Image for The Joker in the Tas-Times pack

Introduction

The biggest problem with Mike Bolan’s articles which attacked the Wilderness Society, was the way he continually misrepresented what the TWS position was.  He pushed them into his corner of untruth and kept on punching.  Some of the punches were below the belt…

He wrote as if the Wildos had been infiltrated by the Timber Industry.  He wrote as if the Wildos had made some secret deal.  He wrote as if the TWS supported the plantation aberrations that we endure in this state.  He wrote as if the TWS actively supported any old pulp mill, as long as it wasn’t in the Tamar Valley. 

Mike Bolan’s articles were rich with misrepresentations and false claims.  The second biggest problem with Bolan’s crusade against the Wildos, was how some members of TAP were prepared to publicly join in Bolan’s blitz.  Others too, from further afield, were prepared to join in the attack, like a pack of dogs, all pushing for a place, to sink the teeth into a victim that wasn’t fighting back. 

A few didn’t, like Amy, Pilko, Gerry Mander and Nana, while some others wavered and even weakened.  How was it that many of the waverers and critics appear to have done little more than accept as truth what Bolan had written?  How many had read the Greens’ “Forest Transition Strategy”, the Wildos’ “Protecting Forests : Growing Jobs”.  How many visited the Wildos website and had done their homework?  How many called in at the Wildos office and actually spoke to Paul Oosting and Gemma Tillack?  How many instead relied on flawed attacks which came about in a most curious manner.

Prelude

Let’s step back a little while. 

TAP was planning to have a picnic up at the Trevallyn Reserve, to symbolically reclaim the reserve from the clutches of the Gunns pipeline and to give notice that the community will actively resist the construction of the water pipeline.

It had set up a planning committee to get the show off the ground and this committee decided to approach the Wildos for assistance with distributing its pamphlets.  The TWS, through its campaign office in Charles St Launceston, has a well developed pamphlet distribution set-up - the greater Launceston area divided up into delivery sections, with clearly delineated delivery maps for each section, numbers of pamphlets appropriate to each, staff and premises available to enable pick-up and co-ordination. 

TAP has availed itself of the TWS help a number of times before.  For example, the distribution of Anti-Pulpmill Rally and anti-Section 11 PMAA leaflets.  TWS has given TAP assistance in a number of other ways.  In the case of the picnic, I am told (by TAP) that the Wildos took care of the printing of the majority of TAP’s picnic fliers.  The Wildos themselves had already their own pamphlets in the pipeline.  They agreed to allowing TAP’s to go out in the same delivery as theirs.  The pamphlets were printed and arrived from Hobart.  That same day TAP sent its members an email asking them to help deliver both Wildo and TAP material to Launceston and the West Tamar areas – available for pickup at the Wildo Campaign Centre, Launceston, in the following week.

The request for letterboxers contained within the email notice, told Tappers that they could pick up the leaflets for delivery from the Wildos shop in Lonnie on the following Monday.  The day after this email, the TWS held an action in the Launceston Brisbane St Mall. Wildos greeted people outside Myers and asked them to sign/send postcards to Will Hodgman and Jodie Campbell. 

The postcards sought protection from the pulpmill for the Tamar region and for Tasmania’s native forests.  A pamphlet entitled “Take Action for Your Kids” was also given away.  It was this Wildo material that was intended to be included for delivery along with the TAP picnic flier in the following week.

On the Tuesday of the following week, TAP members received an email “urgent” message from Bob McMahon, TAP spokesperson.  It said that TAP’s co-ordinating committee was advising all TAP members involved in letterboxing NOT to distribute the Tasmanian Wilderness Society leaflets because of ...

...“the confusion that will cause. The message of the September 6 event is in danger of being lost in the deluge of leaflets.” 

