Rich list members Jan Cameron and Graeme Wood today find themselves in the middle of the biggest story in Tasmania after the pair yesterday announced they had paid $10 million to buy the Triabunna native forest woodchip export mill on Tasmania’s east coast from timber giant Gunns.
The deal sparked controversy in the Apple Isle because Cameron and Wood, both passionate environmentalists, plan to turn the mill into an eco resort in about five years time. The Tasmanian forest industry is up arms about the deal, believing it threatens the future of native logging and the state’s timber industry.
The other company in the running for the mill, local firm Aprin, is also furious, saying it was willing to pay $16 million. Gunns said Aprin could not get the deal done according to its deadline.
Wood and Cameron are offering to keep the mill running to assist with a period of transition for local workers but they are firm on their reason for buying it. “We don’t want to see people thrown out of work but we also probably see more clearly the need for a restructuring in the forest industries generally and for people to open their minds about new ways of making a living in that part of Tasmania,” Wood told The Australian yesterday.
It’s been a big week for Wood, who as Crikey reported emerged as the backer of a new journalism venture called The Global Mail, led by former ABC luminary Monica Attard. Wood will apparently invest $2-3 million a year to run the site, saying he believes “a strong independent media underpins democracy”.
Wood, who was valued at $337 million on the BRW Rich 200 in May, and Cameron, whose fortune is estimated at $295 million, appear determined to spend a great deal of their wealth supporting the many causes about which they are passionate. Those interests include politics — with Wood the Greens’ biggest donor and Cameron supporting the ALP. Wood has donated heavily to the University of Queensland, Cameron supports animal rights and both are heavily into environmental causes.
There are plenty of rich people who passionately support causes but Wood and Cameron lead a growing band who are prepared to take direct action by buying assets and funding businesses, influencing politics and speaking out in a manner closer to activism than to traditional philanthropy. Former rich list member Brian Sherman, whose family runs the Voiceless animal rights charity, could be seen as another member of the group of wealthy activists.
Wood and Cameron’s form of direct action — to borrow a line from a man neither would agree with, Tony Abbott — is potentially controversial (as they are finding out with the timber mill purchase) and very expensive.
Starting a new journalism website without a revenue model is a great way to burn through some serious cash very quickly, although surely Wood will one day want The Global Mail to be self-sustaining. Presumably it will also take millions to turn the Triabunna mill into a resort and millions more to make it a success.
But Wood has the money, the time and the passion to support his causes. As he told me back in 2008, he does not intend to take his fortune to the grave or leave vast amounts to his children: “I’ve seen it too many times — kids given a lump of money they can’t handle and it’s a disaster.”