Friday, October 8, 2010

Lennon forest peace push. An oxymoron.

"Lennon in forest peace push" from The Mercury. See article at bottom of blog entry.
Unless a miracle occurs and Paul Lennon tones down his divisive and belligerent past stance on the Tamar Valley pulp mill, a project which is only alive today thanks to his and Gunns strategic sidelining of the RPDC, any further involvement by the former premier in talks around the future of the logging industry will be seen as inflammatory and could lead to future warring between the industry (in Tasmanian, the industry is Gunns), environmental and local community groups.

With a 17% approval rating, Paul Lennon was loathed by Tasmanians at the time he was was forced out of office in 2008.  Under his leadership many Tasmanians complained they could no longer tell where the business of government began and the business of Gunns ended.  Under Paul Lennon, the Australain nation mocked the beautiful island state of Tasmania as being run by a logging crazy 'Gunnerment'.
Former Federal Labor leader Mark Latham once famoulsy observed ...“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".

During the state's independent Pulp Mill assessment process Tasmanians were promised a government that would be an independent overseer.  However Paul Lennon's personal interest in the pulp mill became so obsessive and improper that his actions helped bring about the resignations of a RPDC Pulp Mill assessment chief, a senior panellist and he had replacement panel chair Christoper Wright seething before Lennon and Gunns ultimately bought an end to the RPDC assessment process and then with the help of Gunns lawyers drafted Gunns a Pulp Mill law of its own.

Essentially the former Premier, Mr Lennon's involvement in Tasmania's assessment of the Gunns logging companies application to build a large Kraft pulp mill in Tasmania resulted in an unprecedented shit storm of scandals and controversies. Few would argue that the former Premier turned the pulp mill assessment into a social and governmental disaster, the effects of which Tasmanian are still living with today as the mill saga still threatens to poison the social and political fabric of this state for decades to come.
Lennon,s replacement David Bartlett dedicated the first few months of his tenure as Premier distancing himself from Lennon. Bartlett continually talked about how "recent events in the Tasmanian political scene had led to a degradation of trust in democracy" and the need to "reconnect with disaffected communities" . Bartlett even caved into mounting community pressure and paved the way for Tasmania's new integrity commission.

The Pulp Mill Assessment Act 2007 is an extraordinary piece of legislation which Gunns lawyers helped to prepare.  Neither Gunns nor the Tasmanian Government denies this.  The Legislation has been criticised extensively in legal and academic circles for effectively bullet-proofing the pulp mill from legal appeal.  Under the PMAA even bribery or other criminal conduct could not legally thwart the mill’s progress.

Upper House President Don Wing described Paul Lennon’s Pulp Mill Assessment Act 2007, as “Gunns dream bill”. 

Richard Herr offered this insight about Paul Lennon's fast track pulp mill legislation intervention “Parliament took the stance ‘if we shove the legislation through quickly no-one will notice’ … but the people did notice and will not forget”.

Indeed, whilst Paul Lennon and his pulp mill mates and silver bodgies from politics and industry want pulp mill opponents to put a line under the past and move on, they simply wont.

At the height of the pulp mill controversy (2007) the nation watched as the Tasmanian Premier engulfed himself in one of the most pervasive scandals in the state’s history.  With public outrage growing it seemed to many that their worst fears about the close links between the Government and Gunns had been realised. Condemnation of the Premier came from across the political spectrum with widespread talk of corruption and calls for Mr Lennon’s resignation.

If the term ‘Gunnerment’ had not been entrenched in the local lexicon before Paul Lennon got his hands on the Pulp Mill, it was by the time he was forced out of office.  As the Gunns Pulp Mill controversy increasingly found its way into national and international headlines, outside observers continued to focus attention on the Tasmanian Government’s ‘special’ relationship with Gunns.

The national media grilled the Premier over many issues including why he had chosen the Gunns owned construction company Hinman, Wright and Manser to renovate his Broadmarsh mansion.  Hinman, Wright and Manser are normally a civil construction company that focuses on large construction projects. A peculiar and controversial choice by the Premier.  As the media’s interest intensified Mr Lennon denied getting mates’ rates for the renovations and was furious at what he argued was an attack on his family.

A curious perspective from a hard nosed politician who had thrived on his reputation as a political head kicker.  Paul Lennon could not appreciate that having his house renovations done by Gunns whilst the same company was looking for Government approval for the pulp mill created the perception of mates looking after mates. The Premier even saw fit to parade the highly controversial mansion makeover in a pictorial spread in the Women’s Weekly magazine. The Premier’s response to his accusers “What, just because I’m the Premier doesn’t mean that I can’t do what other families do does it?”

