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Tasmania 2007-2011:  Undermining Democracy

“As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression.  In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged.  And it is in such a twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.” (William O. Douglas, Judge US Supreme Court 1939-1975).

Nobody should doubt the significance of the corrupted process which gave birth to the Tasmanian Pulp Mill Assessment Act, 2007.  It was a process which set a new precedent about how legislation could be planned and written and passed into law within the Tasmanian parliamentary system.  It is a precedent, which having taken place, has undermined the customary processes which applied to the ways that law can be made in Tasmania.
 

Once a precedent such as this has occurred, it changes customary processes for law-making for the future, unless it can be overturned.  In brief, the precedent established in 2007 was that the Tasmanian parliament acted as the agent of a private company, in the service of the corporate interests of that company.  There is no doubt at all that a majority of politicians in both chambers of the Tasmanian parliament, the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council, allowed the parliament to be transformed in this way.  Nor is there any doubt that Tasmanian politicians in mid-2007 worked diligently, proudly and frantically to ensure that the timetable for passage of the legislation, as stated quite clearly and openly by the proponent for the Tamar Valley pulp mill, would be met.

Nor is there any doubt that when it was later revealed that the reasons for politicians working so assiduously to meet Gunns’ stated timetable were in fact not true, none of those politicians saw that as worthy of a single thought.  It was not even considered an aberration by these legislators that what they had done in haste to meet the demands of a private corporation, turned out to be untrue.  No consideration was ever given to how it could be possible for them to be used, manipulated and deceived in that way.  Quite the opposite.  It rendered them even more feeble in their roles as “representatives” of people who had elected them to parliament.

But more importantly, the precedent was now in place.  The architects of the legislation and those who voted for it now formed a majority bloc in parliament committed to defend the indefensible, committed to defend the way the parliament had been abused, committed to “normalise”, in their own grotesque way, what had taken place.

What followed between 2007 to 2010 was an elaboration of this commitment, which further undermined the fragile fabric of democratic processes in Tasmania.  The examples of this are many and frequent, the most obvious being the way that Gunns could say periodically, every few months since the passage of the PMAA, that negotiations for funding or for a joint venture partner were proceeding satisfactorily, without any question being asked by politicians who voted for the PMAA about this on-going behaviour.

Other examples of this Uriah Heep-like behaviour from our elected representatives, further complicating their shabbiness, were attempts to give public money to Gunns for their pipelines, attempts to use existing land use regulations to circumvent opposition by private landowners to the pipeline passing through their property, attempts to convince the public the mill was “world’s best practice”, attempts to hide the commercial relationships between Gunns and Forestry Tasmania and attempts to hide the way that senior government ministers went on overseas trips on behalf of Gunns’  interests.

By 2010 “commercial in confidence” as it applied to the government-Gunns relationship was pretty much the only growth industry in Tasmania.  The gross behaviour of the majority of Tasmanian politicians between 2007 and 2010 was inextricably linked with their subservience to Gunns’ interests.  It meant that none of them were actually willing to look at what is happening to rural Tasmania.  None of them are actually able to look at what clearfelling means for Tasmania’s long term future, or what monocultural plantations will mean.  These politicians are trapped in the hollowness of their lack of vision and lack of courage.

But again, more significantly, during 2010 they extended the nasty precedent that they had made in 2007.  The precedent established in 2007 remains firmly intact, and during the early months of 2010 when it looked likely that Gunns’ share price would obliterate the company, the lateral thinkers in the new world of setting precedents about law-making in Tasmania decided to set up the now infamous forestry roundtable.  No more “lines in the sand”, just another new form of political decision-making via narrowly-based special interest groups.

Thus the cold useless carcass of the pulp mill was jump-started once more, but this time the political decisions were totally outside the parliament altogether.  The secrecy, the closed-door deals, the same players in different roles, were replicating 2007 all over again.  Just as in 2007 there was to be no public involvement, but public exclusion.  Just as in 2007 the whole scenario was to get the pulp mill up and running.  Just as in 2007 all sorts of “independent” facilitators-assessors were brought in to give Gunns as much help as possible.

