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The system of Tasmanian government, with its weak parliament, its ineffectual representative democracy, its timid caucus-hugging party careerists and woodchip corporate minions, is on glorious display in all its panoply of farce. 

It is always a chillingly interesting spectacle to watch a whole political system systematically wreck its public standing by surrendering its moral obligations, discrediting itself by shifting its responsibilities to grasping private profiteers. But it’s not an unusual scenario where loosely-held principle meets an obstacle, colloquially described as “complex”.  The greater the insurmountable complexity of it all – in terms of politicians seeking to preserve themselves – the greater the cost to the general public.  The still unfolding reverberations of the GFC, had (and still has) its masters of the universe living in imperial splendour while their victims in their millions around the world have been ruined.  That is the inevitable perversity of unjust laws and regulations.  The perpetrators usually avoid the consequences while leaving human misery, economic carnage and social and environmental chaos in their wake. 

Part of this unedifying process is to hear and to read how politicians and their support crews of group-think acolytes go through the mental gymnastics of supporting unjust laws which they should be opposing. But there’s an even more macabre sense of occasion when politicians seek to justify their support of the implementation of unjust laws in full – or even beyond full.

“Residual legal rights” is a classic case in point.  There can be no doubt whatsoever that this conscience- absolving euphemism for compensation, which resulted in Gunns collecting a cool $46 million for outlaying nothing at all, was completely unjust.  One disturbing aspect of this one horse race triple-by-tripled-by-quadrupled winning trifecta is Simon simple.  It is no longer difficult to accept that such an unjust outcome is possible in the Tasmanian political jurisdiction.  It’s just another day at the races for Caligula’s horse consul, all other runners excluded, paid from the public purse.

That’s what happens with nasty precedents. Unjust laws are used to perpetuate their existence, to be the foundation for a whole edifice of injustice.  It sets a standard easily followed, widened, elaborated, customised and then enforced.  Witness the path to the PMAA, the emails from 2005 and 2006, the events of 2007, the roundtable-statement of principles-IGA process, the expiry of permits, and so on.  And that’s just the tip of the fingernail above the mire.  The rest is hidden, buried, shredded, compounded, residued. 

One insidious aspect of such a process is that the Machiavellian ideal of the ends justifying the means becomes standard operating procedure within the political system by all players in the decision-making quagmire.  In such a morally bankrupt environment it is no longer a bit rich (how about residual rich?), as in over-ripe to rottenness, to adopt an apologetic posture in support of an unjust law or regulation if it serves a particular political purpose.

The examples of this in relation to “residual legal rights” (henceforth replaced by Kim Booth’s knee-trembler “compensation”) are multiplying like mushrooms in confidential darkness.

My personal favourite is that the compensation money won’t be enough to help Gunns build its pulp mill, so should be supported on that profoundly morally-free principle alone.  So what is it sufficient to do?  Pay contractors to transform “substantially commenced” into “substantially completed”?  Pay for forthcoming legal expenses as well?  Using Gunns’ own remarkably reliable information, maybe outlay $25 million for six weeks work on the site – let’s say a million bucks for 25 workers, or half a million for 50, or $250,000 for 100, for six weeks of earth moving.  That really does make sense in the context of Gunns sacking hundreds of workers over the last few years. 

Clever. 

Then there are the costs of cameras to photo protesters, vehicles, stray animals on the site, the training of people to use cameras, to catalogue and file the results.  It all adds up.  Just as long as there’s heaps left over to keep the masters of Gunns universe in the manner to which they’re accustomed, if funds are short to cover their bonuses or their six and seven-figure salaries.

Another real winner is the argument that it is not state money but federal money and, you know, bits of pots that wouldn’t have been used for health and education anyway.  But that’s the real point isn’t it?  Of course it wouldn’t have been used for those “essential services”, but it should have been.  A better question would be:  Why aren’t these funds being used for public “essential services”?  Sure, I know.  Naivety was a cardinal error of those who criticised the funding priorities of the ancien regime.   

To read the delusional self-serving justifications based on “pragmatic” considerations about the uselessness of fighting Gunns – years of litigation being the main one – is not so much a revelation as a sick and sorry sight.  Not to outdo itself, the Labor-Green government then turned its own definition of “pragmatism” (compromised compensation springs to mind) into free-fall surrender.  The “probity auditor” (anyone for a nuanced probe audition?) quite clearly got it wrong and had to stand corrected by Gunns – double it or stuff it, which will stuff the IGA too.  So there, do what you’re told.  And don’t forget what IGA stands for – In Gunns’ Arms.  Just a friendly reminder, so remember that you ain’t too heavy to drop.  By the way, guys and gals, you better hurry up because Bob Brown is getting a bit twitchy.  He wants the fed solicitor-general to check the probity of the probe, which could complicate the residue at your end. 

Soonest said, soonest done, with much self-congratulation by the Greens for having suggested it all, and avoiding a legal stouch with Gunns.  Heaven forbid!  How would they pay their legal bills?  And how fortuitous to get it done before Bob Brown’s belated queasiness spread further afield.  What a relief.

Have these people given any consideration to the logical consequences of what they are doing?  Have they given any consideration to the additional precedents they are creating?  The injustices they are perpetuating?  How many other pieces of legislation passed by the Tasmanian parliament, or arrangements between powerful corporate interests and government which the public has no knowledge of, replicate the “residual legal rights” scenario that is now resulting in the massive socialisation of Gunns’ costs?

Don’t you worry about that.  Just focus on the football.  Go Pies!  Bury the Hawks in Gunns-Labor-Green public funds, wrapped in $100 bills, hundreds and hundreds and thousands and thousands and millions and millions of residue, of residual funds from a cupboard bare, of rights instead of rites… 

Go Pies!

Peter Henning

Karl Stevens: Homage to Gunns, HERE