leader Will Hodgman replied to me saying the Libs would rule out any further financial support for the Gunns Pulp mill should they win government. Will Hodgman has also made this promise on ABC radio.
Here is the transcript of my exchange with Will Hodgman:

Rick Pilkington- ".........Will, if by some miracle the pulp mill is built will you today rule out providing government subisidies and bailouts in the event that the project falls on hard times? The so called benefits to the community are at best arguable now, with further taxpayer subsidies it would prove to the massive white elephant that many of us predict".

Will Hodgman MP: -"Rick - yes. It has to stand on its own feet."


However Liberal shadow treasurer Peter Gutwein is now refusing to rule out giving more public money to Gunns for its pulp mill.

......"Opposition economic development spokesman Peter Gutwein again called for the government to sack Nick McKim as a minister to prevent further derailment of the pulp mill project.``If we were in government, you would obviously keep an open mind to any requests for support from (Gunns) because it is absolutely vital that we get this project over the line,'' he said.........(The Examiner, 11/3/12)

This begs the question - Why has Mr Gutwein publicly contradicted Will Hodgman's position on public money for Gunns? Why have the Liberals apparently had a change of heart on public money for Gunns when not so long ago Will Hodgman slammed the Labor/Green govt over its $48M payout to Gunns?

......"This is $34.5 million that should be being spent on schools, hospitals and police, not as a bargaining tool in a dodgy political deal," Mr Hodgman said.
"This disastrous deal has been nothing but an expensive embarrassment from the start...
 Given that Gunns voluntarily gave up its native forest contracts, they shouldn't receive a cent of compensation."....(Will Hodgman in The Mercury, 15/9/11)

Contrast Mr Gutwein's near obession with the pulp mill and his apparent enthusiasm to give more taxpayers money to Gunns against Mr Hodgman's hardline against public handouts for Gunns and recent refusal to meet with a potential Pulp Mill investor. Perhaps the difference between the two senior Liberals' attitude on the Pulp Mill is more stark than is given credit.

Of course last week's revelations of Will Hodgman's Chandler snub triggered widespread criticism of the Liberal leader and speculation about his grip on the opposition leadership. Could the apparent contradiction between Gutwein & Hodgman's position on public money for Gunns be indicative of an emerging challenge to Will Hodgman's leadership and a shift toward a harder party line on the Pulp Mill/Forest related policy? It was only a few weeks ago that the Tasmanian Liberals also flagged the introduction of draconian laws to stop protests against logging industry interests should the Libs win government. Another sign of a shift to a more reactionary & hard line Liberal party on forestry.

So who is driving this shift and who in fact is now driving the Tasmanian Liberals' Pulp Mill policy?

Is Will Hodgman set to break his word on public money for Gunns to appease powerful pro mill hardliners within Liberal ranks and will we see the Liberal party with Mr Hodgman at the helm or perhaps leader in waiting - Peter Gutwein taking the party to the 2014 election with a policy of more public money for Gunns pulp mill?

Time will tell.

Unless drawn by questions from local media its highly unlikely the Liberal's will advertise plans to give Gunns public money for the mill. The Liberal party would be well aware that several public polls conducted on the question of more public money for Gunns pulp mill have shown such a proposition is even more on the nose with Tasmanians than the project itself.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A response to Bruce Montgomery in Crikey

'Politicians fiddle while the economy burns' suggests Bruce - Here and Here.

You write like this a unique phenomena in politics Bruce.

Unfortunately Bruce's Crikey article - (Bruce Montgomery is a former logging industry spin doctor -Communications Manager of the Tasmanian Forests and Forest Industry Council ) only focusses on one sector of the Tassie economy - Forestry - giving his interstate readers the impression that the logging industry plays a more imporatnt role in the future of the Tasmanian economy than it actually does.

Not so according to Tasmanian businessman Andrew Scobie, a recent head of Tasmania's peak business lobby - The Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (TCCI).

This is what Andrew Scobie told ABC radio last week about the logging industry, an industry described in Bruce Mongomery's Crikey piece as Tasmania's 'major growth industry'
..................."Foresty Tasmania has been showing an inappropriate rate of return to its shareholders (the tasmanian people) for such a long time now and has really only been a smoke and mirrors mechanism for the redistribution of public wealth ie: taxation being taken from Australians, not Tasmanians, but Australians and distributed to an industry which frankly doesnt have a future".................."The frank reality is that Forestry Tasmania has simply been a mechanism for the distribution of public wealth to an underwriting of an unsustainable industry. Now that may or may not be a factual representation of the entirety of the history of Forestry in Tasmania but its certainly has been a characterisation of its recent performance..................."There is almost absolute consenus that the Australian dollar is going to stay at or about where it is for the forseeable future ie: for next 20-30 years. The consequence of that is that there is no future for the export of forestry products, we dont have a competitive position. If we dont have a competitive position that Forestry in Tasmania is going to have to be structurally adjusted (Andrew Scobie 2/03/12).

The subtext of much of Bruce's Crikey rant, is essentially taken from the same song-sheet recently used by the Liberals, the President of the upper house and most other mates of the Tasmanian logging industry.................."The Tasmanian economy (logging...cough,cough) is rooted because of two greens cabinet ministers and a few unruly kids in koala suits".

Because Greens cabinet minister Nick Mckim & Cassy O'Connor express an alternate view on forestry Bruce says - " they march to the beat of their own drum". Oh the horror of it all Bruce!

The truth is Cassy O'Connor, the Minister for Human Services, Community Development, Aboriginal Affairs & Climate Change rarely speaks out on Forestry related issues and has been a staunch public defender of her labor cabinet colleagues. Indeed since the advent of the Labor/Greens minority govt Nick Mckims Greens have been in lockstep with Labor on most legislation and demonstrably less combative with Labor in and outside the parlaiment often to the disgust of greens supporters.

Bruce, it's also widely accepted that Cassy O'Connor and Nick Mckim hold cabinet positions is because the Labor alternatives don't bear thinking about.

You know that Bruce, we all know that.

Both O'Connor and Mckim are widely regarded as experienced, conscientous parliamentarians and highly competent in their demanding ministerial portfolios. The interests of Tasmania are best served by constructing the most competent government possible not one that is ideologically pure. There is also the minor matter that the Labor/Green minority government was returned by the people of Tasmania who were fully aware of the lack of talent & experience in government ranks.

The political campaign to have the two Greens sacked from cabinet pays no regard to the potentially serious social consequences for the community of removing two well performing ministers and handing their portfolios, which include Education, Corrections, Human Services & Aboriginal affairs to inexperienced and potentially incapable backbenchers.
This campaign and the wider campaign for a fresh election is a really just a backlash or reaction to the effectiveness of environmental campaigns in exposing Tasmanian logging industry spin O/S. It is being driven by a coalition of logging industry, business and Liberal party mates. One only has to check into certain social media sites to see this.

Marching to the beat of their own drum Bruce?