This threw both TAP’s and the Wildos’ distribution into confusion and picnic organisers had to go to the Launceston Wildo Centre in Charles St and get their own pamplets back.  Two days later, Bob McMahon told the TAP meeting that the real reason for pulling the plug on delivering the Wildos’ material was that it contained material supporting plantations and a pulp mill in Hampshire which was unacceptable to TAP.

It is my contention that this misrepresented actual Wilderness Society policy on the question of plantations and a pulp mill.

Anonymous public attack on The Wilderness Society

A day and a half after the TAP meeting, this matter was made public when there appeared in Tasmanian Times, Sat 29 Aug 09, an anonymous article which made claims similar to those voiced at the TAP meeting - claims which misrepresented actual Wilderness Society policy.  This article, written and published in the immediate aftermath of the TAP meeting, was supposedly written by an Eric B Johnson[iii]. 

Eric B. Johnson began:

“The Wilderness Society has, at long last, admitted that plantation forestry and pulp/paper mills offer rural jobs and income to Australia, while addressing the problems of climate change by sequestering carbon.”

and

“Once again we, in the forestry industry, welcome The Wilderness Society back into the real world by their decision to support pulp mills and the expansion of plantation forestry in Australia.”

False-name Johnson offered no details in support of these claims of Wilderness Society [WS] support for pulp mills and expanded plantations.  There was no explanation in the article as to how, when or where the WS ‘admitted’ that plantations address the problems of climate change, and no explanation as to how, when or where the WS had decided to support the expansion of plantation forestry in Australia.  In fact this last claim was untrue, the rest was misrepresentation.

‘Johnson’s article’ sparked off immediate and robust comment in Tas Times.  In response to Karl Stevens, ‘Johnson’ repeated the claim that the WS had approved plantation expansion and spoke of rural jobs and income from plantations,  and a more stable climate. 

After the two day weekend hiatus, Gemma Tillack, on behalf of the TWS , made the following points on TT:

- preservation of natural forests necessary to ensuring safe climate for our future

- this requires alternatives for the timber industry and change in govt policy

- rapid plantations expansion led to major environmental, social & economic impacts.

- present forestry practices are unsustainable given need for reduced carbon emissions

- current plantation management techniques are unacceptable and need improvements

- plantations in the existing plantation estate, if managed for timber, not pulp, could avoid the severe issues currently experienced and increase jobs, eg, in the pruning of individual trees.

Mike Bolan widened that attack by raising the issues of subsidies, conversion of agricultural land, water tables and poisoned waterways and how govt and forestry are not interested in change.  Largely he ignored Gemma’s response.  Peter Henning in a lengthy comment posed the following questions of Gemma: 

- whether TWS supported a pulp mill using 3.5m tonnes of plantation feedstock

- TWS position on mill size and ownership parameters

- whether TWS position on amount of feedstock was flexible

- how could woodchipping of 86% of native forest harvest be reversed given mill scenario of doubling woodchipping

- how could TWS support for the plantation estate be compatible with a large part of the estate being in key water catchments and on river flats in their upper reaches.

- what would TWS position be regarding a pulp mill (with a JVP) using only plantation wood.

Henning’s questions seemed to accept the strong possibility of Johnson’s claims about the WS position on plantations being true. 

He wrote in one question “how does the TWS integrate its support for the plantation estate…” which insinuated a TWS acceptance of the present plantation regime without recognising that Gemma had recognised ‘the major environmental, social and economic impacts’ of plantations [as we know them today] and had stated that their current plantation management techniques were unacceptable and need improvements. 

Throughout the day the Johnson/Bolan/Henning witchhunt continued. 

Rick Pilkington wrote of being accused of being Eric Johnson, and denied it.  Said he now felt intimidated and cowed even as he posted his comment to TT. 

Brenda Rosser however, joined the attacks on the TWS for what she claimed was its “unacceptable support for the monoculture tree plantation industry”, for its failure to have called for a reduction in the use of paper products and for not having broached the subject of land ownership associated with the timber and woodchip industry.  But just how much material did she expect to be squeezed onto the back of a postcard? 

