I’VE been tossing up whether to say this.  I’ve wanted to make this observation in public for some time, and haven’t had the guts. 

I’ve decided to, though it will sound preposterously melodramatic to most of you, and when word gets around I can expect to be ridiculed as mercilessly as anyone has ever been ridiculed in public life in Tasmania — and that’s saying something.

First, though, I need to tell you this — I am not in the slightest interested in that abstract constitutional fiction we call Australia.  The obsession of the cultural and intellectual elites of Sydney and Melbourne with the formation and reformation of something called a national identity leaves me cold.  I’m interested in the island, Tasmania, and I’m interested in Planet Earth, two real entities of wind, water, rock, living process and energy; not mere lawyers’ figments at all.

On the basis of this you’ll be imagining that I’m a Tasmanian separatist.  I am not.  I have very little interest in the artificial abstraction that is the Commonwealth of Australia.  But I’m very pleased to be a part of it.  Because if it was not for the benignly stodgy institutional umbrella of the Commonwealth of Australia — if this poor, ravaged little island was its own independent country — and here I come to that observation that I’m almost too timid to make — if this was an independent country there would be death squads operating in the cities and towns of this island.

Preposterous, is it not?  Well, consider.  We have here a government and a pale-shadow opposition that take as the constituency to which they owe their prime loyalty, not the island’s realm of democratic interaction, not the island’s civic health, but its powerful economic institutions, some public sector, some — and these the more significant — private.  We have a government that coolly, with malign intent, seeks to destroy the reputations and livelihoods of those who dare question official priorities.  Ask Auspine (No deal sounds like a death knell).  Ask, for that matter, several of the people here in this room.  We have a government that protects a dissent-intolerant forest industry, an industry that has the political system on a leash, and the legal system on a leash, and that has already displayed the implacable lengths to which it is prepared to go in order to avoid compromising profit-maximisation in even the slightest degree.

The notion that the interests of the state and the interests of a few powerful economic forces are one and the same is, in fact, almost the classical definition of fascism.  And fascist regimes — regimes that see their prime allegiance as owed to powerful arms of capital, and not to the health of democratic process and an active, spirited, demanding citizenry — will protect their special interests with force and repression.  They will turn on those of their citizens who dissent, and they turn on them with utter ferocity.  That is how it is here, right now — the hate-inscribed political lingua franca says it all.  ‘Fertilise a forest — kill a Greenie’, proclaims the car sticker.  And it proclaims, in fact, a very great deal more than that.

This government now feels so invulnerable, so secure in its freedom from democratic constraint, that it can openly — entirely brazenly — corruptly reward its mates and masters.  There is no longer any but the most token attempt at subterfuge.  And the final element for a politics of forceful dissent-repression is also in place — a supine, complacent in part, intimidated in part, uncaring electorate, one that is only too willing to reward the purveyors of corruption, intimidation and suppression at the ballot-box.

That’s it.  Public life is, I think, that toxic, and the forest industry is that determined to prevail over all opposition that, were it not for the constraints that inhere within the larger political system of which we are part, all sorts of awfulness might happen here.  Some will tell you it already does.

The looming darkness

What hope is there, then?  Any at all?  There is.  There is the hope that, in the face of apparent hopelessness, a few good men and women will still be willing to put themselves, their reputations, their livelihoods, their very bodies, on the line.  Because of their access to the formal organs of information and opinion, such people must be sought most particularly within the Fourth Estate.  And I am pleased to say that they are to be found, and that we owe them such a debt of gratitude.  Very many of them, in management and among the ranks of the working journalists, have been effectively duchessed, carried away to be front-line attack dogs in the government’s assault on dissent.  Some of them didn’t even need much duchessing.  In the north, that once honourable medium of information, The Examiner, has degenerated into a mere propaganda organ for the bullies, the corrupters, the men who would shut the mouths of those who dare speak out.

But there are others who have set themselves against the looming darkness, and I would like to acknowledge their stoutheartedness, their integrity here today.  Wayne Crawford.  Simon Bevilacqua.  Sue Neales.  Airlie Ward.  Philippa Duncan.  Charles Wooley.  Wesley Young.  And in crikey.com, Margaretta Pos.  There are others, and I apologise for not extending my list.  They are our last line against the destruction of the island’s civic culture, its ailing public realm.  I salute them, and on our collective behalf, I thank them.

And — the man we are here to celebrate today, and his extraordinary achievement.  The fearless, the redoubtable, Mr. Lindsay Tuffin.

Never let the bastards drag you down, dear man.  Tasmaniantimes.com has given us back a public sphere.  A site, a forum for democratic discourse.  It’s no wonder the Premier hates it.  It is what there is of democratic interchange in the island. It is the crucible in which inconvenient truths can lodge, untouchable there, and witness-bearing.

I heard the now Minister for Education say in public not so long ago — and over the months I have read this several times in the commentary pages of Monday’s Mercury — that Tasmanian Times is an organ of of a specific constituency — or the far left, or a dismissible green constituency, or both.  Bullshit.  Tasmaniantimes.com is gloriously democratic.  It could not be more democratic.  It posts up what it is given, from anyone who gives it.  If there is a certain political flavour to what appears there, what this really tells us is which constituencies of ideas and values are systematically discounted by, excluded from, the island’s narrowly-circumscribed public life.  It is a guide to just who is disenfranchised.  Alan Duggan doesn’t need to post up on Tasmaniantimes.com.  Barry Chipman doesn’t.  Reg Watson doesn’t.  Richard Bennett doesn’t.  Simon Currant doesn’t.  Daniel Leesong doesn’t.  Ken Jeffreys doesn’t.  Rod Scott doesn’t.  Ian Dickenson doesn’t.  Gay and Gray don’t.  Federals don’t.  I am minded to think of Aldous Huxley.  Oh brave new world that has such people in it.

We, we who are here today, are the excluded.  The island’s unwelcome pariahs.  Those for who there is no place in the ‘new Tasmania’.  And, five years ago, we were given a voice — as all of Tasmania was given a voice — on Tasmaniantimes.com.  So — for services to democracy; for restoring to us a vanished realm of public debate; for showing by example how it is possible to resist those who would turn us into some insular equivalent of Pinochet’s Chile, I salute and honour the marvellous, the wonderful, the valiant Mr. Lindsay Tuffin, and his engine of democratic resurrection — Tasmaniantimes.com.

A talk by University of Tasmania academic-essayist-poet Pete Hay to Tasmanian Times’ Christmas Carouse, Hope and Anchor Tavern, Sunday, December 10.

Pete Hay

Preposterous, is it not?  Well, consider.  We have here a government and a pale-shadow opposition that take as the constituency to which they owe their prime loyalty, not the island’s realm of democratic interaction, not the island’s civic health, but its powerful economic institutions, some public sector, some — and these the more significant — private.  We have a government that coolly, with malign intent, seeks to destroy the reputations and livelihoods of those who dare question official priorities.  Ask Auspine (No deal sounds like a death knell).  Ask, for that matter, several of the people here in this room.  We have a government that protects a dissent-intolerant forest industry, an industry that has the political system on a leash, and the legal system on a leash, and that has already displayed the implacable lengths to which it is prepared to go in order to avoid compromising profit-maximisation in even the slightest degree.