Sounds like a good starting point for an article on Tasmania's state owned Forestry Company, Forestry Tasmania.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Australia's problem? We never talked about Kevin Rudd - Richard Flanagan in The Guardian

'I was elected by the Australian people as the prime minister," Kevin Rudd said in his tearful speech after being deposed as prime minister by his own party in June 2010, to be replaced by Julia Gillard. Except he wasn't. Rather, the Australian people in 2007 elected a parliament in which the Australian Labor party (ALP), of which Rudd was leader, had a majority of seats. And thus, as ever in the Westminster system, it was the majority of parliamentarians who decided Rudd would be prime minister. And then that he wouldn't.
But Rudd's confusion was also that of the Australian people, and they viewed his sacking almost as a regicide, a view powerfully helped along by the new Labor regime's refusal to say exactly why they had replaced him, allowing Rudd's subtle rebuilding of himself as a martyr to faceless men and factions.
Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat, was a new type of politician who had built his power base and appeal through the manufacture of a 21st-century celebrity. He rose to national prominence not so much with policy, but appearances on a commercial breakfast TV programme. He used social media and light entertainment radio and TV to advance himself. His support base wasn't built in the party, but on his polling figures.
Read Full article here

Monday, February 27, 2012

Steve Kons you idiot

From The Advocate

BURNIE Mayor Steve Kons has denied gloating about "boning" the council's ex-general manager despite an email where he says "Ha Ha!!" and it was "a true victory for the people of Burnie".
The email exchange, between Ald Kons and shareholder activist Stephen Mayne was released publicly on-line this week on the Mayne Report under a heading "Burnie Mayor gloats about boning his CEO (general manager)".
It followed a public stoush between Ald Kons and Mr Mayne on radio late last year, when Mr Mayne defended then-council general manager Paul Arnold and criticised Ald Kons over public comments about Mr Arnold.
Ald Kons emailed Mr Mayne a few months later saying: "Thought I would just inform you the General Manger of Burnie City Council is gone as is the former Mayor. Ha Ha!!!!
"A true victory for the people of Burnie," Ald Kons noted.
"Next time butt out of our local politics and continue to pat yourself on the back for the star you really think you are."
Mr Kons, the fallen ex-deputy premier, confirmed the email yesterday to The Advocate, but denied he had been gloating about Mr Arnold and ex-mayor Alvwyn Boyd's local government demise.
He said there was no ill-feeling between himself and Mr Mayne, adding Mr Mayne had simply been trying to get his "street credentials up" before a presentation to Tasmanian council managers last year.
"I know what he's like and he knows what I'm like," Ald Kons said.
"I get on all right with him."
Mr Mayne told The Advocate yesterday he had been shocked by Ald Kons' 11.35pm email.
Read it in The Advocate

Habib's Victory Against The Shock-Jocks

Former Dateline Journalist Bronwyn Adcock writes in The New Matilda......"In his ruling the judge found that the comments made about Habib by John Laws and Steve Price from 2UE, and Ray Hadley from 2GB, were "extreme, strongly expressed, exaggerated, unjust, irrational … and also violent". The tone and content of John Laws in particular was "clearly spiteful and laden with ill-will towards Mr Habib, as well as being intentionally aimed at ridiculing the plaintiff". Most problematically though for Radio 2UE and 2GB, in the context of a defamation trial where truth can be relied on as a defence, was that the comments in question were simply not based on fact"
Read More Here

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Greens under the Bed

Lara Giddings' blunt dismissal of personal threats made against the Huon Valley Environment Centre's Jenny Weber and the Premier's seemingly baseless assertion that "loggers had felt threatened by environmentalists spiking trees"* made me cast my mind back to the days of the Franklin Dam campaign when Bob Brown was bashed senseless by a car load of young men in Queenstown on Tasmania's West Coast.
I was only 16 at the time but I can clearly remember feeling sickened by the incident. Much in the same way we were sickened by the attack from a logging contractor on forest protesters in Tasmania's southern forest in 2008 .
Back in 1983 the response (or lack of response) of Tasmanians, particularly Tasmanian men to the assault on Bob Brown revealed a bigotted and violent heart in Tasmania which most of us would have liked to believe only existed in the deep south of the U.S or South Africa.
I remember at the time that it seemed like the young men who attacked Brown had the approval of the majority of Tasmania's male population. Indeed, upon arriving home in Queenstown after being released by police the young perpetrators were hailed as heroes.  However to me at the time the most sickening and disturbing aspect of the whole incident was the ambivalence of the Tasmanian media and the blatant lack of an appropriate response by the Tasmanian Premier Robin Gray who virtually condoned the act by his silence. Even the police could only manage a qualified rebuke.
To me this was one of the ugliest moments in recent Tasmanian history.
Not that much has changed in Tasmania.  Even today when assaults and violence against forest protesters have occurred, they are at best met with reluctant & qualified condemnation from politicians and industry spokespeople.
This inadequate response by our civic leaders is unfortunately not helped by a weak and under-resourced Tasmanian media who through their own fear of Tasmania's powerful axis of political & business mates attempt to protect themselves from retribution by contriving 'balanced' news reports rather than drilling down and teasing out what really happened.  Even when there is hard irrefutable evidence that a wrong has been perpetrated by one person/group against another. This is the tyranny of balance which pervades much of our news reporting. Balance for balance sake.
The media in Tasmania have long facilitated the maintenance of social and political tensions around the forestry issue by choosing to frame the issue in inflammatory terms and misrepresenting what are complex situations with simplistic language and slogans. This may maximise the entertainment value for media consumers but at times it does a great disservice to the issue and the community struggling with it.
Greens Under The Bed

It's also interesting that whenever there has been a minority Green government in Tasmania we have seen political supporters of the logging industry go to extreme measures to silence the Greens Party/critics of logging. The hysterical campaign currently being waged by the mates of the logging industry against the 'insidious Green threat' to the Tasmanian economy has a long and dubious tradition in this state.
It wasnt all that long ago that Liberal/Green minority Premier Tony Rundle along with the Labor opposition engineered 'special legislation' (a model put forward by one of the mates - the TCCI) to reduce the number of seats in parliament so as to get rid of the Greens. Former state Labor Minister David Llewelyn recently admitted that Rundle's special legislation was indeed created to remove the greens from the parliament.
Not long after Rundle's legislation passed, an election was held and a majority Labor government was returned with the Greens losing three seats and the one remaining Green Peg Putt left with virtually no chance of exercising any influence in the lower house.
Then of course in 1989 Edmund Rouse as chairman of Gunns offered $110,000 to Labor MP Jim Cox to cross the floor. The bribe was an attempt to prevent the Labor party forming an alliance with the Tasmanian Greens and to secure the return of the Liberal government. Edmund Rouse would later state that his motivation for the bribery attempt was out of 'concern for the Tasmanian economy' and his fears about the impacts of a Greens minority government. This is precisely the same justification being put forward today by the Tasmania's  pro logging axis - 'concern' for the Tasmanian economy because of the infiltration of Green ideology in government.
Consider last week's extraordinary public attack on the two Greens cabinet Ministers by President of Tasmania's Upper House Sue Smith.
This would have been unthinkable from Smith's predecessor, the highly respected and statesman-like Don Wing.
Interestingly it was only Don Wing's Launceston based counterpart, Rosevears MLC Kerry Finch who refused to be a part of last weeks Upper House tantrum.
Finch, the member for Rosevears told the ABC "he needed more information about markets in Japan and China". "I only had before me what Ta Ann were saying," . "We are a house of review, we must remember that,"."I don't have legislation to review." said Finch.
One wonders whether Finch sought counsel from Don Wing before making his decision to stand aside from the Paul Harriss led protest.
Here is what current Upper House president Sue Smith told ABC radio last week when asked why the MLC's staged their anti green protest....... "we have a minister of the government (Nick Mckim) whose ideology is totally at the opposite end of the spectrum to the ideology of the unionised working man in any industry in Tasmania . So i find it hard to understand how Nick Mckim himself can actually balance those two processes and i think whether the premier likes to accept it or not, she is going to have to address it she's going to have to look at her back bench and she's going to have to make some hard decisions as to whether or not she removes two (greens)ministers whose ideologies are at conflict with the ideologies of other ministers who sit around the cabinet table and actually puts two of her back benches in their place".
Political analyst Richard Herr told the ABC it was "imprudent for the Legislative Council to pre-judge legislation". Herr questioned the appropriateness of MLCs demanding the Premier discipline the Greens leader and Cabinet Minister.
"The Chamber was sailing very close to the wind in trying to direct the Government in how to discipline its own members, or indeed the Lower House in terms of disciplining one of its own members," said Herr. "I doubt that they would have been very happy if the House of Assembly had instructed them....It's a fundamental principle of Parliamentary relationships that both house are responsible for their privileges".
Indeed the upper house traditionally gets very irritable when the lower house sticks its nose into their business

