For some time now Davidson has been strongly promoting the idea, in column after column, that Tasmanian water should be piped to Melbourne in order that Melbourne’s existing water supply be diverted to save the Murray River system.

Little, if any, of his commentary has been reported in the Tasmanian print media.

But his statement that the Tasmanian Government has been in talks with serious investors not short of cash, presumably in the period since David Bartlett took the reigns of the premiership from Paul Lennon, is news indeed.

According to Davidson, the water would come from “Hydro-Tasmania’s run-off into the ocean after the water had generated electricity”.  West coast hydro schemes, such as the Pieman, seem the obvious candidates for such a project.

In Davidson’s view, neither the Victorian Government nor the federal government would be able to oppose the project on economic or environmental grounds if the Bartlett Government and the consortium reached an agreement to build a pipeline from Tasmania to the mainland.  The cost to Melburnians would be far less than alternative options, such as desalination or water from the Snowy.  He also says there is strong support for such a project in South Australia.

Davidson spruiks the case for Tasmania, suggesting the project could and should push aside Gunns’ pulp mill project. It would avoid all the environmental negatives associated with the pulp mill project, and “could do far more for state development and job creation … because there would be similar benefits in the construction phase and far more money for investment from royalties.  Tasmania would, in effect, become a resource-rich state overnight”. 

The indications are that no detailed planning has been done as yet, but it is clearly important, now that The Age has revealed this development, that the issue be placed in the public domain in Tasmania.

In the current political climate in Tasmania there are huge advantages for Bartlett to engage with the public about this.  At a time when he and his government have been seriously embarrassed, if not treated with contempt, by Gunns, it is well beyond time that the Premier decided whether his notion of being “kind and clever” means continuing to allow free market fundamentalism to determine whether communities live or die, or taking a different direction.

His own political future will be determined on the basis of whether he has the courage to shake off the shackles of Gunns.  He failed that test when he was part of the Lennon Government, by falling uncritically into line in support of all aspects of the Pulp Mill Assessment Act 2007. 

He has failed the next test as Premier by extending the misnamed “sovereign risk agreement”, which also marked a more egregious failure -  that is, of continuing to turn away from the people of the Tamar Valley, of continuing to ignore their long-term interests.

Currently, his “line in the sand” rhetoric about not providing taxpayers’ money for Gunns’ pipelines rings hollow and ambivalent as Gunns “negotiates” with East Tamar landowners. 

Bartlett needs to revisit the Pulp Mill Assessment Act.  In particular, he won’t be able long to ignore growing public knowledge of the legislation, especially section 11 of the Act.  There is nothing “kind and clever” about section 11.

It’s time to break the shackles of the Lennon legacy for Bartlett or to be entwined by them. 

Part of that process requires, as a minimum, responsible representation of Tasmanian people, whether they live and work in the north-east or the Tamar Valley or elsewhere.  The future of these communities should not be determined, in a “democratic” society, by corporate boardrooms, with people used and discarded. 

“The line in the sand” for Bartlett entails more than tough-sounding rhetorical flourish.  It means repealing the Pulp Mill Assessment Act, or stopping the pulp mill in some other way.  Anything less is a failure of political representation, and a willingness to allow communities to live or die as determined by the “market”.

Part of that process also means, as Bartlett himself promised, greater transparency.  That surely requires some public disclosure about this week’s The Age story by Kenneth Davidson. 

If Davidson’s enthusiastic assessment of the potential benefits of a water pipeline to Victoria is anywhere near accurate (there are sure to be some hidden nasties) we need a public debate, and we need it before the absurd pulp mill project goes any further.

Might there not be something here that provides an opportunity to break the nexus between corporate-government decision-making, which always ends with the mass shedding of jobs and the destruction of regional social cohesion? 

Might there not be an opportunity here for a new direction for Tasmanian politics, in the way that Bartlett himself has indicated, a way towards unity?

But it won’t happen without transparency, and it won’t happen without the political courage to break with the past.  Given the composition of Bartlett’s cabinet, that will require some real courage by the Premier and some real leadership. 

Peter Henning

Peter Henning

SEVERAL DAYS ago senior journalist with The Age, Kenneth Davidson, dropped a bombshell that has been completely ignored by the Tasmanian media. ( Here on TT )

He wrote (Monday, 7 July) that “(f)or the past four weeks the Tasmanian Government has been negotiating with a consortium to contract up to 1000 gigalitres” to be piped across Bass Strait.  “At this stage the negotiations are centred on the price and the length of the contract.  The parties are close to an agreement in principle”.