Jim Bacon’s illness has shocked Tasmanians – but the way it has been exploited is even more shocking.

Jim Bacon has clearly been a competent and popular Premier of Tasmania – and no-one wishes cancer on anyone, operable or otherwise.

The reaction, however, to news of his illness, deserves a more cynical response. Politics has been virtually put on hold in Tasmania over the last week. Yes, it’s a small state and yes, the retirement of first the Treasurer and then the Premier for health reasons – genuine, distressing health reasons – is big news.

Big news – but not shocking news like an assassination. Without wishing to be harsh, the bloke’s not dead yet. On Tuesday, a British think thank, Civitas, released a report that said ostentatious displays of public mourning such as the outpouring of grief after the 1997 death of the Princess of Wales have become a “cheap emotional fix” replacing real emotion, according to a new report.

Civitas said people are kidding themselves in the way they display their sorrow. It says the British have shed their traditional emotional reserve to indulge in “recreational grief” for dead celebrities and crime victims, so as to feel better about themselves – what it called “grief lite”.

Why?

 “As an enjoyable event, much like going to a football match,” Civitas concluded.

Tasmanian politics stopped last week for pretty similar reasons – on the surface, at least. The leaks stopped and the stories stopped. The shenanigans didn’t.

The State Government made a spectacular backflip over Forestry Tasmania while all attention was on Bacon’s illness.

Infrastructure, Energy and Resources Minister Bryan Green announced the Freedom of Information Act and Forest Practices Board may be overhauled in efforts to improve the transparency of Tasmania’s forestry practices.

Forestry Tasmania – unbelievably – enjoys exemptions under the FOI Act.

 “This issue has been raised in the media,” Green said.

Four Corners, perchance?

“What I am doing is getting out and meeting and talking with as many people as I can to see for myself and be informed.”

Not a bad idea if a controversial body is generally regarded as being unaccountable. The timing was outrageous.

Liberal Leader Rene Hidding could only make a measured response.

“State Liberal Leader Rene Hidding said today that the new Forestry Minister Bryan Green had made a good start by agreeing to relax Freedom of Information (FOI) barriers on Forestry Tasmania,” he said in a release.

“Mr Hidding said that on the Four Corners program he had said that he saw no reason that Forestry Tasmania should have any FOI exemptions other than strictly commercial protection.“

“The way forward to heal the divisions in the forestry debate in Tasmania will be about maximum disclosure and accountability by all parties including political parties,” he said.

No doubt, however, there will be more on this when business returns to normal – and Green’s cynical timing will surely come back to haunt him. And how strong is that “may”? Good government deserves more.

Green wasn’t the only guilty party. Bacon himself was involved, with a soft profile on ABC’s Stateline on Friday night that still packed plenty of political punch. While it concentrated on his health, a teaser on the ABC News the night before was nothing but pure politics – an attack on Labor’s left for trying to propel Green into the Deputy Premier’s position, rather than Bacon’s own choice, David Llewellyn form the Right.

Bacon effectively stared the left down and dared them to defy him. A popular premier fighting for his life is in a powerful position. Bacon exploited that to the full. It looks as if the Left will buckle. That’s power politics for you.

Finally, Federal Environment Minister David Kemp wasn’t having any of it when he visited Tasmania on Friday. No premature period of mourning for him. He got stuck right into the Tasmanian Government and Industry Minister Steve Kons about regional Fed-State funded Natural Resource Management models.

Have a look at the transcript:

KEMP: I believe this model is the right model for Australia, because it can empower local communities and regions to address the environmental priorities that they know are the most important in their regions. The new model doesn’t replace Landcare, in fact it is very, very important that the new natural resource management groups, committees, integrate Landcare activities into their priority plans, because that Landcare movement, the Coastcare workers, the Bushcare and Waterwatch are all part of the social capital that this country has to address these environmental issues, along with land holders. And all these must be integrated together. Now, this is happening in different stages in different states, where some states are much more advanced than others in putting this model into effect.  It’s probably its most advanced in Victoria.  In New South Wales they’ve just moved to empower the local regional communities. Queensland is still getting its arrangements into place, and here in Tasmania we’re still at a fairly early stage.  There are reasons for that.  I’d like to see Tasmania progress more rapidly.

JOURNALIST: You launched a criticism last night on the nature of the partnership agreement, that basically Tasmania hasn’t come to the party as it’s agreed to funding wise.  What’s the hub of your concerns?

KEMP: Well, my concern is that these regional, natural resource management committees require state support.  They are essentially there to support a great many state services and state activities, and yet when you look at the resources that have been put into these committees, the Commonwealth government is the main source of the direct support that they’ve received to date.  In fact, the Commonwealth government put in well over two million dollars into these committees and into facilitators and the state government has put in about two hundred thousand dollars.

JOURNALIST: Minister, are you confident of those figures, given the level of transparency?

KEMP: Well, of course there are some state services that are provided as well, but there are clear commitments on the part of the state government in bilaterals to match Commonwealth funding.  The Commonwealth government now has available some twelve million dollars that it wants to put into the national action plan for Salinity and Water Quality in Tasmania. The Tasmanian government has so far made available one point eight million dollars of that twelve million.  Now, we’re into the fourth year.

JOURNALIST: So we’re talking about dollar for dollar here?

KEMP: Absolutely dollar for dollar.  The national action plan bilateral clearly states that the dollars will be matched by the Australian government on the one side and the state government on the other.  We’re now into the fourth year of the national action plan here in Tasmania, and we’ve had one point eight million dollars from the state government, while the Commonwealth government is prepared to invest twelve million dollars. Now, it would be a tragedy if Tasmania were to lose that money.

JOURNALIST: You’ve had conversations here with the minister, Steven Kons.  Have you progressed it?

KEMP: Well, I’ve talked to Steve Kons about this and I’ve said that I very much hope that in the budget coming up we will see clear commitment from the Tasmanian government to progress its own funding and make it clear what it’s going to put in over the next remaining years of the national action plan.  Because if Tasmania doesn’t do that, then there is a risk that that money will have to be diverted elsewhere in Australia, because we’re determined to repair the environment.

JOURNALIST: Is this a problem singularly relates to Tasmania?  Are there other states that are in similar situations?

KEMP: The only other state that is in a situation anything like this is Western Australia, where we haven’t got the full commitment as yet from the Western Australian government.  But all other governments in Australia have made those commitments, and they’re receiving the full money. There’s absolutely no reason why Tasmania should not be supporting its natural resource management committees.  These are not committees of the Australian government, yet you’d think that they were Australian government committees, because the vast bulk of the direct support we’re getting is from the Australian government.

JOURNALIST: In terms of another final question.  In terms of another partnership agreement, you’ve been critical in the past on the commitment from Tasmania to reach its vegetation clearance controls under the regional forest agreement.  Now, is there a problem with the relationship?  How do you describe the relationship between the federal and state governments?

KEMP: Well, we’re seeking to have a fully constructive partnership in that relationship; this won’t work without a partnership.  So I’m not making these comments in any partisan sense.  I’m really appealing to the Tasmanian government to fulfil its part of the bargain.  I don’t see any reason why it can’t do that.  It’s made this agreement.

David Kemp has experienced more than his fair share of personal tragedy. Here’s hoping he threw a bucket of water over Tasmanian’s recreation grief – and the cynics hiding their actions behind it.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected].

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