It's also widely accepted that Cassy O'Connor and Nick Mckim hold cabinet positions is because the Labor alternatives don't bear thinking about. Both O'Connor and Mckim are widely regarded as experienced, conscientous parliamentarians and highly competent in their demanding ministerial portfolios. Surely the interests of Tasmania are best served by constructing the most competent government possible rather one that is ideologically pure? There is also the minor matter that the Labor/Green minority government was returned by the people of Tasmania who were fully aware of the lack of talent & experience in government ranks. The Upper House president's selfish ideological crusade pays no regard to the potentially serious social consequences for the community of removing two well performing ministers and handing their portfolios, which include Education, Corrections, Human Services & Aboriginal affairs to inexperienced and potentially incapable backbenchers. What the upper house has in fact done is make it increasingly obvious where the independence of the uppper house ends and it loyalties begin.
Whilst we still have a Greens minority government in Tasmania, whilst Nick Mckim and Cassy O'Connor remain in Cabinet, while the pulp mill is still a real prospect and the forests continue to be so hotly contested we should continue to look to the history of minority governments in Tasmania as a guide to see how far the mates of the logging industry might be prepared to go to rid Tasmania of the Green threat. Indeed the forests issue appears likely get a lot uglier before we see anything like peace in Tasmania. With the real prospect of a Liberal majority government being returned in 2014 and an Upper House that has declared war on the Greens & anti-logging protest there seems a real possibility of draconian laws soon being passed to stifle the 'Green voice'. And if that happens then we truly will be back to the bad ol' days of Greens under the beds.
*The Premier's claims about environmentalists spiking logs were contradicted on Sunday night's ABC TV news by the Forestry Union who were reported as saying they hadn't seen tree spikes in Tasmania since the 1970s. The onus must now be on Tasmania's most senior politician - The Premier of Tasmania - to prove the alleged spikes she claimed to have seen at the Taann workplace actually do exist and were planted by environmentalists. Question is - Will the Tasmanian media pursue the Tasmanian Premier on this matter?...................updated 20/2/2012..........The Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings has released a qualified apology for her 'tree spiking' accusations.
Earlier on this blog......Vandalism accusations against pulp mill opponents proven false. Will the Examiner editor now apologise?
More about Lara's spikeful accusations and the sordid history of attempts to frame conservationists in Tasmania - Here

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Hypocrisy of Will Hodgman's Liberal's

Once again this week we saw the spectre of Tasmania's most hated project dominating the public discourse and once again we saw (Matthew Groom - Listen here ) Will Hodgman's Liberal opposition attempting to use the issue to drive a wedge between Labor and the Greens.

Hissy fits by Matt Groom and Peter Gutwein with calls for Lara Giddings to sack Greens leader Nick Mckim from cabinet were classic political grandstanding and left Will Hodgman's party looking too much like hypocrites. The Liberals calls came after Nick Mckim urged (Here) new Gunns main man Richard Chandler to steer clear of the Tamar Valley Pulp Mill project.

Will & Lara's lynch mob

Only a few months ago two of Australia's most successful entrepeneurs, Jan Cameron and Graeme Wood bought up the dilapidated, unprofitable and unsaleable Triabunna Woodchip Mill ($10M investment) on Tasmania's East Coast from Gunns LTD with plans for a slow phase out of woodchip operations and a long term plan to develop the site into a tourist hub.
To say the $10M investment in the struggling East Coast Town was not welcomed by either of the big political parties in Tasmania is an understatement.
Shadow Treasurer Peter Gutwein led the Liberal's trashing of the investment, screaming blue murder and making the utterly ridiculous demand that the Tasmanian Government compulsorily acquire the Triabunna site from its rightful and legal owners.

It was the Tasmanian Liberal Party who led the charge, whipping up a hate campaign against Cameron and Woods $10M investment in Tasmania. They were of course cheered on by a hypertensive looking Robert Wallace and the TCCI.

As Premier Lara Giddings who could barely conceal her contempt for the two successful entrepeneurs led an ugly public campaign against Cameron and Wood, Will Hodgman raised no objection about a $10M dollar investment being talked down, rather unleashing the Liberal's attack dogs & cheering the Premier on.
The knives were out for Jan Cameron & Graeme Wood. It was an unedifying spectacle particularly from the Premier of Tasmania.
Its this aspect that particularly exposes the Liberal's claims that Mckim's sacking is warranted because of his senior role as a goverment minister.
Will Hodgman's Liberals cheered on as Tasmania's most senior minister - The Premier, publically trashed a $10M private investment in a struggling Tasmanian town. Yet Mr Mckim apparently should be sacked for continuing the Greens long standing public campaign against the proposed Tamar Valley Pulp Mill.

No one should be under the illusion that Will Hodgman's Liberals wouldnt have monstered Cameron &Wood if the Libs had the reigns of Government. Nor doubt that a Hodgman Government led by greenie hatin' Bass MHA Peter Gutwein, would have pushed ahead with its call to compulsorily acquire the Triabunna Mill from its rightful owners and in doing so confused & scared potential investors as governance in Tasmania were taken to new lows

Imagine the wonderful publicity as Tasmania (and the public purse) was dragged through an ugly high profile legal battle with two of Australia's most successful and forward thinking business people.

The Liberal and Labor parties clearly prefer to back a failing company like Gunns who would almost certainly be dead now without its major asset - a large plantation estate which was acquired with large thanks to MIS tax payer assisted help.

The Liberal Parties concern's appear less about investment in Tasmania per se rather their own love affair with polluting, volatile & unprofitable industries like woodchipping and pulp.

The Shadow Treasureres cycnical call for the Giddings government to compulsorily acquire the Triabunna Mill shows the Liberal's woodchip & pulp mill bondage even overrides the Libs so called belief in the free market economy.

Couple this with the Liberal's nod & a wink to the most corrupt legislation ever to pass through the Tasmanian Parliament (The Pulp Mill assessment act 2007) and the Libs willingness to turn a blind eye to the abuses of process that kept the project alive  and one has to be fairly pessimistic about a prospective Hodgman Government's commitment to Tasmania's statutory planning processes and ethical governance.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Out of Control: The tragedy of Tasmania’s forests by Richard Flanagan.

