DEMOCRACY ISN’T just parliament or how our elected representatives behave. It is a web of trusts, more sacred than we realise, more fragile than we know. These trusts are informal, unwritten but necessary. At their heart are three ideas: truth, ethics and freedom. Of these, the most necessary is truth. Without it ethics are too easily abandoned , and freedom locked away.
I am a journalist. Tonight I want to talk briefly about bearing witness to Public Truth. Tonight I want to tell you how I believe Truth has been trampled in the Public Sphere of Tasmania, why it matters and how we might begin to restore it to its rightful place.
Public Truth matters to me, because in the name of the lies we now live under in Tasmania, I saw my temple ransacked.
I was conceived at Marrawah 56 years ago on a soldier-settler bush block hacked from the wilds of that once wild land; my father a four-year-veteran of Hitler’s stalags; my mother the daughter of a pioneer who forged a living from the foothills of the Western Tiers at Western Creek. I was raised at Natone at the back of Burnie on 101 acres of dairying country cleaved from similar untamed territory, one bush giant on the neighbour’s property, white and dead, but still rearing 80m into the air, bearing stark witness to what once had been. It was next to the lagoon … which filled with water every winter, a glistening blue wonder on which the black swans came to raise their young. Further on was the Chasm Creek which meandered through a mass of undergrowth and from which we occasionally caught blackfish and freshwater crayfish. Over the Chasm was the Bush Paddock, backing on to the great Tassie bush … this bush owned or granted to the Burnie Pulp but only selectively logged by that tough generation of our forebears, who I think must have paused and wondered at the wonderland they had stumbled upon.
I know my father did. For I walked with him many times along the Chasm Creek banks and into the Bush Paddock. I recall his wonder at the birdlife; I think birds always had particular significance for POWs who had spent so much time behind barbed wire.
And I remember his deep, deep sadness when the bush was silent; silenced by the carrots that were occasionally laid to kill the rabbits. I can’t recall whether it was strychnine or 1080. I simply recall his downcast sadness as the music of the bush was silenced by the silent spring of poisoning.
Such is my history, my heritage. Today, it is no longer. Industrial farming and industrial forestry have swept it all away.
And this is the Public legacy of the way things are done in Tasmania. It is particularly the legacy of Paul Lennon.
Paul Lennon, it appears, does not allow the magic of the wild to touch his soul. He takes up his duties in the Public Sphere, as our Premier, by travelling from his Georgian pile at Broadmarsh renovated by a company of his mate John Gay at a cost of god knows what, cacooned in government limo luxury, to wallow in the hot tub of millionaire mates and stitch up behind-closed door deals … whether it be with Betfair-PBL, Gunns, or Federal Hotels.
How has this come to be?
How is it that this Premier has apparently been able to ride roughshod over transparency and due process. There are many reasons. I can only legitimately talk about journalism … and I have watched the Fourth Estate take a bit of a battering.
I have seen my own profession too often gutted by the blandishments of the powerful state apparatus. Senior journalists with years of political history and experience bought to work for the state; to spin its lies; to duchess some working journos, to banish and admonish others; to keep some on the exclusive-leak drip feed; to berate and isolate those who don’t play the game.
I have witnessed suppression by omission. I have observed professional weariness, downcast resignation as stories of state ineptitude and blatant incompetence are downgraded by media gatekeepers, some in the misguided belief in balance rather than fairness and Public Truth; some with their eyes firmly on government contracts and corporate advertising revenue. I have watched fewer resources poured into news gathering and analysis; and a commensurate growing dominance of superficiality and celebrity; bread and circuses.
I don’t wish to overstate the case ... who could not praise Simon Bevilacqua, Matt Denholm and Sue Neales, Joc Nettlefold, Roison McCann, Chris Johnson and the working journos who day in day out try to extract blood from the stonewall of Paul Lennon’s government?
But they are comparatively few. The Government Media Office and its embedded media professionals in state departments are many. And it is practised in the art of truth concealment and avoidance.
There is no better example of this strategy than the Premier himself. It is instructive to listen to his pathological evasiveness when confronted by difficult questions. And there was no better example of that than when I questioned him on ABC Local Radio a couple of years ago about his house renovations.
He replied: “Good morning Lindsay, I wish you had asked me these questions before you started raising them on your dubious website. Look, I just hope at the end of the day, after this election is over, that my family can have some of its privacy back. I do not think it unreasonable for me to be asking for that to occur’’.
This is the man who pleaded for privacy for his family even as he stitched up a deal for his family pile to be splashed all over PBL’s Women’s Weekly as part of a Soft-Paulie image spin ... it didn’t happen thank god, the heat got too much.
Evade, obfuscate, plead pathetic family-attack strategy. Don’t ever answer the question directly.
And he hasn’t. Two years after legitimate questions were asked of those renovations the questions remain: Is there not an issue relating to appropriateness and transparency in using a Gunns company to renovate your historic home? What documented proof can be produced showing that the project was, as it would and must be and we have no reason to believe has not been, properly costed and paid for.
I wrote then: It can only be in Premier Lennon’s interests to place a clear and detailed statement of the facts and costs before the Tasmanian people.
He never did; he never has.
This evade and spin and attack strategy may be summarised under five points: 1. Deny the issue oxygen; 2. Threaten; 3. Try to lock the dissenter/questioner into confidentiality; 4. Ostracise, withdrew contracts and contacts; 5. Start a vicious rumour, they’ve lost the plot, they’re drinking too much;
And my favourite: it’s all a Green front; they’re just a bunch of greenies.
In the Spring 1991 edition of Leatherwood magazine in a piece titled Postcards from Tasmania journalist Bruce Montgomery wrote about the Tasmanian light. Bruce was once the Tasmanian correspondent for The Australian who left that esteemed position to work as a journo with the Forest and Forest Industry Council, a very well paid job; believing he “could make a difference”, but then coming to the conclusion that you can’t change dinosaurs.
This is what Bruce said in 1991 about the Tasmanian light: “That is what is extraordinary about Tasmania. It’s the quality and colour of the light. If you have grown up with it, you may not be aware of it. You may never have noticed. The newcomer cannot help but be aware of it. The light sets Tasmania apart. On a clear day, especially in spring or the autumn, there is a distinct blueness to the light.
…. It is the lack of haze, the intensity and glare of the unfiltered sun which gives the Tasmanian landscape its striking sharpness, a seemingly infinite depth of field.”
What does Bruce Montgomery see now when he looks out his window to gaze on the Tasmanian autumn.
A tobacco stained scar. A terrible haze, a haze which is a physical manifestation of:
And More Lies,
And More Lies.
Never ever believe that Truth does not matter.
Never ever believe that one person speaking the Truth will not be heard. It is what has changed the world for the better, again, and again, and again.
Never ever allow yourself to be silenced.
Speech given at Democracy PUBLIC MEETING, Tuesday, April 29, 7pm, Tailrace, Launceston. Around 700 audience.
There is no better example of this strategy than the Premier himself. It is instructive to listen to his pathological evasiveness when confronted by difficult questions.