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

1 comment:

  1. A good read, Rick, thanks. A couple of things (and firstly a really fussy one)--white print is REALLY hard to read on a black background!

    That aside, I've been appalled for years at the apparent endorsement of threats of violence against the environmental lobby; you see it on bumper stickers all the time. The Premier's comments this weekend, about the tree spiking, were simply disgusting, and reveal that perhaps she's not as interested as she should be in trying to keep the IGA afloat. In addition, a mate of mine (well, he's a Facebook friend, but I also know him in real life!) named Alan has jumped all over the 'Greens telling lies overseas' media frenzy with the considered response that in fact it is Ta Ann who are misleading buyers overseas about the forest sources from which their product is drawn.

    All very interesting! Keep the saga rolling along...Cheers,