First Published in 2007 in The Monthly Here
This story begins with a Tasmanian man fern (Dicksonia antarctica) for sale in a London nursery. Along with the healthy price tag, some £160, is a note: "This tree fern has been salvage harvested in accordance with a management plan approved by the Governments of Tasmania and the Commonwealth of Australia." If you were to believe both governments, that plan ensures that Tasmania has a sustainable logging industry - one which, according to the federal minister responsible for forests, Eric Abetz, is "the best managed in the world".
The truth is otherwise. The man fern - possibly several centuries old - comes from native forests destroyed by a logging industry that was recently found to be illegal by the Federal Court of Australia. It comes either from primeval rainforest that has been evolving for millennia or from wet eucalypt forests, some of which contain the mighty Eucalyptus regnans. These aptly named kings of trees are the tallest hardwood trees and flowering plants on Earth; some are more than 20 metres in girth and 90 metres in height. The forests are being destroyed in Tasmania, in spite of widespread community opposition and increasing international concern.
Clearfelling, as the name suggests, first involves the complete felling of a forest by chainsaws and skidders. Then, the whole area is torched, the firing started by helicopters dropping incendiary devices made of jellied petroleum, commonly known as napalm. The resultant fire is of such ferocity it produces mushroom clouds visible from considerable distances. In consequence, every autumn, the island's otherwise most beautiful season, china-blue skies are frequently nicotine-scummed, an inescapable reminder that clearfelling means the total destruction of ancient and unique forests. At its worst, the smoke from these burn-offs has led to the closure of schools, highways and tourist destinations.
In the Styx Valley, in the south-west, the world's last great unprotected stands of old-growth Eucalyptus regnans are being reduced to piles of smouldering ash. Over 85% of Tasmania's old-growth regnans forests are gone, and it is estimated that fewer than 13,000 hectares of these extraordinary trees remain in their old-growth form. Almost half of them are to be clearfelled. Most will end up as paper in Japan.
In logging coupes around Tasmania, exotic rainforest trees such as myrtle, sassafras, leatherwood and celery-top pine - extraordinary, exquisite trees, many centuries old, some of which are found nowhere else - are often just left on the ground and burnt.
The hellish landscape that results from clearfelling - akin to a Great War battlefield - is generally turned into large monocultural plantations of either radiata pine or Eucalyptus nitens, sustained by such a heavy program of fertilisers and pesticides that water sources for some local communities have been contaminated by Atrazine, a controversial herbicide linked with cancer and banned in much of Europe. Blue-dyed carrots soaked in 1080 poison are laid on private plantations to kill native grazing animals that pose a threat to tree seedlings. The slaughter that results sees not only possums, wallabies and kangaroos die slowly, in agony, but other species - including wombats, bettongs and potoroos - killed in large numbers, despite being officially protected species.
In 2003 an ageing forester, Bill Manning, was subpoenaed to testify in front of an Australian Senate committee investigating the Tasmanian forestry industry. He methodically began to unravel a tale of environmental catastrophe, of industry connivance and government complicity. His detailed evidence suggested that the forestry industry was not only systematically destroying unique forests, but poisoning the very fabric of Tasmanian politics and life.
No greenie hardliner, Manning was a man who worked for 30 years in the Tasmanian forests and who believes they ought to be logged, but logged so that they remain for the future. Yet he alleged to the Senate committee that forestry management had been corrupted. At the hearing, he painted a picture of llegal destruction on a scale so vast that it was transforming the landscape of Tasmania. Branding what was happening "an ecological disaster", Manning talked of how an "accelerated and unaccountable logging industry" was destroying wholesale native forests "which are unique in the world for their flora and fauna". "The clearfelling is out of control," he told the senators. "The scale of clearfelling in Tasmania is huge."
A whispering campaign about Bill Manning's state of mind began, and in the four years since he ended a career that he loved, by standing up for what he believed, nothing has changed - except for the worse. Today, Tasmania is the only Australian state that clearfells its rainforests. While the rest of Australia has either ended, or is ending, the logging of old-growth forests, Tasmania is the only state where it is secretly planned to accelerate the destruction of native forests, driven by the greed for profit that can be made from woodchips.
As with any epidemic of madness, there sometimes seems no end to the horror. Among Tasmania's many unique plants and animals is the endangered giant freshwater crayfish, one of the largest invertebrates in the world. Although technically protected, its very future is threatened by the frenzy of logging surrounding the creeks where it lives. When a government-appointed expert panel recommended buffer zones of forest be preserved to protect the crayfish, these zones were reduced to a bare minimum, and the areas continue to be logged. "Clearfelling is going on at an incredible rate in their habitat," the crayfish expert Todd Walsh says. "It's going berserk."
Tasmania is an extraordinary land, one that many hoped might become, in the words of the legendary landscape photographer Olegas Truchanas, "a shining beacon in a dull, uniform and largely artificial world". Its remoteness, its wildness, its unique natural world - all seemed to offer the possibility of a prosperous and good future to a state that had for a century been the poorest in the Australian Commonwealth. Instead, over the past three decades Tasmania has mortgaged its future to the woodchipping industry, which is today dominated by one company: Gunns Ltd. And it is Gunns - not the Tasmanian people - that has been the beneficiary of the destruction of Tasmania's unique forests.
Though Gunns was founded in Tasmania in 1875, it was not until 1989, when it became part of the written history of corruption in Tasmania, that many Australians first came to hear of the company, then still one of several Tasmanian timber firms. In that year the then chairman of Gunns, Eddie Rouse, became concerned that the election of a Labor-Green Tasmanian government with a one-seat majority might affect his logging profits. Rouse attempted to bribe a Labor member, Jim Cox, to cross the floor, thereby bringing down the government and clearing the way for the pro-logging former premier Robin Gray and the Liberal Party to resume power. Cox went to the police and the plot was exposed; a royal commission and Rouse's fall from grace and imprisonment ensued. But Gunns continued. Today it is a corporation worth more than a billion dollars, the largest company in Tasmania, with an effective monopoly of the island's hardwood logging, and a darling of the Australian stock market.
Yet Gunns remains haunted by the Rouse scandal. The company's board continues to have among its directors former associates of the late Eddie Rouse. The 1991 royal commission found that director David McQuestin, whose friendship with Rouse it characterised as "obsequious", was not "unlawfully involved as a principal offender" with the bribery attempt, although his "compliance with Rouse's direction in the matter was ‘highly improper'" - a "glaring breach of the requisite standards of commercial morality". Robin Gray is also now a director of Gunns; the royal commission found that he "knew of and was involved with Rouse in Rouse's attempt to bribe Cox", and that while his conduct was not unlawful, it was "improper, and grossly so". John Gay, Gunns' managing director in 1989 and now its managing director and executive chairman, was cleared by the royal commission of any involvement with the bribery attempt.
In a dissembling world ever more given to corporate deference to a green image, the company shows an often-unexpected candour. Gunns makes no secret of its enmity towards conservationists and conservation groups. Gunns plans to destroy more, rather than less, Tasmanian native forest. Gunns makes no apologies for what this means. "How do you feel about protected species dying for your business?" John Gay was once asked on national television. "Well, there's too many of them," he replied, "and we need to keep them at a reasonable level." And while the figures for total woodchip production since 2000 are officially secret - like so much else in Tasmania - Gunns' own evidence in support of the pulp mill it proposes for the north of the state reveals that the company plans to double woodchipping, from its present annual levels of approximately 3.5 million tonnes to 7 million tonnes over the next decade.
To evade the ever-growing public anger, the woodchipping industry has had to exercise an ever-stronger control over Tasmanian life. Both major parties in Tasmania, and much of the state's media, frequently give the appearance of existing only as clients of the woodchippers. The state's interest and that of the woodchipping industry are now so thoroughly identified as one and the same that anyone questioning the industry's actions is attacked by leading government figures as a traitor to Tasmania. And it is not only the forests that have been destroyed by this industry. Its poison has seeped into every aspect of Tasmanian life: jobs are threatened, careers destroyed, people driven to leave. And in recent years, its influence has extended further, so that now its activities are endorsed nationally by both the prime minister, John Howard, and the Opposition leader, Kevin Rudd.
