Saturday, March 26, 2011

The failure of government to govern has paralyzed the state writes Steve Biddulph

Does corruption really matter ? Future students of governance will see Tasmania as a perfect case study in how perverting planning laws can bring a whole island unstuck. The debacle over a forest agreement is just the latest proof that when governments don’t keep to the rules, chaos is the natural outcome.
The Kelty negotiations are about to collapse, though none of the parties will yet admit that. Such an undemocratic activity was doomed from the start, because it excluded too many voices. The Wilderness Society cannot deliver peace in the forests, because the community of concern over all those issues - farming, fisheries, health, water, tourism, small and medium business, the whole appeal and identity of Tasmania in the world, is far wider than they can represent. And most critically of all, nobody elected them to do so.
The situation is beyond surreal; an almost insolvent company bargains with a small group of NGO’s, to decide the fate of half a million hectares of irreplaceable forest ecosystems, essentially the most precious asset that Tasmania possesses. Our shared natural estate is used as a blackmail price for the largest chemical pulp mill in the southern hemisphere, against resolute opposition that has only grown stronger with the passing years. New community groups opposing both logging and the mill are springing up every day. Not since the fight against convict transportation have so many Tasmanians been so aroused over the future of their way of life. Planning laws exist for a reason, in fact they are one of the primary functions of government. They create certainty for people to build their homes, grow their businesses, protect their health and plan their futures. Without them, no sound sustainable development can take place. (Competent first world investors give a wide berth to corrupt jurisdictions, they know that the rules cannot be trusted). The RPDC is the body that carries out large project evaluation, for all our protection. When Lennon arranged a quick pass for a failed proposal, and both Liberal and Labor voted this through, they took the environment question to a much larger one of democracy itself.
Peaceful civil disobedience on a large scale is being planned far into the future by groups from across the state who care about our land use and societal future. Those who will flood into Hobart in coming months will be strengthened by the knowledge that they stand for the rule of law. We will have our own pro-democracy movement, and eventually it will win. As with the Franklin victory, our appeal as a place to live, invest in, or visit, will benefit far more than ever would come from being the Pulp Island of Paul Lennon’s dreams.
What is the way forward ? It must be to restore due process at the point where it was broken. Corrupting the RPDC process cost the career of Premier Lennon, and left Labor discredited, unable to govern in its own right. David Bartlett promised a line in the sand, but was unable to hold that line. Lara Giddings acts like a throwback to the Lennon era - a 1950’s worldview that big industry will save us, despite growing evidence worldwide that the complete opposite is true.
Calls to repeal the PMAA are growing more frequent, not less. It was the point where public trust was lost. While government remains too weak, or as some are arguing, too intellectually challenged to understand the need for strong laws, we will be vulnerable to third rate companies seeing Tasmania as easy pickings. Gunns may well disappear, but the problem will not be solved. Until we act like a first world jurisdiction, competent and businesslike investors will stay well clear. A UN report several years ago into the failure of the Pacific rim nations to thrive economically identified “big man politics, cronyism, and corruption” as the obstacle to long term investment, proper development, and an end to the continuing poverty of its people’s”. Sound familiar ?
Tasmania is still a beautiful place. But only just. Seen from the air, forestry has made it look like an animal dying of mange. The green places are few now. And they are immeasurably precious. The Pulp Mill is the turning point, the end, or the beginning, of a good future. Thats what people sense now, and its why their opposition will only grow more fierce.

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