But most important of all, just as in 2007 so in 2011, here and now, there is the absence of due process, and there is the manipulation and the deceit.  In 2007 the PMAA had section 11, an unjust section in an unjust law, passed by a corrupted process.  In 2011 the Kelty “brokerage” is about a “social licence” with no basis whatsoever in public consent.  In 2007 Gunns said they needed the legislation by a certain date, otherwise they would be wasting millions of dollars.  In 2011 we have a moratorium-deadline which isn’t.  In 2007 we had the RPDC replaced by an “independent assessment” which removed “critically non-compliant” from the agenda.  In 2010 and 2011 we have Gunns’ saying it is either native forest woodchipping or the pulp mill, their position echoed by Giddings and Kelty as the trade-off. 

What we are now seeing in Tasmania is a further extension of what began in 2007.  It is a further extension of what was dangerously normalised by the events of 2007, which placed secrecy, commercial in confidence, deliberate deception and the elimination of due process in law-making at the centre of parliamentary practice.  What we are seeing now is a further tearing at the fragile fabric of proper legislative practices and democratic governance.

In Tasmania now there is no political transparency.  Instead there is duplicity and deceit.  Tasmanians are living in the half-light where few politicians can be trusted.  “And it is in such a twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”

Peter Henning  

And,

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Protesters stop operations in High Conservation Value Forestry logging coupes

A group of protesters today walked into a working Forestry Tasmania logging coupe which is in controversial High Conservation Value forest. One protester is in a tree-sit high off the ground which is attached to logging machinery. The group has stopped work in the entire coupes for the day.


The action is in direct response to Mr Bill Kelty’s statement that environmental NGOs (ENGOs) must strike a deal on the Gunns’ Tamar Valley pulp mill, or miss out on the permanent protection of 565,000 hectares of native forests.

“This proposed compromise is completely unacceptable and Tasmania should not be forced to make this decision between forests or a pulp mill. The current proposal for a pulp mill for the Tamar Valley wasn’t included in the original statement of principles. Community Opposing the Destruction of the Environment will never agree to this trade-off.” Dr Searle said.

“Forests are still falling and need immediate protection, but not at the expense of a pulp mill. Having this pulp mill in Tasmania would be an environmental disaster.”

“The inclusion of the term ‘a pulp mill’ in the Statement of Principles has now been used to mean ‘the pulp mill’. We were suspicious of this from the beginning, but it is devastating to hear Bill Kelty bring it out in the open. Now it is the reality that the two are linked, but this should never be the case. They are two completely separate issues.” Dr Searle said.

Despite the ongoing negotiations, high conservation value forests are still falling right across the state - in the North as well as in the South.

There are 20 protesters, including one in a tree sit. Footage will be supplied, for interviews call Lisa Searle on 0467232665.

There will be a press conference at 12:00 in Princes Square.

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Protesters continue to stop operations in High Conservation Value Forestry logging coupes

Protestors continue to stop work in controversial ‘High Conservation Value’ forests 50kms east of Launceston, the protestors will remain in the coupe. Footage of Eastern Quolls has been recorded some 20m from the new road being pushed in by Forestry Tasmania. 


The action is in direct response to Mr Bill Kelty’s statement that environmental NGOs (ENGOs) must strike a deal on the Gunns’ Tamar Valley pulp mill, or miss out on the permanent protection of 565,000 hectares of native forests.

“This proposed compromise is completely unacceptable and Tasmania should not be forced to make this decision between forests or a pulp mill. The current proposal for a pulp mill for the Tamar Valley wasn’t included in the original statement of principles. Community Opposing the Destruction of the Environment will never agree to this trade-off.” Dr Searle said.

“Forests are still falling and need immediate protection, but not at the expense of a pulp mill. Having this pulp mill in Tasmania would be an environmental disaster.”

“The inclusion of the term ‘a pulp mill’ in the Statement of Principles has now been used to mean ‘the pulp mill’. We were suspicious of this from the beginning, but it is devastating to hear Bill Kelty bring it out in the open. Now it is the reality that the two are linked, but this should never be the case. They are two completely separate issues.” Dr Searle said.

Despite the ongoing negotiations, high conservation value forests are still falling right across the state - in the North as well as in the South.

There are 20 protesters, including one in a tree sit. Protesters are currently planning to remain on the site.

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Lara’s Cake Recipe, HERE

• Mercury: Bingley takes aim at pulp mill, HERE