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Dear Member of the House of Assembly,

We write to bring to your notice some matters that are vitally important, even, if not quickly addressed, potentially devastating for Tasmania. These matters are relatively new in terms of any public knowledge of the issues involved.  In our view the matters we outline in more detail below have to be examined adequately, openly and honestly by a body that is independent of the Tasmanian Government, its various involved departments and agencies and any corporation or person with an interest in the plantations that are in question as below.

We are referring particularly to the possible and very serious problems in our water catchments, caused by leaves from E nitens tree plantations, that Doctors Alison Bleaney and Marcus Scammell have drawn attention to.  Doctors Bleaney and Scammell have done this scientific inquiry at their own expense and their conclusion is supported by external independent experts who have examined their material evidence and tested their samples. 

The evidence that the scientific inquiry made by Doctors Bleaney and Scammell provides needs to be examined by a body that is not subject to pressure from Government and particularly not from senior people in the Government agencies involved.  In a public statement one of Tasmania’s and Australia’s top scientific experts on water related issues, Dr D.E. Leaman, wrote in the Sunday Tasmanian (March 21st, 2010, p. 45):

“A conclusion like that of Bleaney and Scammell’s was drawn several years ago but, because the government panel considered the toxin natural, nothing more was done.  A toxin is a toxin and we need to know all about it and its risks.  Because this toxin might involve the forest industry, any review must be fully independent.

We should thank, not accuse, Bleaney and Scammell for their concern and effort, while observing that our government has yet to match that care and concern.”

In addition to whatever problems of toxicity in water supplies may be attributable to E nitens, we also have serious concerns as to the damage to water supplies and to human and animal health caused by aerial spraying of plantations, by the laying of poison baits, by the added demands on groundwater reserves, and by the loss of biodiversity occasioned by such large-scale monoculture.  We believe that these issues should also be subject to independent scientific enquiry.

As citizens of Tasmania we welcome the opportunities for change opened up by Tasmania’s last election results.  According to an Essential Research poll, 51 per cent agreed to statements that: “the logging industry is a source of corruption in Tasmania” and “cleaning up corruption in the logging industry would go a long way to cleaning up the rest of the government.” (Reported in Russell, W., McCulloch, L. and Wakelin, N. Levelling the Playing Field: Reforming Forestry Governance in Tasmania. Report Commissioned by Environment Tasmania, February 2010, p. 27. (On Tasmanian Times, HERE)

There are also concerns about the influence of favours to top politicians and perhaps high level public servants from other large corporations operating in Tasmania. We are not alone in these concerns nor is it only a recent problem.  In fact the three decades past have seen a well financed campaign to counteract the publicly expressed concerns of prominent figures about the power corporations have exercised over governments and society at large.

For example the English speaking world’s most celebrated economist and a noted public figure of the 20th century, J. K. Galbraith, described the situation in his homeland, the USA, when he wrote of the power of the corporations, “The corporation also exercises power in and by way of government.  This too is agreed.  Its payments to politicians and public officials are believed by no one except the recipients to be acts of philanthropy or affection. And less mentioned but more important is the naturally advantageous relationship between the modern corporation and the public bureaucracy.’’ (For full context see Galbraith J.K. The Age of Uncertainty, 1977 pp257-259)

One could easily imagine that Galbraith had seen several decades ahead to the relationship that has developed between corporations operating in Forestry and Forestry Tasmania when he wrote that last quoted sentence.  That is to say nothing of the ex Premiers who have combined to oppose any political change that could result in openness and letting the light of day into Government—to-Corporation relationships.

Resolving these problems is not just a matter for us in Tasmania. However the problems manifest themselves in particular places and can only be resolved if tackled by particular communities and governments.  Trying to ignore the fact that as Galbraith puts it, “The corporation also exercises power in and by way of government.” does not help.  We urge you to take seriously the words of Galbraith himself that can also be read in the pages noted above.  The relevant words are: “Were it part of our everyday education and comment that the corporation is an instrument for the exercise of power, that it belongs to the process by which we are governed, there would be debate on how that power is used and how it might be made subordinate to the public will and need. That debate is avoided by propagating the myth that the power does not exist.”  We badly need that debate in Tasmania.

Recent problems with St Helen’s water supply are symptomatic of much that is wrong with current forestry practice.  Dr Leaman reported similar observations with toxins and plantations in the Upper North Esk catchment in 2004.  The possible generality of the problem and risks is of great concern and demands complete and honest review.  MIS schemes with 100 per cent tax concessions for plantations have resulted in huge areas of good farmland being taken over to the enormous detriment of the social cohesion of farming communities, of our food supply itself, of the water table and of environmental balance.  As the market for woodchips s currently declining, it is obvious that alternative ways of using our rural assets must be found as a matter of real urgency.

Yours sincerely,

Max Bound, 57/57 Cadbury Road, Claremont 7011
Dr David Leaman
Dr John Biggs
Tim Thorne
Dr Stuart Godfrey
Cr Karl Stevens
Cr Ian Howard
Dr Peter Hay
Chris Harries
Dr CA Cranston
Peter Cundall
Frank Strie
Vica Bayley
Cameron Hindrum
Malini Alexander
Aimee Bound

Picture: Dr Alison Bleaney taking samples from the George River