As a politician Lennon was loved by few and loathed by many.

That is not unique for high profile politicians. What is unique and well known about Lennon was his hatred of the Greens and environmentalists and his single minded support of Tasmanian logging interests, often to the detriment of inclusive and proper process, good governance and community minded outcomes.

We need only look to Geoff Law of the Wilderness Society who famously claimed that he was grabbed by his collar and shoved up against a wall by Paul Lennon years before Lennon became Tasmanian premier.
Perhaps even more damning was the effect Lennon had on Julian Green the highly respected former Secretary of the Justice Department who had been appointed by the Lennon government as RPDC Executive Commissioner and RPDC Pulp Mill assessment panel chief.   According to fellow RPDC panellist Warwick Raverty, Julian Green was infuriated and fed up by Premier Lennon's conduct whilst Green's RPDC panel were trying to assess the mill free from government interference which at the time was largely arising out of the ridiculous pulp mill propaganda unit set up by the Lennon Government  - The Pulp Mill Task Force.

According to Dr Warwick Raverty, Julian Green was so upset and angry at Lennon he described him as a "little cunt", and refused to meet Mr Lennon before he left the RPDC because he (Green) thought he might punch Lennon.  Julian Green resigned from the RPDC in January 2007 citing political interference and the activities of the Pulp Mill Task Force.  His resignation followed close on the heels of fellow panellist and national authority on Kraft Pulp Mills, Dr Warwick Raverty, who had cited the same reasons. As internal correspondence from the RPDC’s pulp mill assessment panel leaked into the media it was revealed that Julian Green had in December 2006 said “the RPDC had bent over backwards to help Gunns” .....“it was only because Gunns were a Tasmanian company that the project had not been thrown out already”.

Indeed Dr. Warwick Raverty, a good and decent man who had devoted his scientific career to conducting research aimed at assisting the pulp and paper industry to become truly sustainable, must have wished he’d never set foot in Tasmania. Warwick Raverty later stated that he would “welcome a criminal justice commission, or royal commission” and “was pretty sure that Julian Green would also”.

The manipulation of the pulp mill assessment process by the Lennon Government will be remembered as a low point for representative democracy in Tasmania.Tasmanians do deserve a thorough investigation into the Gunns Pulp Mill and in particular Paul Lennon's involvement. Questions need to be answered, as Professor Herr argued “to the satisfaction of the public, not to the convenience of the parties”.

If the issue continues to be sidestepped and swept under the carpet, Tasmania will continue to pay the price.
It will, as Dr Herr suggested “overhang the political process for a very long time”.

Serious questions remain over the conduct of the former Premier in his administration of the Gunns Pulp Mill.

The recent Legislative Council Select Committee which looked into Public Sector Executive Appointments said ..........
"It is open, on the evidence presented in this Report, for a reasonable person to conclude on balance, that the Lennon Government‘s commitment to the Pulp Mill was such that any and all obstacles to its expeditious approval had to be eliminated"........Such was the depth of commitment to the Pulp Mill within the Lennon Government, that the Secretary for the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Ms Linda Hornsey evidently took it upon herself to intervene in the proper internal processes of an independent, quasi-judicial agency of government".

The solution of Paul Lennon as mediator between divided logging industry reps is one thing. Lennon is understandably loved and respected by his long time benefactors in the logging industry.
However Lennon is loathed and mistrusted by environmentalists and conservation groups in Tasmania.

Indeed the last thing the Tasmanian community needs whilst they are still reeling from the divisive Lennon years, is to have the most controversial Premier since Robin Gray returning to a key role in planning the future of Tasmania's forests and in particular the proposed Tamar Pulp Mill.

PM Julia Gillard, Premier David Bartlett, muted Greens leader Nick Mckim and opposition leader Will Hodgman simply must not let that happen.

  • ............Agreement that the Gunns pulp mill in the Tamar valley can go ahead without protests.
Mr Lennon is believed to have told the industry that unless it could agree to the peace pact principles by this weekend, there was a possibility either the state or federal government would step in and impose a solution. The State Government is concerned that when the $177 million Brighton Bypass and $79 million Brighton transport hub are completed, there will be no major infrastructure project offering construction jobs in the state. Swift construction of the Gunns pulp mill, which will now use only plantation timber, is considered imperative by the Government to keep the economy moving".....Read more in The Mercury here

No comments:

Post a Comment