Did Mark Latham go too far down the Green garden path? Is John Howard’s tree-lopping love-fest with the CFMEU going to put off mainland Liberals? All will be revealed on Saturday in this extraordinary finish to a fascinating election campaign.

Taking a chainsaw to Labor hopes?

Political editor Christian Kerr writes

There’s been very mixed reaction to Labor’s Tasmanian forest policy. Lyons MP Dick Adams was all doom and gloom on radio this morning, warning that Labor could lose up to three Tasmanian seats – presumably his, Bass and Braddon.

Franklin MP Harry Quick – who is lucky enough to have an electorate that combines wilderness with Hobart suburbia – is more upbeat. He said that Tasmanians were sick of the whole forestry debate and would have other issues on their mind when casting a vote.

Both probably have a point. Many Tasmanians are personally divided on the issue. They want an end to old-growth clearfelling, but their deep conservatism means they sympathise with the logging industry.

That means a lot depends on the Prime Minister’s more modest approach. He’s made a lot of noise about how Labor has betrayed forestry workers, so we now have the first ever election in Tasmania – state or federal – where the voters have a clear choice between the parties capable of forming government on the forestry issue. Up until now both Labor and Liberal have sung the same tune and it’s the Greens who have had the different offering.

If the election in Tasmania amounts to a referendum on forestry very few people will be game to predict the result, given the local schizophrenia over the issue.

It will, however, be fascinating to see which way the voters jump – particularly now that daylight saving has begun in Tasmania. The booths will be closing an hour before they shut along the rest of Australia’s east coast.

The Tasmanian results will be a taster for the main course from the mainland – but how representative will they be?

Howard’s lumberjack triumph

Our man in the Press Gallery, Hugo Kelly, writes:

John Howard’s Nuremberg Rally of forestry workers in Launceston may turn out to be his campaign masterstroke.

“I do not intend to have any further inquiries into this issue,” declared the little statesman, to the cheers of the assembled CFMEU brownshirts.

As a catchcry, it doesn’t ring quite as well as: “We decide who comes into this country, and the circumstances in which they come.”

But it’s a beauty. And if anyone who saw David Rowe’s brilliant “I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK” cartoon in yesterday’s Fin Review will know how expertly Howard has pushed Latham out on a limb over this issue.

The CFMEU played their part as Liberal patsies to perfection. Given their cue by the PM, the mass rallied Come F*ck Me Union storm troopers went wild after being prodded into action by their timber industry buddies at Gunns. It was a defining moment in Election 2004, and it was made even more possible by “Godfrey” Dick Adams.

Adams is one of the more iconoclastic characters in federal parliament. The phrase “independent spirit” was coined for him. And in many ways, he’s an admiral operator.

Born Godfrey Adams, and illiterate as a young man, he learned to read and write, re-named himself Dick and crawled up Labor’s greasy poll, a conviction pollie in the Apple Isle.

But he’s chosen an interesting time to assert his independence. He holds his seat by 6%. He’s all right, Jack. But by calling for Mark Latham’s resignation over this in the final 72 hours of the camapaign, he’s putting everything on the line.

Dick Adams has chosen personal survival over the prospect of a Labor Government. If Labor loses by a few seats, and Adams holds his, how long will it be before the cries go out within the party for his expulsion?

He won’t be bothered. Dick will just wander into the House in his thongs as he does every day, with his oversized plastic bags of fast food packed for breakfast, and call himself an Independent.

Could John Howard pay a big price on the mainland?

A political journalist writes:

Can I beg to differ with Hugo Kelly’s press gallery fishbowl assessment of Honest John’s lumbering gambit before the CFMEU in the last desperate hours before polling. Consider the messages Howard has successfully delivered to key swinging demographics:

* Howard has shown himself stooping to be “a hostage to union thugs” simply for political gain; unlike Latham who has shown he is willing to act as “honest broker” between all parties – logging industry, tourism industry, unions, workers, environmentalists, greenies, and the rest of us who’d like the forests to remain right where they are. People are sick of this issue and sick of the forest industry and unions dictating policy.

* Wet, pro-environment liberals, the triple R brigade (pro-reffos, reconciliation and republic), will hate this and swing even harder in a
protest vote against where Howard has taken their party in the past 8 years.

* Aspirationals hate the idea of obsolete industries and their unionised workforce wedging out special dispensation for themselves at the expense of everyone else. This letter to the SMH today illustrates the point perfectly:

“I’ve worked in the IT industry where job losses are common. The whingeing timber wokers should acknowledge their luck with Mark Latham’s policy, which protects their jobs and upgrades their skills at taxpayers’ expense.

“Virginia Choy, McMahon’s Point, October 5.”

