It is understandable that people are confused about the community forums which have been circulating around the state in the past couple of years. It would appear that a personal report is in keeping with the hope for a more open and democratic system. The goal of the forums, we are led to understand, is to listen to what pleased, satisfied and sometimes outraged citizens have to say about what is happening in their region of the state. State wide questions are also encouraged.
This past Sunday a forum was held at Kings Meadows High School, a most impressive venue and held in the school auditorium, another impressive setting.
My ministerial target was David O’Byrne, Minister for Infrastructure and Myriad Problems. I should say here that David is a friend whose family I have known for a long time so it was simple to have an open conversation with him. However, that does not mean I lowered my firepower nor reduced the calibre of my carbine. David was there to listen. I was there to speak. My presentation would have to be without fear or favour.
Hopefully, I did not sound too much like a teacher. He was attended to by two of his minders, young, bright and articulate; but then, nowadays everyone is young except Peter Cundall who I always like to be around because then I am not the oldest person there! I am sure they do not care to be referred to as ‘minders’ but that has become the modern idiom ... and they are. That is their job, to give good information which is well researched.
I explained that a basic problem that has developed in the Tamar Valley is the dilemma of ‘anomie’ or, as I use the word in this context, ‘powerlessness’ or ‘instability’. When a person becomes filled with anomie or feels powerless, they can become unpredictable and even dangerous. When a community becomes anomic, the social fabric of the community can become unpredictable.
It would seem fair that the Tamar Valley community is split somewhere between 50/50 as anti-pulp mill and pro-pulp mill. There seems to be no indication that the percentage will change very much in the near future. We are caught on the petard of mutual antagonism to the point of enmity. This is a dangerous place on which to dwell because the predictability of daily life is no longer the safe guarantee we have come to expect in the Valley. A lumbering loaded logging truck driving two feet from a car with a bumper sticker which shouts out in red and black, “No Pulp Mill”, certainly makes for uncertainty of tenure. Write this uncertainty across the Valley and you have the formula for ‘powerlessness’ or ‘anomie’…and perhaps ‘danger’.
The best example we have today of this powerlessness turning very ugly is in Egypt, Libya and other Arab nations who are now saying, ‘Liberty or death’. While the Tamar Valley is not in that situation yet, the point is made: powerlessness begets dangers.
I then proceeded to explain the Communication Continuum that has happened to Gunns Ltd. and is happening to both major political parties. Forty years ago when I moved into the Tamar Valley I asked someone where to go for some hardware needs. They said immediately, “Go to Gunns, you can do no better.” So I did and they were right. I would say that the strong, good feelings for Gunns by the general community, on a line of 0 to 100, was about 85%, almost unheard of for an old company of nearly 100 years. For over thirty years I was a faithful customer and they were a faithful company. Never mind that they sometimes shouted out jokingly, “Yankee Go Home”, we became faithful to each other. Then they proceeded to erode my trust and listen only to the sound of the cash register. Then they married the government in an unholy alliance of business, government and what appears to have become a cosy relationship with some unions and a restructuring of forestry components so they all appeared to be sleeping in the same down-lined nest. The next six years saw a downward spiral in the good feelings reflected in the Communication Continuum so that today, I would say Gunns good community standing has slipped to what I would judge, about 35%.
Here is the problem. Once an organization slips as badly as has Gunns, the possibility of them coming back into community favour is almost zero. They may come back a bit but NEVER to the high regard formerly held. An ongoing problem here is that the same principles hold for political parties, ANY political party. Lose trust and you lose your position. How many marriages collapse because of the loss of trust?
David listened carefully. His minders took notes…carefully. Where that information will go is not yet known.
As an example of the above I reached into a bit of personal history. In Wisconsin-Minnesota, my home grounds from the 1930’s to the 1950’s, a strong, good plumbing company which had a record of taking care of their workers and treated everyone as part of their family, decided to break the union in order to make their profits larger. For over 25 years there was a war between management and the workers. The motto developed, “Don’t Buy Kohler Products”. What had been a respected, even loved, company became a term of hatred and derision for thousands. Kohler lost their high place in the mind of the public. Today the company has rebounded to be an international player but the agonies they went through has taken them decades to overcome. Businesses and/or political parties who chose such a path do so at their own peril.
The construction of the Tamar Valley Pulp mill, which many economists say will not happen, will continue this community split for a generation and the possibility of the powerless of a population will not disappear.
Any foreign cartel or institution that is considering partnership with Gunns should be warned of the lessons of anomie becoming powerlessness becoming danger.
As would be expected of good Tasmanians, everyone shook hands all around, smiled and hopefully we all learned a bit from each other. But anomie and powerlessness and possible danger still looms.
• Tomorrow: Rokeby; You can tell the Premier
Come meet the
Join Premier Lara Giddings MP for a Morning Tea at the Rokeby Neighbourhood Centre:
Date: Friday 29th April 2011
Venue: Rokeby Neighbourhood Centre, 85 Tollard Drive, Rokeby
Time: 9.30am to 10.30am