FIONA Reynolds editorialized in the Launceston Examiner on 7 January 11, 2009, that federal Bass MHR “Jodie Campbell needs to … clearly state her position on Gunns’ pulp mill”.
 
I agree.  The editor of Launceston’s only daily newspaper also wrote that “Perhaps Ms Campbell needs a briefing from Gunns and the other stakeholders. The voters of Bass need to have a representative who is fully across the biggest issues facing the electorate and not just repeating the Federal Environment Minister’s lines”.

A briefing from “the other stakeholders?”  I will return to that. 

Fiona Reynolds raises two broad issues.  First, the role of elected political representatives of the people.  Second, the role of the regional print media.  As well as placing the member for Bass in the spotlight on the matter of the pulp mill, I suggest that the editor of the Examiner has also placed herself in the spotlight.

Jodie Campbell first.  I am not sure that Fiona Reynolds is actually saying that the MHR for Bass should represent her constituents, but for the sake of some clarity, let us assume that is the case. 

Imagine Jodie Campbell’s electorate as a theatre, with her actions occupying centre stage. 

“No matter the details of the outcome, what is onstage is a tragedy, the tragedy of the inequitable distribution of power, the tragedy of the too-common silence of those who settle for being audience and who pay the price of the drama.  Traditionally, the audience is supposed to choose the actors, and the actors are quite literally supposed to speak for us.  This is the idea behind representative democracy.  In practice… onstage too many of the actors find other reasons – lobbyists, self-interest, conformity – to fail to represent their constituents.” 

The first and foremost reason why Ms Campbell should “clearly state her position on Gunns’ pulp mill” is so her constituents can know in what way she is representing or not representing them on this issue.  It’s difficult to dispute that.

If she decides to remain equivocal, as seems likely from her most recent pronouncements after Garrett’s decision (“Now it’s up to Gunns.  It’s not up to me to say…”) that is tantamount to support for the project, because it leaves her on the sidelines watching, whatever happens to her constituents as a consequence.  Is that representing her constituents?

However, at the same time, it won’t gain her any allies among “the unholy trinity” of corporate power, the ALP and the CFMEU, not to mention the broad community opposition to the project in Bass.  The issue is not going away before the next federal election. 

But then, if she supports the mill outright, she will lose any credibility she still enjoys with sections of her electorate, especially among the “Howard-battlers” equivalent among ALP supporters (you know, the crowd of true believers who enjoy occupying the moral high ground believing she really does oppose the mill and is trying her very best to stop it on their behalf without saying so) who think, come hell or high water, or both, that she can make a difference in Canberra.   

If she comes out publicly against the mill (and it surely is hard to believe that happening from someone who has stated that clear-fell logging in Launceston’s water catchment areas in her electorate is sustainable) that could place her in the same company as Terry Martin, reviled and ostracized by her group-think Labor Party colleagues and very likely expelled from their ranks (who could need more incentive than that?), but her stature within the community would rise immeasurably.

She would gain in respect, because she would be seen as a local representative who actually represented her constituents rather than a party machine apparatchik tied to corporate power and influence. People would be more likely to actively listen to what she said, in the same way they do now to a small handful of Australian politicians who decline to occupy the comfort zone of gutless caucus conformity.

For example, the huge respect accorded Barnaby Joyce, National Party senator from Queensland, is bipartisan and widespread throughout Australia.  It is difficult to recall another Queensland senator in living memory (I’m talking post-1945 here) who has acquired the same reputation for integrity and political courage across the party divide in both the federal Parliament and the national community.

People everywhere respect and trust others who show by their behaviour that they have the courage of their convictions.  This is a universal truth, not confined by time or place.  “Know yourself” was a phrase enshrined at the site of the Delphic oracle in ancient Greece, a call for integrity in action, especially from those who held positions of political power, for it was politicians who sought advice from the oracle more than others.

