IT IS NOT known, at least by the people of Tasmania, how many secret deals have been made to transfer public money to Gunns.

The cynically contrived release of a secret “sovereign risk” agreement made four months ago between Gunns, Forestry Tasmania and the Lennon government (in reality an internal arrangement between three intertwined parts of one entity) is simply designed to minimize any political fallout that would have occurred if the deal was exposed at another time, probably through the budget estimates process.

There is little doubt that members of the government have thought long and hard about how they could conceal the arrangement, and have spent four months without arriving at a way of doing so.  In that sense processes such as budget estimates are a real nuisance to them, in much the same way as parliamentary question time is, or the length of time given to debate and scrutiny of legislation is.

As with all parliamentary procedures and processes that have been developed over time to ensure and to preserve hard-won democratic practices and good governance, the Lennon government sees them as purely “formal” obstacles that get in the way, forms they have been unable to completely dispense with, but which they habitually attempt to weaken and undermine, where they cannot remove. 

The success of the current government in limiting, bypassing and weakening the democratic fabric of governance is clear enough, as I have argued Here.  One consequence of this dubious achievement is that it is not known, at least by the people of Tasmania, how many secret deals have been made to transfer public money to benefit corporate interests.

There is now no doubt that ways and means of diverting millions of dollars to fund Gunns’ pipelines have been exercising the minds and energies of a diverse collection of ALP politicians and bureaucrats for some time.  We just don’t know when all that started, or to put it another way, how long it was kept hidden before Lennon was asked about it by journalist Sue Neales. 

The leader of the totally ineffective Liberal Party, Will Hodgman, was apparently surprised to learn that Gunns might not be paying for their pipelines.  That being the case, it is even more surprising, is it not, that the Liberal Party has shown no interest in investigating when this decision was made?  The obvious question in relation to this is whether the decision was made before the passage of the Pulp Mill Assessment Act (PMAA), but was hidden from view.

If hidden from view, and without anybody in the Liberal Party or those who supported the legislation in the Legislative Council having the wit or the willingness to ask the necessary questions, the issue was not raised.  But it should have been.

Would all those MLCs who supported the PMAA have been so willing to do so if they had known or suspected that the public could end up paying for Gunns’ pipeline infrastructure?

So the question remains:  when was a decision made for public funds, at least $60 million, but probably closer to $200 million, to pay for Gunns’ pipelines?

The mere idea that taxpayers’ money could even be considered to be used in this way is a gross dereliction of responsible government, made more appalling when it be considered that many people are being denied access to adequate health care in Tasmania.

It is precisely within this context, one of the profound contempt the Lennon government has for the well-being of Tasmanian people, and the future health of their communities, that the tripartite “sovereign risk” agreement should be seen and understood.

That contempt was nowhere more apparent than in Section 11 of the PMAA, which poses a very apt contrast to the sovereign risk agreement.  Section 11 stipulates very thoroughly that no person may appeal about “any action, decision, process, matter or thing relating to the assessment and/or approval of the pulp mill project”.

The PMAA contained no provisions for any baseline studies on possible adverse impacts, and it totally excluded any consideration of social, economic and environmental costs.  As the statute bar makes clear, the government and the opposition and a majority of MLCs were concerned to ensure that there were legal barriers to prevent consideration of any such risk assessments.

Instead of adequately ensuring that people, communities and businesses were protected from adverse impacts of the pulp mill, the PMAA was deliberately designed to ensure that they were not.  The intent of the legislation was to prevent compensation for loss.

If people of the Tamar valley, of Launceston, of the north east, of Lilydale, of the Meander valley or elsewhere in Tasmania, need any further evidence of their inconsequential place in the scheme of things, they need only to heed the advice of the now disgraced former Deputy Premier Steve Kons, who suggested at the time he was preparing to vote for Section 11 of the PMAA that businesses affected adversely by pulp mill pollution had the avenue of pursuing civil action. 

Read more of Peter Henning Here

Peter Henning Sovereign Risk versus Section 11 of the Pulp Mill Assessment Act

That contempt was nowhere more apparent than in Section 11 of the PMAA, which poses a very apt contrast to the sovereign risk agreement.  Section 11 stipulates very thoroughly that no person may appeal about “any action, decision, process, matter or thing relating to the assessment and/or approval of the pulp mill project”.