Bob McMahon had started the hue and cry, by killing the leaflet deliveries.  Two days later, he had canvassed the issues at the fortnightly TAP meeting and then a day later in real time, the matter became public when the anonymous “Eric Johnson” attacked the TWS on Tas Times.  Who was Eric Johnson?  My guess was that it is probably a regular TT user, someone wishing to do damage to the TWS, unable to do it under their own name, which is probably well known, and probably planned and executed in concert with another TT contributor. 

Bibliography of TT articles:

Sat 29 Aug: 9:05 am.  TasTimes article /Eric B. Johnston

“ Wilderness Society ‘Welcomed to the Real World’ ”

HERE

Mon 31 Aug 1:22 pm.  Comment on Wilderness Society “Welcomed to the Real World’ ”

Gemma Tillack [iv],  commenting on behalf of the TWS

This comment was given its own headline in TT which was linked back to the original article by whomever it was that was pretending to be called Johnson.  The headline was: “Eric Johnson, pulp mills, plantations: What the Wildos say ...”, view it at: HERE

Thur 3 Sept 7:14 am.  “Opening a new front in the neverending Tasmanian war ” /NEIL SMITH
Thur 3 Sept 7:30 am.  “TAP:  Where we stand” [vi]  /BOB McMAHON
HERE

Fri 4 Sept 3:42pm Wilderness Society: Where we stand /Paul Oosting

HERE

Mon 7 Sept 6:00am The slip shift /Mike Bolan

HERE

Mon 21 Sept 3:28am “The return of Eric B.Johnson” /Eric B.Johnson

Mon 21 Sept 5:30am Brand aid needed /Mike Bolan

HERE

Mike Bolan

Mon 19 Oct 5:33am “Totally Against Plantations: Who’s misleading who?” /L.Richards

This article is in response to the Wilderness Society (WilSoc) article Where We Stand here:

Tue 20 Oct 12:55 am “Special apology edition” /Dave Groves
Satirical:  ‘Trap into an ugly Tasmania’ spokesperson apologises…

Mon 26 Oct 1:17 am “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Plantations” /?

/Climate Connections/Stop the Blob:  A blog to amplify the voices of Climate Justice

Thur 29 Oct 3:38 am “Slip shift 2” /Mike Bolan

proposes “a simple challenge to TWS to use their influence with government to ...”

Tasmanian Wilderness Society views:

Paul Oosting had attempted to explain the TWS position to the Eric Johnson cohort, in a TT article entitled “Wilderness Society: Where we stand”, but had been met with instant further opposition from Mike Bolan and others.  Mike Bolan had tersely put four ‘questions’ to Oosting, which in the context, had seemed to be accusations.Here is how Paul Oosting replied to Mike Bolan’s charges in an email which up till now, has not appeared on TT.  Paul answers him here:

“Firstly, let’s be clear. TWS does not support any further expansion in the plantation estate, is opposed to current management practices such as aerial spraying, monoculture etc and wants to see these issues addressed systematically (including through FSC). We support the restoration and removal of some plantations however we haven’t done the full analysis (as has anyone) on which plantations, over what time period and how. That work needs to be done.

Water and carbon are major issues that have previously not been properly considered by governments in plantation or forestry policy. It is clear from the science that native forests are best for carbon storage, and plantations for wood and fibre production. Likewise issues with water.

MIS needs to be scrapped. PAL likewise. As does Gunns’ pulp mill proposal and everything associated with it i.e. PMAA, wood supply deal, Fed Approval etc.

TWS wouldn’t support any project that wasn’t assessed to community standards.