Ms Campbell gives the impression that she thinks she faces the dilemma of deciding whether behaving like a chameleon on the pulp mill is likely to be political suicide or not.  It’s the sort of idiotic political game “staffers” think earns them their pay.  In their self-important way they’ve been telling her that knives within the ALP are already being sharpened, and have been for some time now.  Not that that is not true.  The baring of fangs in the last few days by her “good ole caucus mates”, Dick Adams and Peter Sidebottom, is the first public indication of the tensions that exist between her and the Labor corporatists, and is just the first public shot at her – and don’t Adams and Sidebottom look and sound more like twins, especially when they open their mouths to grin? 

The full throttle vitriol from them and others (horrible grins and all) is something she’ll have to expect if she comes out publicly against the mill.

But Campbell, if she is really opposed to the mill on the grounds that it will harm her constituents, and if she is to be honest and truly representative of her constituents, needs to look beyond the garbage she is being fed by her minders, and the threats from the ALP hacks in neighbouring seats, whose only concern is how her position might affect their own political self-interest. 

I have no idea what resonates with Campbell as a representative of the people of Bass, and whether she has any aspirations to rise above the hack political self-interest status of a Dick Adams or Peter Sidebottom. 

If she has real aspirations of effective political representation, to be evasive about the pulp mill issue is to deny all seriousness of purpose as a political representative.  Forget the absurd notion of caucus solidarity.  This is an issue about people, their futures, their health, the whole future direction of the Tamar Valley, the Launceston water supply, agriculture, tourism, fishing, threatened species – the whole ecosystem of Tasmania, for goodness sake.  As if it has not been said over and over, again, and again and again.

Jodie Campbell has one opportunity in her life to get it right as a serving political representative of the people of Bass.  She has one opportunity to make a difference.

She needs encouragement to be straight forward, not equivocal.  Perhaps she could reflect on one thing that Marilyn Monroe said in her short and unhappy life that can resonate with all of us - her own advice to herself in 1954, that “After all, if I can’t be myself, what’s the good of being anything at all?”  Monroe’s tragedy was that she was ultimately unable to be herself, because too many other people had various vested interests in preventing her.

As far as Gunns are concerned, what would their reaction be if Jodie Campbell opposed the mill outright?  According to one report, they have already criticized her for not supporting them unequivocally, their spokesman expressing “anger” at her for taking “the concerns of her electorate to the (federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett)”, saying that they “expected support from the local member”. Does this simply mean that Gunns are not used to equivocation from Tasmanian Labor and Liberal politicians and are expressing anger at such presumption?  Whatever it means, it is an interesting choice of words - “expected support from the local member”.  Oh, yes indeed.

This frames the issue of representation (of the voters of Bass) raised by Fiona Reynolds in fairly stark terms.  Gunns’ “expected support from the local member” means support for the pulp mill being built in the Tamar Valley, in the electorate of Bass.  On these terms Jodie Campbell’s representative role is to support Gunns’ corporate interests.  However, from a constitutional perspective, Jodie Campbell’s representative role is totally at odds with that.  It is to represent the interests of the voters of the federal seat of Bass, not the interests of a private corporation. 

Which brings us to Fiona Reynolds and the role of the Examiner in northern Tasmania.  It is informative that Ms Reynolds’ focus is on one politician, and one only, when she suggests that “Perhaps Ms Campbell needs a briefing from Gunns and the other stakeholders”.  All other Tasmanian Labor and Liberal federal MPs, MHRs and senators, are all unequivocal supporters of the pulp mill, whether they have been briefed by Gunns or not.  Obviously they don’t need a briefing from Gunns, and probably never did.  They supported the project because they were told to.  Are there any exceptions?  Perhaps the Examiner could find out and let us know.

But “other stakeholders”?  Is it just as incumbent on other politicians apart from Jodie Campbell, in the view of Ms Reynolds – and let us include State representatives of Bass in this mix -  to “perhaps” be briefed by other stakeholders?