Huge money is being made out of destroying native forests, but to maintain what to many is an obscene practice there has evolved a culture of secrecy, shared interest and intimidation that seems to firmly bind the powerful in Tasmania. When the actress Rebecca Gibney, who moved to Tasmania two years ago to raise her family, said in a television interview that she would leave the state if Gunns' proposed pulp mill was built, the former Liberal Party candidate and bottle-shop owner Sam McQuestin made headlines by publicly attacking her as "serial complainer" whose family made no contribution to the Tasmanian economy and who had no "right to tell the rest of us how to live our lives". McQuestin's family is well known for its contribution: his father, David, is a Gunns director. The attack on Rebecca Gibney was but a public example of something far more widespread and insidious. I witnessed a senior ALP politician make it clear that yet another Tasmanian was no longer welcome in the clearfelling state when the local corporate-communications consultant Gerard Castles wrote an article in a newspaper questioning the government's policy on old-growth logging. "The fucking little cunt is finished," the politician said in front of me and my 12-year-old daughter. "He will never work here again."
To question, to comment adversely, is to invite the possibility of ostracism and unemployment, and the state is full of those who pay a high price for their opinion on the forests, the blackballed multiplying with the blackened stumps. It is commonplace to meet people who are too frightened to speak publicly of their concerns about forestry practices, because of the adverse consequences they perceive this might have for their careers and businesses. Due to the forest battle, a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) fear has entered Tasmanian public life; it stifles dissent, avoids truth.
And how can it be otherwise? The great majority of Tasmanians appear to be overwhelmingly opposed to old-growth logging, and only by the constant crushing of opposing points of view, and the attempted silencing and smearing of those who put them, can the practice continue. And so, nearly two decades after its then chairman failed in his attempt to corrupt the state parliament, Gunns now seems so powerful that Tasmanians joke that their government is the ‘gunnerment', and leading national politicians of all persuasions acknowledge that the real power in Tasmania is not the government but Gunns itself.
This goes further than the sizeable donations Gunns makes to both major parties, both in Tasmania and nationally. It goes beyond Gunns' role in election campaigns, such as the $486,000 spent on aggressive political advertising in the 2004 federal election by the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania (FIAT), of which Gunns is the largest member. "A lot of people are intimidated by the employment side of the [Tasmanian forestry] industry," the prominent Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan, from New South Wales, has said, "including some politicians."
But who can blame even the powerful for being scared? The former Tasmanian Liberal leader Bob Cheek recalls how "the state's misguided forestry policy was ruthlessly policed by Gunns", how fearful the politicians were of the forest lobby and what he describes as their "hitmen". In a cowed society, the Tasmanian government often gives the impression of being little more than a toadying standover man for its corporate godfather, willing to undertake any action, no matter how degrading, to help those with the real power.
When, in 2004, the Wyena farmers Howard and Michelle Carpenter had themselves and their property directly sprayed by a helicopter with Atrazine meant for an adjacent Gunns plantation, poisoning their water supply, Gunns' only response was to send the couple two bottles of spring water. Later, when the story became a public scandal, they provided the Carpenters with a water tank which a few months later they removed, though the Carpenter's water bore remained poisoned. To reassure the public that there was no cause for concern, the then water minister, Steve Kons, fronted a media conference at which he loyally drank a glass of water tainted with Atrazine. Steve Kons is now Tasmania's deputy premier.
According to the former federal Labor leader Mark Latham, "They [Gunns] run the state Labor Government, they run [Labor Premier] Lennon ... and old Lennon there, he wouldn't scratch himself unless the guy who heads up Gunns told him to." Latham would know: after all, his own bid to be prime minister ended when he came up against Gunns in the 2004 election. Latham was no conservationist, but the growing national outcry over Tasmania's forests, driven by a long campaign by conservation groups, led him in the week before the election to propose a bold plan to end the logging of the island's old-growth forests, a plan that included an $800-million compensation package for logging workers. Quite extraordinarily, the package was rejected by Tasmanian Labor.
Two days later, the Liberal prime minister, John Howard, flew into Tasmania to announce the indefinite continuation of old-growth logging, along with more extensive subsidies to the logging industry and, as a sop to the green vote, the protection of some areas of old growth. A few areas were victories. Much was a con: areas that were either already reserved; or, as Terry Edwards of FIAT admitted about the north Styx, very difficult to log; or, as in the Weld or the Florentine, later - in an act of arch cynicism - to be logged anyway.
In the most extraordinary images of that election, Howard was cheered by 2000 logging workers at a rally in Launceston, supported by the powerful Construction, Forest, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU). Within the week Howard would be returned to government, and within a year some of those same workers would be forced out of the industry by Gunns breaking contracts, and looking for new employment in a workforce ravaged by the toughest anti-union laws in Australia's history - introduced by the man they had cheered on to victory.
"We seem to get on better with the Liberals than we do with Labor at the moment," Tasmania's premier, Paul Lennon, told a journalist a few weeks after federal Labor had suffered one of its worst defeats.
The conservationists had foundered and, with Howard's crushing victory, Gunns now had a federal government that felt electorally rewarded for taking the company's side. Gunns had too a state government so committed to it that seemingly no issue in Tasmania could be decided without first being held up to see whether it was good or bad for the old-growth logging industry. And it left federal Labor so terrified of ever touching the issue again that when Kevin Rudd assumed the leadership of the party in 2006, one of his first actions was to express support for the Tasmanian logging industry. But then, as Mark Latham ruefully admitted, "No policy issue or set of relationships better demonstrates the ethical decline and political corruption of the Australian Labor movement than Tasmanian forestry."
The dogs were off the leash and Gunns was now at its most powerful. Within months it made a move that was widely viewed as an attempt to cripple the conservation movement, the last remaining impediment to its ambitions. On 14 December 2004, Gunns filed a 216-page, $6.3-million claim against a group of conservationists and organisations who became known as the Gunns 20. The writ was an extraordinary document that sought to sue a penniless grandmother who had opposed logging in her district; a national political leader, Senator Bob Brown; a doctor who had raised public-health concerns about woodchip piles; prominent conservationists; Australia's leading wilderness-conservation organisation, the Wilderness Society; a film-maker; and several day protesters.
All were joined in what was alleged to be a conspiracy guilty of the crime of corporate vilification. The writ presented a tale of a group of people together seeking, through a series of actions as diverse as protesters chaining themselves to logging machinery to the lobbying of Japanese paper companies, to destroy Gunns' profits. The perversity of the action was staggering: with the immense fortune it had made out of destroying Tasmania's forests, Gunns had launched an action that would, if successful, have redefined the practice of democracy as the crime of conspiracy. An Australian would not have been able to criticise, question or campaign against a corporation, for risk of being bankrupted in legal proceedings brought against them by the richest and most powerful in their society, claiming damage to their corporate interest. No matter how a corporation made its money, be it from tobacco or asbestos or chemicals, all of its actions would have effectively been removed from the realm of public life. Gunns' action was compared with the legal standover tactics that prevails in such countries as Singapore, where those engaged in political opposition are bankrupted and then jailed through such a process of litigation.
If its legal ramifications were enormous but unrealised, its political impact was immediate. While the writ excited a national outcry, garnering comparisons with the McLibel case, in the short term it only served to further intimidate many in Tasmania, and tied up the leading conservation groups and conservationists in a difficult, expensive and all-consuming court case at a moment when Gunns was planning its most controversial action of all. Two days after it issued the writ, Gunns announced its plans for a gigantic $1.4-billion pulp mill, the biggest infrastructure project in Tasmania's history and one of the biggest pulp mills in the world, to be built 36 kilometres from Launceston.
At first, reassuring commitments were given that Gunn's pulp mill would be environmentally friendly: chlorine-free and primarily using plantation timber. Premier Lennon was adamant that the mill would only go ahead if Gunns could prove to an independent government body, the Resource and Planning Development Commission (RPDC), that their proposal conformed to the world's best environmental standards. The process was to be above politics and the RPDC's decision final. But public concern began to grow when it became clear that Gunns was planning something entirely different to what it had originally announced. Gunns now wanted to build a kraft chlorine-bleaching mill - the type that produce dioxins, some of the most toxic substances known to man - fuelled initially by 80% native-forest woodchips.
