My family comes from Burns St, Invermay. There are some great Invermay sayings my Dad used tell me. One is, “Crayfish to no man.” No matter how big and dirty they are, no matter how frightening they are — get up, stand up, and fight.

I have returned to Launceston today to say we can stop this mill, we must stop this mill, and we will stop this mill.

We have been betrayed by so many lies — that this is, for example, about jobs. But no Gunns representative, no government spokesperson stood up for logging workers last year when they went to the wall as Gunns slashed its contracts. And why is it that Paul Lennon cares so much about the 300 jobs that will be created at the pulp mill, but not the 300 jobs that will be lost at Auspine, the company that last federal election incurred John Gay’s wrath when it had the temerity to put forward a plan for the forestry industry that would see old growth logging ended and 900 new jobs created.

‘Their comments,’ said John Gay at the time, ‘have been extremely damaging to themselves and to their future in Tasmania.’ How right John Gay was, how right. The only jobs Paul Lennon really stands for are his own and the Gunns board members.

To evade the ever growing public outrage, they have sought to destroy every brave person who speaks the truth. Dr Warwick Raverty. Christopher Wright. Terry Martin. And these were people not even opposed to the mill, but simply concerned at the political interference in what was meant to be a proper, impartial process.

And why is this happening? Christopher Wright, the distinguished judge and the second RPDC head that Premier Paul Lennon tried to lean on, put it most clearly. ‘It was plain as the nose on my face,’ Wright has said, ‘that he was trying to please Gunns.’

Paul Lennon told parliament a different story about his meeting with Christopher Wright and then attacked others for dragging his family into it.  No one ever mentioned his family. Poor Paul Lennon, as another saying around Invermay once went, is a man who, if he swallowed a sixpence, would shit a corkscrew.

But really, how can any of this be otherwise?

Nearly two decades after its then chairman Eddie Rouse’s failed attempt to corrupt parliament, Gunns now is so powerful that leading national politicians of all persuasions acknowledge that the real power in Tasmania is not the government but Gunns itself. This goes beyond the sizeable donations Gunns makes to both major parties, both in Tasmania and nationally.

‘A lot of people,’ prominent Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan has said, “are intimidated by the employment side of the [Tasmanian forestry] industry ‘including some politicians’.

Who can blame even the powerful being scared? Former Tasmanian Liberal leader Bob Cheek recalls how “the State’s misguided forestry policy was ruthlessly policed by Gunns”; how fearful the politicians were of the forest lobby and what he describes as their “hitmen”.

And in such a cowed society, the government often gives the impression of being little more than a toadying standover man for its corporate godfather, willing to undertake any action, no matter how degrading, to help those with the real power. Who can forget Steve Kons drinking a glass tainted with the known carcinogen, Atrazine, after a farming couple were directly sprayed by a helicopter with the poison meant for the Gunns plantation next door. Unsurprisingly, Steve Kons is now deputy premier.

As former Labor leader Mark Latham has ruefully said, ‘No policy issue or set of relationships better demonstrates the ethical decline and political corruption of the Australian Labor movement than Tasmanian forestry.’

On that same day, 27 February, that Paul Lennon met with Christopher Wright and handed him his typed ultimatum to dump public hearings and wind up the assessment by 31 July or face the RPDC being dumped in favour of legislation fast-tracking the process, on that very same same day Gunns told the Australian Stock Exchange it was ‘confident the necessary government approvals’ for its pulp mill ‘will be obtained within a timeframe which maintains the commercial value of the project’.

When Christopher Wright wouldn’t cave in to Paul Lennon,  Gunns suddenly found the RPDC in John Gay’s words, ‘commercially unacceptable”. What was commercially acceptable to John Gay became a political imperative for Paul Lennon who immediately came up with a process whereby the mill doesn’t have to meet the original pollution guidelines, where the public is banished, and in which there are according to newspaper reports last week, specific provision allowing for corruption, such that even if the consultant assessing the project is bribed, his assessment stands.

We know now that this mill is a monstrosity. The Australian Medical Association has warned Tasmania’s political leaders they would be personally accountable for any health problems resulting from the proposed pulp mill. We know from Dr Warwick Raverty’s statements that it should not be built near Launceston, that it is likely to breach the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, and that , ‘The risk of producing unacceptable levels of deadly and persistent chemicals known as organochlorines is too high.’

We know now the RPDC found that Gunns own evidence was flawed and inaccurate, that levels of dioxins were underestimated by a factor of 45. It has been revealed just today that, incredibly, Gunns modeling for air pollution in the Tamar Valley was so shoddy, that it ‘sometimes predicted air pollution would be lower with a pulp mill than without.’ Now I’m a novelist but even I couldn’t get away with a fairytale quite as ridiculous as that.

We know now that the mill failed to meet RPDC guidelines for in-stack emissions of oxides of nitrogen which irritate asthma, cause smog and contribute to acid rain; that it failed to meet RPDC guidelines for sulphur compounds at ground level at the mill site and nearby surrounds, which can have health and environmental impacts and that it failed to meet international engineering standards for its main chimney.

This is not a Tasmania I any longer recognise, this is Bjelke Petersen’s Queensland, and it is time we took our Tasmania back — back from the lies, from the intimidation, from the threats, from the character assassinations and blacklisting. Because it’s our Tasmania, not one company’s fiefdom.

Federal Liberal and Federal Labor make a great error — even given the money they receive from Gunns — in thinking there will be no political cost to their endorsement of this pulp mill. Because it is no longer about one more industrial facility. It is about a perversion of our most fundamental values as a society and as a democracy. There needs to be and there must be a royal commission into what has happened here, because nothing less can now clear away the stench that surrounds this project.

Yesterday I stood with some hundreds of people as one of my dear friends buried his son. Some hundreds of people had gathered in trust, in love, in goodness. It was what is best about us as Tasmanians.

Yet our society in Tasmania today is not like that: it is divided, embittered, diminished and it is that way because as a people we allowed it to be. We allowed its future to be mortgaged to the greed of the woodchippers. We stood by and were silent as the outrages slowly mounted. We knew and we looked the other way. We knew yet we persuaded ourselves we could achieve nothing, that we were powerless.

But how untrue that is: all this has happened because the many good people in the Labor Party, in the Liberal Party, in the media and in the forests and in workplaces and offices and homes, simply and meekly went along with it. But now all the good people need to finally stand up against the bullying and the thuggery, for Tasmania, for its future, for their children and say, ‘I have had a gutful and this must end”.

Now is the time for turning, now is the season for our change, now must come that moment when we no longer are cowed, when we cease to be silent, when we speak the truth to power and say no to this pulp mill and yes to a future in which we are governed in the spirit in which we live: with goodness, with the interests of others in our heart and not the leash of greed tearing at our throat.

Now is that hour, now is our future. The journey is long, the road is dark and frightening, but together we can reach our destination: the Tasmania of which we all dream, where all are welcome and all prosper, made not of lies but truth, built not of rich men’s hate but our love for our island and for each other.

Our love. Our island. Let’s take it back.

Thank you.

A speech by Richard Flanagan delivered in the Albert Hall on Sunday, April 1. It is published after requests from readers.

 

Richard Flanagan

Federal Liberal and Federal Labor make a great error — even given the money they receive from Gunns — in thinking there will be no political cost to their endorsement of this pulp mill. Because it is no longer about one more industrial facility. It is about a perversion of our most fundamental values as a society and as a democracy. There needs to be and there must be a royal commission into what has happened here, because nothing less can now clear away the stench that surrounds this project.