“Other stakeholders”, as the editor of the Examiner would know, have been categorically ignored by the political process set in train by the Lennon government when Gunns withdrew from the RPDC process.  They have been excluded from consideration under the terms of the PMAA-PMP
 
“Other stakeholders” is the key to Ms Reynolds’ credibility in the Examiner’s journalistic professionalism on the pulp mill issue, as the only daily newspaper serving the greater Launceston area, which includes the places and people who will be most directly affected if there are any adverse social, economic and environmental impacts of the mill.

So let me throw Ms Reynolds’ challenge to Jodie Campbell right back from where it came:  “The voters of Bass, Lyons, Braddon and wherever else in Tasmania the Examiner is distributed and read, need to have a daily newspaper which is fully across the biggest issues facing the electorate”.  That’s fair enough, isn’t it? 

The role of a regional daily should be to inform the public about the important developments occurring in the region.  Otherwise, what is its purpose?  If its purpose is not informing the public, but promoting sectional interests or corporate interests without looking at the bigger picture, that should be made clear to the readership, instead of being camouflaged.

“Other stakeholders” then.  They are the main base market for the Examiner, which is the greater Launceston area.  Has the Examiner reported fairly and accurately to its base market about the possible, likely or probable ramifications of the establishment of a massive pulp mill in the Tamar Valley? 

Has it provided a real forum for analysis of the key issues as they could affect the people of Launceston?  For example, has the Examiner made its local readership aware of what is happening, through clear felling of native forests in the catchment areas of the city’s water supplies?  Has the Examiner promoted debate about the possible medium to long-term consequences of the rapidly changing land use in the water catchments of Launceston? 

Has the Examiner looked at what could be the consequences of the pulp mill using 26-40 gigalitres of water per annum from Lake Trevallyn for the people of the greater Launceston area and promoted useful debate about that? 

Has the Examiner ever “examined” any potential costs to the people of the Tamar Valley caused by possible pollution of water and the air shed?  Has it ever questioned, in any analytical way at all, the way that the PMAA was passed, the meaning of Section 11 of the Act and its possible ramifications for the people of Launceston?

As I have written before, Launceston’s Examiner, unfortunately, has long since relinquished any aspirations to investigative journalism or critical analysis of the main issues of importance to the general community. No doubt the founding editor of the paper in the 1840s, John West, would be disappointed that the paper still retains the name he gave it. 
There are times when the media takes to task those who criticize its performance, editorializing about the “public’s right to be informed”, and extolling the virtues of “freedom of the press”. It is paradoxical in fact, that the Examiner has undertaken the role of restricting its own freedoms, of imposing its self-limiting straightjacket on what the public has a right to read about, and what the parameters of debate and discussion should be.

The voters of Bass certainly do need to have political representatives who are fully across the biggest issues facing the electorate – and that does not just apply to the current federal MHR, but to Tasmanian senators and State politicians as well – but they also need to have a daily newspaper which uses its responsibilities under the banner of “freedom of the press” as freedom to explore and investigate beyond narrow parameters and self-censorship. 

Who are Tasmania’s most respected politicians?  Who are Tasmania’s most respected journalists?  Whoever we might choose to name I think we could agree that they would be those who are true to their stated professional roles with their voices, whose political awareness is truly and genuinely reflected in their voices, not hidden by equivocation on the one hand, or hiding the real and full story on the other.

Peter Henning  
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Peter Henning A Politician & A Journalist: Voices for the People?
Which brings us to Fiona Reynolds and the role of the Examiner in northern Tasmania.  It is informative that Ms Reynolds’ focus is on one politician, and one only, when she suggests that “Perhaps Ms Campbell needs a briefing from Gunns and the other stakeholders”.  All other Tasmanian Labor and Liberal federal MPs, MHRs and senators, are all unequivocal supporters of the pulp mill, whether they have been briefed by Gunns or not.  Obviously they don’t need a briefing from Gunns, and probably never did.  They supported the project because they were told to.  Are there any exceptions?  Perhaps the Examiner could find out and let us know.