Then was revealed the shocking news that to feed the pulp mill's gargantuan appetite, Gunns had negotiated a deal (the exact details of which remain secret) with the then Tasmanian forests minister, Bryan Green, that would double the level of woodchipping and accelerate the ongoing destruction of Tasmania's native forests for the next 20 years. (In October 2006 Bryan Green was charged with conspiracy over another secret deal, this time with a building accreditation company run by ex-Labor ministers. He denies any wrongdoing and the case continues.)
At the same time, Tasmanians discovered that while the mill was being assessed Paul Lennon was using a wholly owned subsidiary of Gunns, the construction company Hinman, Wright & Manser, to renovate his historic home. It was a curious choice of builder. Hinman, Wright & Manser is known to be less than enthusiastic in its support of unionised labour, and to be a keen proponent of the Howard government's new workplace-relations laws, of which Lennon had publicly been a vociferous critic. More remarkably, the Gunns "construction division" as it is termed on Gunns' website, is an industrial- and civil-works company that advertises itself as specialising in "larger construction work" such as mines, warehouses, concrete plants, schools, courts, remand centres, nursing homes, hospitals, reservoirs, substations, wharf berths, road bridges and woodchip mills, but makes no mention of home renovation.
Lennon has never answered questions put at the time about what Hinman, Wright & Manser originally quoted for the job, nor whether there were other quotes. Lennon and Gunns have both subsequently said that Lennon paid for the renovations, though the precise sum has never been revealed. Lennon dismissed any questions on the matter as a painful attack on his family's privacy.
The revelations that have since ensued have not been so easily dismissed. In early January 2007, the head of the RPDC pulp-mill inquiry, Julian Green, and the inquiry's leading scientific advisor and a national pulp-mill expert, Dr Warwick Raverty, both resigned, both citing political interference. It has become public knowledge that the RPDC found Gunns' own evidence to be riddled with inaccuracies and errors; that levels of dioxins in the mill's outflow were initially underestimated by a factor of 45; and that the mill, as well as failing to address the concerns of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) about ultra-fine particle pollution, also significantly failed to meet at least three official air-pollution guidelines. Senior scientists questioned Gunns' claims that the 64,000 tonnes of treated effluent pouring daily from the mill into the ocean would not harm Bass Strait and its marine life. Gunns' modelling for air pollution in the Tamar Valley was so shoddy that it sometimes fantastically predicted that air pollution would be lower with a pulp mill than without.
Pointing out that "no other pulp mill in the world uses the process Gunns proposes," and that its noxious emissions would pour into a densely populated valley already subject to the worst smog in Tasmania, Raverty has since warned that "the risk of producing unacceptable levels of deadly and persistent chemicals known as organochlorines is too high." Raverty, who works for a subsidiary of the CSIRO and has consistently pointed out that he is speaking in a personal capacity about the mill's pollution risk, has claimed that a Gunns executive rang the CSIRO seeking to pressure the organisation into silencing him. The CSIRO has confirmed that Gunns "expressed concerns". Raverty has since said he would welcome the opportunity to appear before a criminal-justice commission or a royal commission into the process, because there needs to be public scrutiny of the "very unethical activities" of the Tasmanian government.
Though the Tasmanian chapter of the AMA warned Tasmania's political leaders that they would be personally accountable for any health problems resulting from the proposed pulp mill, the leaders were listening not to such dire concerns but rather to the Gunns board, with whom Premier Lennon and his kitchen cabinet met on 25 February. Two days later, Gunns told the Australian Stock Exchange it was "confident the necessary government approvals" for its pulp mill "will be obtained within a timeframe which maintains the commercial value of the project".
That same day, Paul Lennon handed the newly appointed head of the RPDC's pulp-mill assessment panel, the former Supreme Court judge Christopher Wright, a typed timeline laying out his demands. "It was plain as the nose on my face," Wright later said, "that he was trying to please Gunns." Describing it as a "completely inappropriate ... attempt to pressure" him, Wright rejected what he termed an "ultimatum" by Lennon to dump public hearings and wind up the assessment by 31 July or face the RPDC being dumped in favour of legislation fast-tracking the process.
And when a fortnight later Gunns withdrew from the RPDC assessment process, blaming delays which John Gay termed "commercially unacceptable", what was commercially acceptable to Gunns became a political imperative for the Tasmanian government.
That Christopher Wright said most of the delays were Gunns' fault was of no consequence. For in a manner that at least is understandable if onerous to Tasmanians, it is clear that in Tasmania Gunns more or less is the law. The woodchippers and their government cronies constantly use the courts against conservationists, but when the courts are used against them the government's response is admirably straightforward: change the law. They changed the law, for example, when Bob Brown sold almost everything he had and took both the Tasmanian and the federal governments to court to prove that under their own laws the logging industry in Tasmania was illegal, because it threatened the survival of endangered species, including the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle and the swift parrot. He won, but the government's response was not to enforce the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement to protect those species, but simply to alter it so that logging is once again legal.
Faced with the possibility that the pulp mill might not now meet the RPDC pollution guidelines, Paul Lennon simply rushed an act through parliament to establish an entirely new process that seems certain to ensure the mill will be approved by the end of August this year. Though this contradicted what Lennon had so dogmatically maintained for the previous two years about an impartial process that was above politics, the act (drafted with the input of a Gunns lawyer) tellingly allows for the mill to no longer meet the original pollution guidelines. Public consultation has been dispensed with and, most remarkably - and possibly without precedent in the annals of Westminster legislation - the act explicitly provides that the mill will still go ahead even if it is proven that the consultant assessing the project has been bribed.
It had been uncharacteristic of Lennon to even pretend a process mattered more than an outcome, and it seemed cynicism more of a piece with his predecessor, the late Jim Bacon. A one time Maoist, an upper-middle-class alumni of one of Australia's most exclusive private schools, Melbourne's Scotch College, and later, of one of its most infamous unions, the Victorian Builders' Labourer's Federation (BLF), Bacon was for several years a loyal lieutenant of the BLF's leader, the notorious Norm Gallagher. By the time Gallagher was jailed for taking bribes from developers and his union the subject of a Royal Commission that led to its deregistration, Bacon was ensconced in Tasmania, where the old BLF tactics of espousing a working-class rhetoric while cosying up to the powerful served him well. In 1997 he became leader of the Tasmanian Labor Party.
The following year Bacon was instrumental in brokering the deal that saw the very electoral basis of the Tasmanian parliament altered. Since the 1970s, when the world's first green party was formed in Tasmania, the Greens had been a powerful political minority in Tasmania, securing up to a seventh of parliamentary seats under the island's unique proportional representation system and with it, on occasion, the balance of power.
The 1998 deal was sold to the public as a common-sense measure to reduce the number of parliamentary members. But it was intensely political in effect, because having fewer parliamentarians meant that a higher quota was required by an individual to be elected, thus making it harder for minority parties to win seats and possibly destroying future Green representation - and with it the only real opposition to the woodchipping industry. The former Liberal leader Bob Cheek recalls how Robin Gray, the state's premier in the '80s and now a member of Gunns' board, lobbied him on the night before the vote on the reform. "We've got to stop the Greens, Bob," Gray told him. And they did.
The subsequent election in August 1998 saw the Greens decimated and Jim Bacon's Labor Party triumphant. The Bacon government quickly established itself as the most pro-big-business government Tasmania had ever had. Favoured companies received extraordinary treatment. The privately owned Federal Hotels group, who run the island's two casinos, was awarded a 15-year gaming monopoly - conservatively estimated by Citigroup to be worth $130 million in licensing revenues - free of charge.
But the greatest winner was Gunns. Its shares were languishing at $1.40 when the Bacon government came to power. The company's subsequent growth was dizzying. Within four years, it had recorded an increase of 199% in profits. With the acquisition of two rival companies, Gunns took control of more than 85% of logging in Tasmania. Five years after Bacon won government Gunns was worth more than $1 billion, with shares trading in excess of $12. It had become both the largest logging company in Australia and the largest hardwood-woodchip exporter in the world, its product flooding in from the state's fallen forests.
The state government, which a century ago paid people to shoot the Tasmanian tiger, now provided every incentive to destroy old-growth forest. One of Bacon's first acts was to make 85,000 hectares of previously "deferred forest" available for logging. Gunns paid only paltry royalties to Forestry Tasmania, the public body charged with getting a commercial return from the crown forests that were the very basis of Gunns' record profits. When in 2003 Gunns posted an after-tax profit of $74 million, Forestry Tasmania made a hardly impressive $20 million. By 2005, when Gunns after-tax profit had soared to $101.3 million, Forestry Tasmania's profit had slumped to $13.5 million. Its projected profit for 2006-07 is break-even: a return of zero dollars, nothing, to Tasmanian taxpayers on the estimated $700-million value of its publicly owned forest estate.
