Before the ink was even dry on the so called Tasmanian forests peace deal, L’Estrange moved quickly, cynically leveraging off the reference to “a pulp mill” in the Statement of Principles to elicit or create the appearance of support for Gunns Tamar mill proposal (though according to ENGO’s it does not).
The Labor Government and Liberal opposition have been singing loudly from the same song sheet as have the remnants of the Tasmanian logging industry
Prior to entering into a power sharing arrangement with Labor, Tasmanian Greens Leader Nick Mckim like preceding Greens party leader was a passionate and outspoken critic of Gunns, its planned Tamar pulp mill and its cosy and special relationship with the Labor Government. However since committing the Tasmanian Greens to a power sharing arrangement with Labor, the leader of the Tasmanian Greens, Mr Mckim has been conspicuously silent or at best restrained in his rare public utterances on the pulp mill.
The taming of the leader of the Tasmanian Greens leader appeared complete when Mr Mckim and former bitter foe Premier (at the time) David Bartlett buried the hatchet and Mckim took up a position in the Labor government cabinet. At the time of David Bartletts resignation as premier Mckim and Bartlett had reportedly become best mates. Mckim's numerous ministerial portfolios make for a heavy load and have kept the Greens leader busy and focussed with the business of government.
The reaction to all this from Greens voters has varied from murmurings to expressions of public outrage particularly in Northern Tasmania where people are scratching their heads wondering why the Tasmanian Greens leader is prepared to self censor on the pulp mill, whilst his Labor power sharing partners have taken the business as usual approach and continued to flout their enthusiasm for the unpopular project.
Sue Neales writing (here) in the Mercury described Mckims and fellow Green Cabinet Minister Cassy O,Connor's recent parliamentary performances as at times "trying to be more labor than labor" and "Labor's acquiescent attack dogs". Neales, the Mercury’s chief reporter said of the power sharing Greens, - "It must be galling for Kim Booth and Tim Morris in particular to sit there and not say a word while Labor ministers such as Bryan Green repeat government platitudes and positions that only six months ago the same Greens were branding as "corrupt , disgraceful, scandalous and shameful".
Indeed, yesterday Greens MP Cassy O'Connor, took the unprecedented step in the history of Tasmanian Greens parliamentarians when rather than condemning Premier Lara Giddings for her recent statements of support for Gunns pulp mill, instead leapt to the defence (see TPOS blog entry below) of the new Labor Premier. The Series of Statements by Premier Giddings were clearly anathema to Greens party policy and Green voter values.
I could well imagine former Greens leader and anti-pulp mill warrior Peg Putt spitting her coffee across the kitchen table as she read O' Connors comments. I can’t imagine Greens Senator and Wesley Vale veteran Christine Milne being overly impressed by O'Connor's comments either.
Of all issues, the pulp mill should be the last that a Greens parliamentarian should ever be seen defending Labor or Liberal. Indeed, 12 months ago I would have seemed implausible that O'Connor would leap to the defence of a Labor Premier in such circumstances and over such comments. A pre power sharing O'Connor and Mckim would have gone on the front foot, strong, clear and unequivocal in reflecting the views of Green voters leaving both Lara Giddings, Gunns and the people of the Tamar in no doubt as to where they stood including on how the Greens planned to stop the progress of the Labor Government/Gunns pulp mill plans.
Greens voters would justifiably expect O'Connor and Mckim to represent and push the views of Green voters, not to leap to the defence of Giddings Labor on the pulp mill. Let Labor defend Labor on the Pulp Mill and let the Greens defend the Greens, giving a strong and clear voice to Green voters feelings on what is a core Green issue. Particularly Greens supporters in the Tamar who are still hurting and still facing an uncertain future.
