Editor: Questions which must be answered: 1. Why has mainstream media - ABC, Mercury, Examiner, Advocate - not pursued the story of Ta Ann gifts and Tasmanian politicians? 2. Why do we still not know whether Labor or other politicians have received gifts from Ta Ann? 3. Has anyone within Forestry Tasmania received gifts or free travel from Ta Ann?
Every day’s a steep learning curve when hearing about the behaviour of Tasmanian politicians. They turn the parliament into a circus and a laughing stock, exhibit their brazen and delinquent bullying with unabashed pride, and then get surprised when they are viewed with cynicism and lack of trust by the public.
Is it a slightly different matter when a politician can be given money by a foreign corporation which has direct commercial interests in Tasmania, and apparently have his air fares paid by a corporation to visit a foreign state? Or is it just an extension of the type of unacceptable behaviour that takes place on the floor of parliament?
Apparently MLC Paul Harriss has received money and free air trips from Ta Ann and declared them as “pecuniary interests”. Why are they “pecuniary interests”? They are not dividends from shares in a publicly-listed company or a personal involvement in a business. The question is simple enough. What is the difference, in terms of individual politicians receiving direct payments from private companies, between “pecuniary interests” and bribery? Where is the line drawn? How much money can Tasmanian politicians receive from foreign interests – or Australian private interests for that matter – and declare it as “pecuniary”? Tens of thousands of dollars, hundreds of thousands, a million? What is the limit? Or doesn’t it exist?
Further, why have all politicians in the House of Assembly approached this matter as one of “pecuniary interests”, including the Greens, who tried to ensure that Harriss would merely be unable to vote on matters in the Legislative Council of interest to Ta Ann? From an observer’s position, it would appear that no other politicians in the House (does it deserve a capital letter?) regarded the whole matter as of any significance at all.
The best that can be said is that the premier, Lara Giddings, criticised Harriss’ behaviour, at least implicitly, by saying she thought it would be “inappropriate” for her to receive gifts like Harriss had done.
This is more than disturbing. It is astounding. Surely, if it is not illegal for Tasmanian politicians, in office, to receive direct benefits from foreign companies, then we have a political system where the whole legislature could be for sale and it be regarded as totally ethical and proper. The way that this issue has been treated so cavalierly, without even an eye blink from the lot of them, except the Greens, albeit in muted form, suggests that the Harriss behaviour is purely routine and normal in the Tasmanian political system.
If that is the case, the whole system is rotten to the core and cannot be trusted to act in the public interest at all, except by accident.
As for Paul Harriss, when he denies that his whole-hearted support for the policies of Ta Ann in Tasmania have nothing to do with his personal connections to Ta Ann, he has no credibility, especially when he describes Ta Ann’s opponents as “eco-terrorists”. It is still unclear, from what we have heard, exactly what the relationship is between Harriss and Ta Ann. At one stage Harriss was reported as saying that he had paid for his own trip to Borneo, for a holiday, and had met with Ta Ann on that trip. Were these the circumstances in which Harriss was given money by Ta Ann? It is in the public interest that these questions be answered.
The current episode demonstrates, in a general sense, that Tasmanian politicians have no understanding of the importance of adhering to standards of conduct which don’t damage the fragile fabric of political legitimacy, not just of individual politicians, but of the institutional structures. Once again, it has the same hallmarks of the process which produced the Pulp Mill Assessment Act in 2007, the shredder affair, the deals for mates case involving former and current Labor politicians and the whole roundtable-SOP-IGA process.
The standards of behaviour of Tasmanian politicians, both within parliament and in the public domain, is deplorable and unacceptable. Perhaps this is deliberate, designed to ensure that capable people who are likely to question the prevailing culture are dissuaded from running for public office from sheer aversion to having to work within such a narrow-minded, chauvinistic and corrupt political culture. Whether deliberate or not, there is no doubt that the now entrenched political-party careerist path is a breeding ground in itself for the types of behaviours which are wreaking havoc on standards of governance and on the capacity of any effective and constructive leadership at a policy level.
Paul Harriss should resign from the Legislative Council. If he does not do so voluntarily, he should be forced to do so by the Legislative Council itself. If neither of those things occur, the Legislative Council should not be trusted by the Tasmanian people to represent their interests and to legislate on their behalf. Secondly, the issue of “pecuniary interests” needs to be spelled out to all politicians in monosyllabic clarity so they can try to come to grips with concepts such as morally reprehensible political behaviour. They might think that there is a place for foreign companies to pay for their trips and give them money, but they need to be told that there is not. They need to understand that there is no place for money changing hands between Tasmanian politicians and foreign companies if proper standards of governance are to be developed from the low base which now exists. In that sense, and thirdly, it needs to be determined how many other politicians are in the same position as Paul Harriss MLC, in terms of the nature of their connections with corporations, so that “we, the people” can see more clearly the extent to which we have a parliament for sale.
Unless these things happen, absolutely no trust can be placed in the Tasmanian legislature by the people of Tasmania.
Peter Henning is a former educator and now a small businessman and owner of an award-winning olive oil grove in northern Tasmania. He is the author of Doomed Battalion, a history of the largely Tasmanian 2/40 Battalion, captured on Timor in 1942. He is currently completing a history of Tasmanian military nurses of the Second World War, which will be published later this year.
Earlier on Tasmanian Times:
• MLC’s Ta Ann ‘gifts’: ‘This cuts right to the heart of probity.’ Borneo journo’s special report
• Ta Ann’s links to allegations of rights abuses, environmental destruction. Heat on FT
• Read for yourself: Forestry Tasmania, FIAT’s MOU with TAC. The Sarawak connections ...