But it wasn't just that public forestry resources were being systematically handed over to a single company's shareholders; it was that much of Gunns' profits were coming out of taxpayers' pockets. On private land, Gunns made a second profit from the federal tax breaks that made tree plantations - with which clearfelled native forests were replaced - one of corporate Australia's favourite forms of tax minimisation from the late '90s.
On top of all this, Bacon's government accelerated a familiar pattern of ongoing handouts to an industry that constantly shed jobs, devastated the environment and sought to manipulate the political system. Between 1988 and the present, the Tasmanian forest industry has received a staggering total of $780 million in taxpayer handouts, $289 million of it since 2005, much of it being used to facilitate further old-growth logging. If an accounting were possible of the taxpayer-subsidised plantation schemes and added to this sum, the real subsidy paid by the Australian taxpayer to an industry that destroys the nation's heritage would approach a billion dollars.
But then, not the least shocking thing about the destruction of Tasmania's old-growth forests is that the state's logging industry is in the end not a commercially viable industry at all, but a massive parasite on the public purse, an industry as driven by ideological bailouts and hidden subsidies as a Soviet-era pig-iron foundry.
Worse still, at the moment when Tasmania was acquiring a global reputation as an island of exceptional beauty, the forces that would destroy much of the island's unique nature had been unleashed. This sad irony, denied in Tasmania, did not escape the more astute of the world's media: major features began appearing in the Observer, Le Figaro, Süddeutsche Zeitung and the New York Times - mounting evidence that what was happening in Tasmania was more and more recognised as an environmental catastrophe of global significance.What might be read about Tasmania's forests in New York or Paris, though, was not information found easily in Hobart or Launceston. Apart from a few brave journalists, a generally craven Tasmanian media rarely questioned or challenged the woodchipping industry during these years. The Launceston Examiner ran a four-page feature on Gunns' pulp-mill proposal directly lifted from Gunns' advertising. Necessary fictions were repeated until they became accepted as truth: that, for example, the industry's main concern is sawlogs, when even Forestry Tasmania had admitted that sawlogs are chipped, and had been since 1972. The government's own reports reveal that approximately 90% of Tasmania's logged native forest is woodchipped.
To this day, the forestry industry and the Tasmanian government withhold key information, fudge definitions of forest types and felling practices, and distort statistics to prevent the truth of old-growth logging becoming publicly known, diverting debate into the dullness of disputed definitions and clashing numbers. It's a familiar tactic of sowing semantic confusion that has worked well for the tobacco and oil industries. Beyond it, forests unique in the world continue to disappear.
Jim Bacon's nickname was ‘the Emperor', but the man perceived to be the power behind the throne was his deputy, Paul Lennon. Ill-tempered, badly behaved and brutally effective, his political capacity - like that of so many strong-arm leaders - was too often and too easily dismissed. Lennon made no more apologies for his thuggish behaviour (he once shoved a conservationist up against a wall in the middle of a meeting, an encounter he claims not to remember) than he did his enthusiasm for the old-growth logging industry, or his close friendship with the logging baron John Gay. Anyone taking a first-hand look at Tasmania would, he once said, "see a lot of fucking trees".
When Bacon retired in early 2004 because of terminal cancer, Lennon became premier, and any pretence that Gunns might be reined in within Tasmania came to an end. These days, Gunns is everywhere in Tasmania: there are Gunns shops, Gunns television advertisements, Gunns-sponsored weather bulletins. If you go to watch an AFL game at Tasmania's premier stadium, York Park, you pass through the main entrance, officially and aptly named the Jim Bacon Gates, built by - who else? - a wholly owned subsidiary of Gunns, and come to the Gunns Stand, the largest and most opulently fitted stand in the stadium, much of it paid for, equally aptly, by the Tasmanian government.
With the river of money that had poured in from Tasmania's destroyed forests, Gunns had diversified into businesses in New Zealand and mainland Australia. It set about becoming the main player in the Tasmanian wine industry, with the company itself the dominant producer. That the woodchippers' wines - Tamar Ridge, Coombend, Devils Corner - were not stocked by some shops, bars and restaurants in Hobart because of consumer antipathy was of no concern, for the venture's financial underpinning was the same as for its forestry plantations: tax-minimisation schemes, in which grape-growing qualified for a 100% tax write-off. Yet again, it was Australian taxes at work for Gunns.
Gunns now made no secret of what the cost would be for those who questioned the sanctity of old-growth logging, no matter who they were. During the 2004 federal election, plantation-softwood processor Auspine - a $200-million forestry company based in South Australia that runs two pine sawmills employing 313 people in the northern Tasmanian town of Scottsdale - incurred John Gay's wrath by having the temerity to put forward a $450-million plan in which old-growth logging would be ended immediately, but Tasmania's forest industry would be expanded by 900 new jobs. Gay made it clear that Auspine had been very foolish, saying, "Their comments have been extremely damaging to themselves and their future in Tasmania." Two months later Gunns' hardware stores stopped stocking Auspine timber.
Auspine's pine comes from land owned by Forestry Tasmania, but in 1999 a half-share in their trees was sold by Jim Bacon to an American global investment firm, GMO, for $40 million. In early 2007 it was announced that Auspine had lost its pine supply in a deal that saw the timber go to a new company, FEA, that doesn't even have a sawmill. In this manner over 300 people are to lose their jobs. Though it is the half-owner of the resource, both the state-owned Forestry Tasmania and the Tasmanian government refused to intervene in the negotiations to help Auspine or its workers. When Paul Lennon finally went to Scottsdale, four weeks after the initial announcement, sawmill workers turned their backs on the man who had always boasted that he stood for the jobs of forestry-industry workers. Increasingly, it appeared to many Tasmanians that the only jobs Lennon really cared about were his own and those of the Gunns directors.
Perhaps predictably, one of the last defences seized on in this battle by politicians on six-figure salaries is that they stand solidly with the working class. But Lennon's routine claim that 10,000 jobs are at stake if old-growth logging ends is without substance, and avoids the truth: jobs have been disappearing in old-growth logging for many years, not because of conservationists but because of mechanisation and Gunns' ability to transfer its losses onto logging workers. While woodchipping destroyed the older labour-intensive sawmill timber industry, the Hampshire woodchip mill in northern Tasmania, the biggest in the southern hemisphere, employs just 12 people. A report in the Australian Financial Review in 2004 revealed that the Tasmanian industry in its entirety had shed more than 1200 jobs since 1997.
Like Lennon's previously expansive claims - that, for example, ending old-growth logging in Western Australia had left more than 4000 people unemployed, something categorically refuted by the Western Australian government - the figure of 10,000 jobs is not supported. It is more than seven times the number given by the forest industry's own report on employment in the old-growth-logging sector, commissioned by the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania and written by pro-logging academics in 2004. Old-growth logging - as distinct from the rest of the (much larger) forestry industry - was estimated by a Timber Workers for Forests report in the same year to employ only 580 people. Both figures were arrived at before Gunns sent many contractors to the wall in 2006. Under Gunns' tendering system, contractors were already squeezed hard, with a large proportion of their income servicing debt on loans for the heavy machinery necessary for their work.
When it slashed logging contracts by up to 40% to offset a decline in woodchip sales, logging workers for the first time publicly expressed their growing bitterness towards Gunns and the hefty profits it made while their livelihoods vanished. In response, Barry Chipman of Timber Communities Australia (TCA) denied there was growing resentment within the industry towards Gunns. Presenting itself as the grassroots organisation of those it terms the "forest folk", the TCA has from its inception in 1987 actually been the vehicle of the National Association of Forest Industries (NAFI), which is financed by the logging industry. The TCA's support for the Tasmanian logging industry was once described by John Gay as an "invaluable alliance". Invaluable though it may be, the logging industry does put a price on it: in 2002-03, $723,154 of the TCA's total revenues of $836,977 came from direct industry contributions. In the same year, Barry Chipman's wages were directly paid by the NAFI.
It was "situations like this" Barry Chipman said of Gunns' slashing of contracts, that sorted out the "good operators" from the bad - further incensing those contractors who, acting on Gunns' promises of more work, had taken out bigger loans to purchase better equipment, and now were unable to meet repayments. "Everyone needs to tighten their belt a little bit," Chipman went on. "Any downturn will also be suffered by the company and its shareholders."