.............................This is what Tasmanian Greens Leader Nick Mckim said yesterday in response to Tasmania's Premier Lara Giddings Hobart Mercury interview where she pledged her government's support Gunns pulp mill and told 'environmentalists', presumably including the Tasmanian Greens that might have to accept Gunns pulp mill as part of the forests peace deal..............."The Greens are opposed to the Gunns pulp mill proposal for the Tamar Valley. That is the position we took to the state election and we stand by it. Obviously both Labor and Liberal continue to support the mill," he said". "Those positions are established and well known, but the simple fact is that (the) Gunns Tamar Valley mill project is not specified in the Forest Principles, and it should be left outside this process."
Yet Lara Giddings went much further than attempting to put Gunns Tamar Valley Mill at the centre of the Forests peace deal. The new Premier also told the Hobart Mercury that her Government would support Gunns flagging pulp mill proposal 'to the hilt'.
It is this aspect that the Tasmanian Greens leader must now address.
Using Language reminiscent of mentor and controversial former Premier Paul Lennon who once bizarrely told the Tasmanian parliament that he supported Gunns Pulp Mill "with every last bone in my body", Lara Giddings also made the astonishing claim, - "Before [the economic crisis] the pulp mill was the icing on the cake, the cream,” Now it is the cake."
This despite recently retired Treasurer Michael Aird saying only two years ago of Government support for the mill - "they (Gunns) don’t need it, we don’t want it". Aird also distanced himself from Paul Lennon's extreme position on the mill saying that the Tasmanian economy would be just fine without the mill.
In her interview with the Hobart Mercury Giddings flagged a return to the bad old days when the Tasmanian Government was derided as the "Gunnerment" by boasting that she was willing to help the pulp mill go ahead through the commitment of scarce Tasmanian taxpayer funds to public infrastructure including public roads, rail and ports. Giddings also promised she would not change any of the pulp mill permits or legislation or repeal the awful Section 11 of the Pulp Mill Assessment Act, which removes the common law right of appeal against the pulp mill, its construction or its environmental impact.
Even more concerning was Giddings suggestion that her federal counterparts might help reduce a potential Foreign pulp mill partners risk exposure through "assistance" from the Federal Government's Export Finance and Insurance Corporation.
Such a move would go against the following social and economic analysis contained in the Federal Environment Departments recommendation report used by the Federal Environment Minister in his 2007 decision on Gunns Pulp Mill...............
...................."Another area of general concern relates to the potential for direct and indirect levels of public funding associated with the project. Direct funding would involve allocations of funds on the basis of development goals etc while indirect public funding could include, for example, provision of infrastructure only used by the project through to training of labour to a certain skill level required to construct and operate the mill. The impact of such support can have an impact at two levels – impacts on wider economic activity and risk. Firstly, the provision of public funds to this particular project has the potential to result in an overall inefficient outcome for the State and national economies. This can occur when, as is currently the case, a state of low unemployment and high capital mobility and availability exists which means that should public funds be allocated to sub-optimal projects then a deadweight loss will occur in the Australian economy. A further clear example of how this may currently be the case in Tasmania is the fact that unemployment has fallen from 6.8% in April 2004 to 5.4% in April 2007. As a result it is likely that available skilled labour has already entered the labour market as and where required. The second area concerns risk. If the private rate of return on the project is currently marginal and only the addition of public funding will ensure its commencement there is a risk that should any one of a number of external parameters change significantly then the public funds will be put at risk. These parameters could include a change in the costs associated with inputs associated with the construction of the mill eg labour, construction materials or output factors such as the price and demand for pulp changing due, for example, to competing pulp mills being established in other countries"..........
The Tasmanian Greens and their federal counterparts including Adam Bandt must now put their electors before any perceived party interest and draw a line in the sand over further government support and the commitment of public money for Gunns pulp mill. The Gunns Pulp Mill is a project that has been rejected for nearly 7 years by the free market including Gunns own Bank the ANZ, as well as by Tasmania's independent planning commission and most importantly by the people of Tasmania. It is a frightening prospect that government would continue to ignore this and hitch Tasmania's small regional economy to such a high risk venture. Mckim must seriously consider giving Giddings Labor an ultimatum. Withdraw all government support now for Gunns proposes pulp mill, let the project stand on its own, or the Tasmanian Green will advise the Governor that it is withdrawing it support from the Government.