Image for This Soap Opera: The Abusive Minority of the Powerful

I inherited my affection for trashy magazines and TV soap operas from my paternal grandmother.  The women in my mother’s family had no time for such trivialities, but most school holidays I would spend time with Beryl. 

We would walk together to the local shops, buy a stack of magazines and chocolate, and spend several blissful days reading the trash, eating the chocolate, and watching soaps on the box.  A lifelong love affair was born in those carefree childhood days.  Today, I like to think I have a modestly competent grasp on the subtle nuances of tantalising trash, both fictional and ‘true’.

This may be why the ‘forestry wars’ in Tasmania are so compelling to me – they are like the proverbial train wreck.  You don’t want to look, but you just have to.  They are like being confronted, on a daily basis, with a hairy bum crack – disturbing, and sometimes disgusting, but strangely hypnotic.  They are classic soap opera.

As is typical of the genre, you need a flow chart, drawn on a large blank space, if you want to work out who’s in bed with who, who’s screwing who, and who knows about it.  We know that Nick and Cassy are partaking of the horizontal dance, when they have time, but what is everyone else doing?

Bryan Green, and his slightly more palatable hand puppet, Miss Lara, are busily searching for the plot they lost several weeks ago.  Things just aren’t the same when the people you’ve been in bed with for years chuck a tanty, and do the dirty on you behind your back.  The ungrateful bastards.  After everything you did for them, they sell you out to someone with more ready cash.  When you think of all the creative ‘commercial-in-confidence’ stonewalling you came up with to protect their business, you can’t help but get really shitty.  And, the silly puppet just won’t stop yapping – you might need to get your hand further up, and give her a really good, eye-popping squeeze.

The Greens and some (not all) environmental groups are running around in ever-diminishing circles, chasing a resolution to the long running saga of the Statement of Principles process.  At this point, I would challenge any one of the individuals involved in this nonsense to explain, in plain English, exactly what has been achieved - apart from two amateurish, murky documents, and a bit of press space for Bill Kelty, and the two Tasmanian ‘rabbits in the spotlight’ environmental spokespeople, Mr Phill Pullinger, and Mr Vica Bayley.
We all know that when the ‘secret’ storyline in a TV soap gets strung out for too long, fans get bored, and restless.  That’s happening now with the Statement of Principles.  If the ‘signatories’ don’t get some sort of show on the road soon, the whole thing will fade into obscurity.

Meanwhile, back in Parliament House, the Forestry twins, Hans and Bob, are being relentlessly quizzed by politician/midwife/bad-arse interrogator, Ms Ruth ‘where’s my off switch’ Forrest.  Forestry Tasmania is in deep shit, and Bob blames the greenie scourge, and FT’s former besties, Gunns Ltd.  ‘Our largest customer, Gunns, was driving down the road in their car and some of the more extreme environmental groups shot out their tyres, and they ran over the rest of our customers, and then us’, he declared, colourfully.

Hans is bailing out, leaving Bob to clean up the crap.  Unfortunately, Ms Forrest wants to trawl through it all, scrape up the interesting bits, and maybe let the rest of us know what’s going on.  Go, Ruth!  More power to you.  Unfortunately, the really juicy, ‘private’ bits have to stay shrouded in secrecy.  Bob and Hans were mightily pissed that some of their secrets previously made it into the public arena – ‘No-one told us evidence that was commercially damaging to us, had been released.  We suffered quite severe damage, in my view.  We picked it up on Tasmanian Times, I think, when it was published there’, lamented Bob.

The public might like to know who FT’s customers are, how much money they are owed, and by whom, how much they sell the trees for, who buys the trees, how much they pay logging and haulage contractors, and a whole heap of other stuff, but tough shit.  FT isn’t telling, at least not yet – maybe all will be revealed in the cliff-hanger season finale.

And, along with all the classic plot devices, our saga even features its very own soapy-style ‘mystery man’ – former tree-sitting champion, TWS boss, and Gunns 20 defendant, Mr Alec Marr, now re-appearing, after months of shadowy activity, as a New Age chip mill manager. 

Who saw that coming?

This show has it all.  Seasoned performers, political ingénues, clumsy young activists, and a wily old campaigner, cashed up environmentalists, corporate executives intent on personal survival, a crusading pollie, angry workers, inscrutable Asian ‘business partners’, possibly some sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, loads of spin, and some award-worthy creative accounting.

You can look at it from a distance and be appropriately shocked, and/or amused.  But if you get up close, you see that it’s just a bunch of ordinary people being manipulated by an abusive minority of the powerful. 

At the timber workers’ rally on Tuesday, a crowd of men, women and children listened to their ‘leaders’ speak, eager for some guidance and reassurance.  I spoke briefly with a CFMEU representative standing in the crowd.  He was hopeful that something could be done to end the ‘forest wars’ in Tasmania – not aggressive, but hopeful.  But, his balanced approach was not shared by others in the crowd.  A man – I was told it was Peter McGlone - walked by and was accused of being responsible for the plight of forest workers.  ‘Get out of here’, two crowd members shouted.  ‘This is all your fault’.

There’s a lot of blame going on – from both sides of this war – and the current process of reconciliation is doing nothing to change the status quo.  There may be a way out of this acrimonious struggle, but it certainly won’t happen with a cohort of secretive, self-serving groups and individuals talking aimlessly amongst themselves, perpetuating the inertia.  You could make any number of observations about power, and its corrupting influence – they are plainly true.  But, there must be some who can rise above it.

Who are they, and would they please show themselves?