But they didn't seem to be suffering much that year at "Launceston's Lavish Lunch", the annual fundraiser of the Launceston branch of the Australian Cancer Research Foundation, held at one of Tasmania's most celebrated historic homes, Entally House. It seems to have been a splendid day for the island's clearfelling contessas, and the Launceston Cancerians - whose committee includes the wives of both John Gay and David McQuestin - later waxed effusively on their website about the event, extending "A big thanks ... to Mr John Gay for opening his house for the function."
Entally House isn't really John Gay's house, of course, just as crown forest isn't really his land. Like the forest, the historic house belonged to the Tasmanian people, but in 2004 the Tasmanian government terminated the National Trust's lease and gave a 20-year lease to Gunns. Plans by Gunns to plant a ten-hectare vineyard in Entally's historic grounds were immediately announced, John Gay declaring that the company was developing a "detailed marketing strategy" for the property, centring on the marketing of its wines. And in this way a unique piece of Australia's heritage became both John Gay's house and a charming marketing platform for Gunns. The public can still visit Entally House which, technically speaking, they still own. It only costs $8 per adult.
Meanwhile, log-truck driver Gary Coad, who in 2004 was found guilty of assaulting a conservationist and who cheered John Howard when he announced his ongoing support for old-growth logging, was forced out of the industry he had worked in for 30 years. Now, he told a local newspaper, contractors were at "rock bottom", unable to make ends meet. "The biggest problem in the industry," he said, "is Gunns' virtual monopoly", which meant that any contractors who criticised the company could be squeezed out of the business. "We came up [to the Launceston rally] and fought for John Gay's livelihood," continued Coad. "Well, now its time for him to turn around and do the same for us."
But no one - no Gunns director, no Labor or Liberal politician, no CFMEU representative, no ‘forest community' advocates - was going to fight for the forest workers, or speak to their feeling of betrayal. Instead, like Kevin Rudd on his ‘listening' tour in December 2006, they said that they supported the existing Tasmanian forestry industry - in order, as Rudd put it, that there be "no overall loss of jobs", ignoring the fact that supporting Gunns was exactly what ensured workers would continue to lose jobs, continue to be exploited under Gunns' pitiless tendering system, and continue to suffer.
There is in all this a constant theme: the Lennon government's and Gunns' real mates are not workers, but millionaires. Behind the smokescreen of statistics, beyond the down-home cant of ‘timber folk' peddled by the woodchippers' propagandists, past the endless lies, is a simple, wretched truth: great areas of Australia's remnant wild lands are being reduced to a landscape of battlefields, in order to make a handful of very rich people even richer.
Yet giving away such an extraordinary public resource as Tasmania's forests now threatens the state's broader economic prospects. A growing weight of financial analysis suggests that the economics of plantations (with which native forests are being replaced) are not assured, but rather are a huge gamble for Tasmania. The industry's future prospects depend on global pulp prices rising; the government, as the Australian Financial Review put it, has "tied the state's economic future to the success of Gunns and its tree farms".
If the future looks dubious, the present is already a failure. The reality is that logging old-growth forests brings little wealth and few jobs to struggling, impoverished rural communities. While Gunns makes its profits primarily in Tasmania, the great majority of the company's shares are owned by mainland institutions. It has been estimated that less than 15% of Gunns' profits remain on the island, where the largest individual shareholder is John Gay himself.
As a consequence of the forestry debate, Tasmania is an increasingly oppressive place to live. Just six days after conservationists had gone public about arson threats in 2004, the historian Bruce Poulson, a prominent opponent of plans to log the historically significant site of Recherché Bay, had the study behind his Dover house, containing decades of research, burnt down in what police described as a "malicious" attack. Ray and Leanne Green had displayed Wilderness Society posters calling for an end to old growth clearfelling in the Styx Valley in their Something Wild Wildlife Sanctuary, half an hour's drive from the valley. They received numerous informal threats, and then had their business burnt out. Cameraman Brian Dimmick was bashed by a log-truck driver who objected to Dimmick filming his vehicle. So it goes in the clearfell state.
It has never been suggested, nor do I wish to imply, that Gunns is any way responsible for such acts. But the workings of power are not always reducible to orders or even intentions. When a society becomes entrapped in a growing coarsening of public rhetoric, evil finds succour. When vilification is commonplace, when lies are the currency of the day and followers seek to rise through the vigorous anticipation of leaders' unspoken desires, where all are disenfranchised and the most powerless feel what little security they have will be destroyed by those who merely disagree, acts of dubious morality and even of violent criminality become justifiable and appear honourable.
Despite a few years of economic upturn between 2001 and 2006, Tasmania is once more technically in recession, and it remains the poorest Australian state, with the highest levels of unemployment and around 40% cent of its population dependent on government welfare. New key industries such as tourism and fine foods and wines trade as much on the island's pristine image as they do on the products they sell. There is growing concern in all these industries - in which job growth is concentrated - at the relentless damage being done to Tasmania's name by images of smouldering forest coupes.
It is little wonder that many Tasmanians now worry that the woodchippers' greed destroys not only their natural heritage, but distorts their parliament, deforms their polity and poisons their society. And perhaps it is for that reason that the battle for forests in Tasmania is as much about free speech and democracy - about a people's right to exercise some control over their destiny, about their desire to have a better, freer society - as it is about wild lands.
Of late, Gunns' fortunes have suffered. Its share price has dropped by over a quarter from its record highs of 2005, a reflection of having lost 20% of its market share to South American plantations. At the same time woodchip prices have dropped and a global woodchip glut beckons, all of which leaves Tasmania even more dependent on uneconomic woodchip production.
A recent rally in support of Gunns' pulp mill attracted just 50 people, including Paul Lennon. Gunns' own research shows only one in four Tasmanians supports the island's biggest company. Meanwhile, its pulp-mill proposal meets with growing fury throughout the state. The once-timorous Tasmanian media has begun showing courage in questioning the company's activities; the Gunns 20 writ has been rejected three times, and Gunns' projected legal costs - including the damages it must now pay - run into millions. On throwing it out a second time, Judge Bongiorno described the lengthy writ as legally "embarrassing". Still, Gunns persists with a fourth suit. The eminent QC Julian Burnside, one of the defence counsels, has said, "It leaves you wondering if the purpose is simply to terrorise."
Yet the hope for many Tasmanians of years past - that one or other of the major parties at a national level would act to end the madness of old-growth logging - vanished with Kevin Rudd's Labor Party green light to Gunns. No one could look to a political system now so hopelessly cowed by and enmeshed with the woodchipping lobby to effect change. After a decade of the most pro-corporation national government Australia has ever had, neither major political party has the courage or integrity to stand up to a rogue corporation.
And it is Gunns' determination to do whatever it must to continue old-growth logging that may just condemn both it and Tasmania to a savage vortex: given the history of dependence on government subsidies and the alacrity with which both major parties grant them, Gunns' ability to always shift losses onto others - the government, its workers - means that the company may well continue to prosper. But the price of maintaining the necessary political support is high and ever higher: it demands an ever more determined manipulation of public opinion, an ever more ruthless treatment of public opposition, and an ever more assiduous duchessing and policing of political parties.
For that reason, more Tasmanians are demanding a royal commission into the old-growth logging industry and its relationship with both major political parties. It may find nothing untoward has taken place. It may even find at heart something far more disturbing: that the boundary between what is illegal and what is unethical has now vanished in Australia, and that the spectre that now haunts the nation is not that of an omnipotent state but of a ruthless corporation, beholden to nothing but its own bottom line, inhibited by nobody, liberated by the failure of contemporary politics.
Nothing less than a major investigation with special powers can now clear away the stench that surrounds this industry and shames Australia. Without such an investigation nothing will change, except for the worse, and the rape of Tasmania will continue until one day, like so much else that was precious, its great forests will belong only to myth. Tasmanians will be condemned to endure the final humiliation: bearing dumb witness to the great lie that delivers wealth to a handful elsewhere, poverty to many of them, and death to their future as the last of these extraordinary places is sacrificed to the woodchippers' greed. Beautiful places, holy places, lost not only to them but to the world, forever.
And in a world where it seems everything can be bought, all that will remain are ghosts briefly mocking memory: a ream of copying paper in a Japanese office and a man fern in an English garden. And then they too will be gone.