* The Tasmanian forest issue is important but is seriously off-message for the government in the dying days of a campaign. The media might be making a big fuss over this but right across the mainland people are saying this ain’t no barbecue stopper.

* The consensus among the Press Gallery that Howard has wedged Latham on this doesn’t mean its true, or even significant. This is the mother of all diversions and plays completely into the hands Latham’s “steady and sober” pitch.

The current pendulum’s marginals will produce a mixed result. In my humble opinion, it’s safe Coalition seats, with a tranche of disgusted, dissaffected Liberals, that will deliver the lodge to Latham.

Why Braddon is safe for Labor

Crikey psephologist Charles Richardson writes:

It’s been suggested (in Crikey and elsewhere) that Braddon is the seat most in danger for Labor due to its new logging policy. I think some
readers might be under a misapprehension about the sort of seat Braddon is.

Prior to 1984, Braddon included the whole west coast of Tasmania – serious logging, mining and damming territory. Since then, however, it has contracted to the north west coast, but its former identity seems to be fixed in people’s minds.

The AEC still calls it a “rural” seat, but that is very misleading. On a quick analysis of the booths from the 2001 election, 82% of its 55,000
odd ordinary votes were cast in the urbanised coastal strip running from Port Sorell through Devonport, Ulverstone and Burnie to Wynyard and Boat Harbour.

Another 7% were cast in the rural hinterland immediately to the south of there. Only 9% were cast out west, mostly in the timber town of
Smithton. (The missing 2% is King Island.)

Sure, some votes are cast in towns by country people who come in for the day. And many townsfolk may still identify with a rural ethos. But even so, 9% isn’t a big base for the anti-Labor vote to work with. Labor could lose every one of the votes cast in Smithton and its surrounds and still hold Braddon.

A Forest Tale

Peregrin Took, a senior player in the Green movement, takes Tolkien view of the Tasmanian forestry debate:

Once upon a time there was an election in Middle Earth.

The election in Middle Earth was fought out between the Men and Sauron. Sauron had a majority of the Middle Earth Grand Council seats but there was a chance Sauron might lose the election because Sauron was perceived to have been in power too long and was less than truthful.

The preferences of the Elves throughout Middle Earth might be crucial to the result because the Elves were angry with Sauron for keeping young defenceless visitors to Middle Earth in cages.

Gruffa was a Hobbit who lived in the Shire, part of Middle Earth blessed with beautiful tall forests. Gruffa wanted to save the Shire’s forests from the axes of the Dwarves.

Men held all the seats on the Grand Council elected by the Hobbits and Dwarves of the Shire.

Gruffa was angry with the Men because he thought that they were taking him and the forests of the Shire for granted and were pandering to the wood lust of the Dwarves. Incensed, Gruffa courted Sauron. Sauron let it be known throughout Middle Earth that he was concerned to save the forests of the Shire.

Flushed with excitement, Gruffa rushed back to the Men and said that unless they acted to save the Shire’s tall trees from the Dwarves, Gruffa would ensure that the Hobbits of the Shire would vote against the Men. More worrying for the Men was Gruffa’s threat that the Men would get no preferences from all the Elves throughout Middle Earth. Instead, Gruffa said he would make sure the Elf preferences went to Sauron.

Gruffa was annoyed when the Elves in some seats in Middle Earth declared their preferences for the Men before the forest policies of the Men and Sauron were announced. The Elves said they were more worried about the helpless young visitors in Sauron’s cages but Gruffa declared the Elves irrelevant.

Persuaded by Gruffa’s threats and Sauron’s claims of concern for the Shire’s forests, the Men decided to meet all of Gruffa’s demands. The Men announced that they would not only put the forests of the Shire in sanctuaries beyond reach of the Dwarves but also offer a huge pile of gold in an attempt to placate the Dwarves.

Gleefully Gruffa went back to Sauron to ask him how much gold he was going to add to outbid the Men. Gruffa was perplexed when Sauron failed to return his call.

Some days later, Sauron announced that he would travel to the Shire to declare his forest policy. Gruffa waited breathlessly to hear the results of his great strategy.

Gruffa was apoplectic with rage and frustration when Sauron announced that he would only protect the trees on the highest windswept crags of the Shire. All these forests were well out of the range of the Dwarves’ axes. The Dwarves were overjoyed and cheered Sauron loudly.

Gruffa wept bitterly when he realised that Sauron had taken him for the fool he was.

Sauron never had an interest in winning the votes of the Hobbits or the preferences of the Elves. Sauron had always coveted the Shire votes of the Dwarves. With the Dwarves’ votes, Sauron hoped to win some of the Shire seats on the Grand Council, thereby negating any seats the accursed Men might win with Elf preferences elsewhere in Middle Earth

The Men are not pleased with Gruffa.

Peter Fray

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