SUE Neales wrote an interesting article on the weekend about the role and the contribution (or lack there of) that the seven Liberal members of State Parliament are currently making to Tasmanian democracy, particularly in relation to the proposed Gunns pulp mill. http://www.news.com.au/mercury/story/0,22884,22071222-5006550,00.html

Neales argued that the Liberals have been “missing in action, lost in a pulp mill miasma entirely of their own making”. And that the liberals are ...”unable to see—or deliberately refused to accept—that their role in Opposition is to rigorously challenge, question, probe and confront the Government on behalf of the Tasmanian public” and are “too obsessed with sticking to its position of blind support for the Gunns pulp mill.”

Harsh words indeed Sue Neales, yet I believe the majority of Tasmanians would agree with her. Perhaps this is exactly why myself and other Tasmanians are so desperately disappointed in Will Hodgman and his party. And I do live very close to where the proposed Gunns Pulp will be sited so I may have to live with the consequences of what I see as the State Liberals party’s complete abrogation of their job as parliamentary opposition and total compliance with the Premier’s great pulp mill swindle.

I along with many people in the community had been looking to young Will Hodgman for leadership and opposition during this pulp mill debate. But alas for reasons only Will knows he has been unable to touch a Government which Neales argues “has creepingly corrupted due process and good government”.

Indeed many believe a good opposition leader with all the resources of a big party should have almost brought the Lennon govt to its knees over its handling of the pulp mill assessment. Sadly that has been left to the unpaid citizens of Tasmania, the greens and other independent politicians. Many Tasmanians would have hoped that if Mr Hodgman had been successful in bringing the Lennon govt to account (and it is not as if Mr Lennon has not given the libs the fodder to work with) by the time of the next election, Will could have perhaps led Tasmanian out of an era of being shackled to the needs and desires of the powerful and well connected forest industry. Remember it was not long ago that whistleblowing insider and former federal labor leader Mark Latham admitted,

“No policy issue or set of relationships better demonstrates the ethical decline and political corruption of the Australian Labor movement than Tasmanian forestry.”

“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.”

Sadly now many people in the community suspect the reason that the State Liberals under Will Hodgman have “aquiesced or shut up” on the pulp mill is that like the Premier, the leader of the opposition is not free to speak up or pursue any policy that might disadvantage Gunns or the powerful forestry industry. This suspicion may be partly attributable to the fact that Tasmanians know the Liberal Party (along with labor) at a federal and state level has been the recipient of large donations from Gunns. That is a matter of public record.

Suspicion may also be also couched in the historical record of his party who under the leadership of Robin Gray, were all too closely associated with the now infamous bribery scandal involving Gunns chairman Edmund Rouse.

Recent allegations by former state liberal leader Bob Cheek in his book “Confessions of a Ferret salesman” don’t help to allay concerns either. In his book Cheek told us about the pressure that was bought to bear on him from Gunns and then from his own party on the old growth forests issue.  Mr. Cheek alleged that “12 days before the 2002 state election, Gunns chief executive John Gay summoned him for a late-night meeting in Launceston.

“John Gay shook me by the hand, looked me in the eye and said he’d give me $10,000 immediately towards the Liberals’ state campaign,” Mr Cheek said.

Mr Cheek says there was discussion of another $20,000 but Mr Gay was unhappy about the then-Liberal Party leader’s position on ceasing old-growth clearfelling.

Of this incident Bob Cheek said:

“I didn’t see [the $20,000 offer] as a bribe because I was only leader of the opposition, and that’s how things are done in Tasmania”.

Bob Cheek also told us that “the states forestry policy is ruthlessly policed by Gunns” and how fearful politicians are of the forest lobby and their hitmen.

Mr Cheek, still a Liberal Party member, says the party’s leadership remains beholden to the forestry industry.

(All of the above is also out there in the public domain).

What Tasmanians want to know from Mr Hodgman is whether the party’s leadership remains beholden to the forestry industry and whether “that is how things are still done in Tasmania”.  Indeed, one would be interested to know (considering the ‘interface’ between Gunns and the Labor government during the controversial pulp mill assessment process) whether in fact Mr Hodgman, or anyone from his party that he is aware off, has had any similar encounters with Mr. Gay or anyone else representing the pulp mill proponent.

And when did the word get around to Will Hodgman that Gunns were going to pull out the RPDC process? It is also a matter of public record that unless Gunns bought their proposal up to scratch Christopher Wright’s Panel may well have given them a fail mark. When did Mr Hodgman first know that a dummy spit was imminent? And if Mr Hodgman was convinced as many were that Gunns were about to pull out of the RPDC how then could he in good conscience retreat from his promise that “It is important that Tasmanians understand the pulp mill will be approved only if it meets the stringent guidelines set down by the independent Resource Planning and Development Commission” (Will Hodgman)

In the respect, it can be argued that Will Hodgman and the State Liberals have a virtually identical position to the Lennon Labor Govt on the pulp mill. Indeed, there is ample evidence now for Tasmanians to feel justified in believing that the Liberals are just as beholden to Gunns and the forest industry as the Premier and Labor are, and rather than leading this corporate complex will continue to be led by them. This is why I am not confident that state Liberals even if they wanted too, could oppose the Gunns Tamar Valley mill. They have shown that they are just as willing to alter their position to suit Gunns as the Lennon Labor govt is.

 

Rick Pilkington

Harsh words indeed Sue Neales, yet I believe the majority of Tasmanians would agree with her. Perhaps this is exactly why myself and other Tasmanians are so desperately disappointed in Will Hodgman and his party. And I do live very close to where the proposed Gunns Pulp will be sited so I may have to live with the consequences of what I see as the State Liberals party’s complete abrogation of their job as parliamentary opposition and total compliance with the Premier’s great pulp mill swindle.