• Is this why Ta Ann Tasmania operates at a loss? Forestry’s new deal? No, says Giddings
• Mr Harriss, Independent MLC, and Ta Ann
• What Paul Harriss told The Examiner, March 8:
Harriss denies being bought by Ta Ann’
08 Mar, 2012 08:15 AM
UPPER House MP Paul Harriss has defended an overseas trip taken in 2010 that was paid for by timber processor Ta Ann.
Bass Greens MHA Kim Booth raised the issue in the House of Assembly yesterday when he pointed out that Mr Harriss, an independent MLC for Huon, had declared a trip paid for by Ta Ann and a $1000 gift from the company made in 2007-08.
He said that raised questions over whether Mr Harriss, or any other MP with a pecuniary interest, should be voting on legislation resulting from the $276 million state-federal forests deal.
Mr Harriss, who has publicly supported the company, said it was outrageous for Mr Booth to imply in Parliament that I have been bought by Ta Ann to be a lobbyist for them in Parliament’‘.
He said that he accepted the paid trip to find out the facts about Ta Ann’s overseas operations upon the condition he would set the itinerary.
However, Mr Harriss said that he would seek advice on his continued right to debate and vote on issues related to the forests deal in Parliament.
““I will need to take advice based around those financial contributions. I don’t think it will be a problem, but if there is of course I will remove myself from the debate.’‘
In response to Mr Booth’s question, Premier Lara Giddings said that she had not accepted any cash or paid travel from Ta Ann.
Pic: Alan Lesheim
• Miranda Gibson, Still Wild Still Threatened: Tasmanian tree-sitter launches Japanese awareness campaign.
Today Still Wild Still Threatened spokesperson Miranda Gibson is launching a campaign in Japan. Miranda Gibson has been living at the top of a tree, known as The Observer Tree, since December 14 2011 and her action has received international attention.
The innovative campaign to outreach the Observer Tree to the people of Japan will raise awareness of the threatened forests of Tasmania.
Components of the Japanese campaign include a video about the Observer Tree with narration by a Japanese translator, an article featured on Japanese blogs, websites and in ENGO newsletters and a flyer to be distributed at events. The Observer Tree website also now features a Japanese page, which has attracted over 2,000 views since being released last week.
Still Wild Still Threatened has collaborated on this unique campaign effort with the Japan Tropical Forest Action Network (JATAN). On March 11th the film was shown in Tokyo at a commemorative event for the Fukioshima tragedy. Japanese campaigners also gave presentation and distributed information about the Observer Tree.
“Ancient forests in Tasmania have world heritage values. Now these forests are being destroyed for timber demands in our Japanese flooring markets. I hope many Japanese consumers will listen to the voices from the killing fields” said Akira Harada, director of Japan Tropical Forest Action Network (JATAN).
“Today I have been at the top of a tree for 90 days, in a forest that is due to be logged to supply Ta Ann. I want to share my story and the story of this forest with people in Japan” said Still Wild Still Threatened spokesperson Miranda Gibson.
“The high conservation value forests that are being destroyed to supply Ta Ann are ending up as veneer products in Japan. This new campaign is aimed at raising awareness throughout Japan to expose the truth behind Ta Ann’s lies ” said Ms Gibson.
“This campaign is encouraging people in Japan to contact the Japanese corporate customers of Ta Ann and ask them to stop sourcing wood from Tasmanian forest destruction”
“I have also personally written to Ta Ann’s customers letting them know that people right across the world support the protection of Tasmania’s forests. I have sent them images of over 70 actions that took place in 15 countries during the global 24 hours of action on February 15” said Ms Gibson.
“Still Wild Still Threatened is committed to continue this markets-focused campaign, in order to expose Ta Ann’s lies and to call on Ta Ann to stop sourcing wood from Tasmania’s native forests” said Ms Gibson.
• Watch Miranda on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcsTp1PFcWU
• Download Paul Harris disclosures:
Paul Harriss’ disclosure of pecuniary interests (2007-08)
Paul Harriss’ disclosure of pecuniary interests (2010-11)
Excerpt from Legislative Council and House of Assembly Standing Orders
GREENS’ SCOTTSDALE MILL PROPOSAL A PERFECT FIT FOR IGA
More Jobs with Less Logs
Kim Booth MP
Greens Forestry Spokesperson
The Tasmanian Greens said the Greens’ proposal for a diversified timber processing and training centre at Scottsdale was a perfect fit for the economic transition aims espoused under the Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement, and should be part of the Kelty-West process.
Greens Forestry spokesperson Kim Booth MP said that the proposal was all about helping to develop a new forest industry with a focus on high-value products which can truly compete on global markets, underpinned by Forest Stewardship Council certification.
Mr Booth said that the Greens released the proposal in 2008 as a real job creating opportunity to counter job losses resulting from the closure of the two Gunns Scottsdale softwood sawmills.
“This proposal is about more jobs with less logs,” Mr Booth.
“Far from trying to ‘shut-down’ the timber industry, the Greens are focused on helping transform Tasmania’s timber industry into a globally-competitive market innovator, not just a bulk commodity exporter.”
“The Labor and Liberal parties need to end this fallacy that all our problems will be solved by some kind of industrial white knight from the 19th Century.”
“They are using the pulp mill as a political wedge, when they should be supporting real timber jobs generated by a high-value, low-volume downstream processing industry.”
“With the pulp mill now dead and buried, it’s time for those who’ve been trying to keep Tasmania trapped in a cargo-cult mentality to wake up and start helping to get the forest industry transition underway.”
Reference: “Diversified Wood Processing and Training Mill for Scottsdale: A Working Mill Run By the Workers,” Fact Sheet released by Kim Booth MP, July 2008: here
• A Reader: Macquarie Wharf, this afternoon, Tuesday, March 13: A Question: When did FT sign this contract? And why is it still going on?