Also, it is important to be clear that TWS has always, since the organisations inception, put forward policies, visions and alternative industry plans. A major piece of work was launched in 2004 called Protecting Forests, Growing Jobs. I have attached it here and would encourage people that haven’t already to read it. The report is out of date now but it will give you a sense of some of the work we do. We certainly aren’t doing a deal as some suggest or infilitrated by the A-Team, which I should point out shows a misunderstanding of that episode as like what has happened with TAP meetings that was simply the industry spying.

In regards to specific issues Mike Bolan raised on TT I’ve been asked to respond to I have bolded his questions below and provided a brief response. However, I do want to acknowledge this has been a learning experience for us and we will seek to substantially improve our communications in the future as like you we do not support the forest industry, plantation or native, as it is now but do want to do something about changing the industry.

Does TWS believe that members of the public should ask their politicians to support a ‘jobs rich 100% plantation industry’?

- that isn’t what the brochure says. It reads: Support a jobs-rich, 100% plantation-based forestry industry and the protection of Tasmania’s native forests.

So the response to this includes, dropping the current mill proposal, protecting forests (which we believe has job creation opportunities) and focusing the forest industry only on existing plantations, with both changed management and restoration of native forests and farm land in some areas.

Does TWS believe that plantations will ‘secure a safe climate’?

- Again this is a misrepresentation. The brochure says:

We could secure a safe climate and dramatically increase jobs in managing our forests as permanent carbon stores, expanding our tourism and renewable energy industries, and by supporting forestry workers working in a plantation-based wood-and-paper-product industry.

So the ‘secure a safe climate’ part here relates to native forest protection and there is very solid science on that being a major thing we need to do to address climate change (it accounts for about 30% of the problem

Does TWS believe that plantations will ‘drastically increase jobs’? 

- I can’t find anywhere that we have said this. But it may relate to the statement above which is obviously not simply about plantations but includes renewable energy, tourism, forest carbon etc. That is again Mike’s statement not ours. What we think can increase jobs is an outcome that deliver forest protection (and subsequent jobs), expansion of alternative, clean green industries and a management of the plantations for highest value use. Whilst out of date you will see from Protecting Forests, Growing Jobs that a pulp mill is not a high priority as it isn’t the highest value adding, job creating and still has others impacts but comparing apples with apples has been a powerful way of demonstrating just how bad Gunns’ pulp mill is, something we have been doing for the whole campaign.”

Stannus’ Conclusion

It is hard not to conclude that the anonymous correspondents Eric Johnson and the more recent L. Richards, have been part of an orchestrated campaign to vilify the TWS and to misrepresent its actual position on plantations in Tasmania.  We have seen a new McCarthyism brought to the pages of Tas Times and sadly, only a few correspondents have attempted an even-handed approach. (e.g. Rick Pilkington and Neil Smith)  Many were quick to gullible judgement, based, not on evidence and enquiry, but on assertion. 

Here is an opportunity for Mike Bolan to tell us whether others have been involved with him in his anti-TWS campaign, and whether he knows the identity of Eric Johnson..  He can also tell us the identity of his supposed source from within the Wilderness society.

Here is an opportunity for Mike Bolan to show us the correspondence that he had with that “senior TWS staffer on the mainland”.  Better still Mike, tell us who it is.  Then we’ll be able to see for ourselves what they really said, without the distortions of selective quotations,  without the phrases lifted from the context of their accompanying text and being made to appear different to their original meaning. 

TWS in summary:

- does not support any further expansion in the plantation estate,

- is opposed to current management practices such as aerial spraying, monoculture etc

- wants to see these issues addressed systematically (including through FSC).

- supports the restoration and removal of some plantations

- says water and carbon are major issues that have not been properly considered by governments in plantation or forestry policy.

- believes MIS, PAL, Gunns’ pulp mill proposal and everything associated with it i.e. PMAA, wood supply deal, Fed Approval etc.  need to be scrapped.

- wouldn’t support any project that wasn’t assessed to community standards.

- has always put forward policies, visions and alternative industry plans.

- has not and is not doing a deal and is not ‘infiltrated by the A-Team’.