The ability of giant Tassie tree-slaughterer Gunns to pull off
sweetheart deals continues apace as they’ve even got the Tassie
National Trust under their spell, as Gretel Green explains in this
series of sealed section and site articles.
John Gay’s heritage buying binge
Second subscriber email November 4
Tassie is a tiny island. If someone
f*rts in Hobart, an acute nose will quickly get a whiff of it in
Launceston. A little southern rumour swiftly assumes the trappings of
fact up north.
Desperate for a story, The Mercury
this week ran a beat-up on Tasmania’s “million dollar men”, chief among
whom is the filthy rich John Gay, CEO of serial tree-loppers Gunns.
Many tales swirl around Mr Gay but none so intriguing as those that go
to the story of his Damascene conversion to environmentalism.
First up, his company takes an
interest in Entally, the State Government-owned heritage property
driven into insolvency by the Tasmanian National Trust. Next up Gunns
acquires a fine property near Swansea called Coombend, another jewel in
Tassie¹s heritage crown.
Then comes a tale, retailed as far
afield as Melbourne on Cup Day, that Gay was the underbidder at the
sale last week of Egleston, a prime grazing property near Longford. Now
the chat in chatterbox Tassie is that Gay has taken an interest in Lake
House near Cressy. This is an interesting twist.
The trustees of the last owner are insisting that any purchaser must do
a deal with the National Trust that binds him for eternity to bend to
the Trust’s restoration requirements. Now who should be the solicitor
acting for the Lake House trustees but one John Green (no relation to
Gretel) whose parents started the National Trust in Tasmania and who
still has strong connections with it.
This means that any purchaser will be beholden not to an organisation
of amateurs but to a legal eagle whose best friend is none other than
Lionel Morrell, the Treasurer of the Trust, whose twelve-year tenure of
this post unhappily coincides with the period of the organisation’s
It will be interesting to see if Mr
Gay’s and Gunns’ connections within the National Trust, a body
supposedly dedicated to the preservation of the very same environment
the timber behemoth is hell-bent on destroying, are helpful to him in
his pursuit of a property in which Trust and its apparatchiks have a
Meanwhile, it is good that The Mercury is finally onto the scandal that is the monopoly pokies deal given to Federal Hotels in Tasmania. Check out today’s splash here.
Lindsay Tuffin has been banging on about this issue for months and you can see today’s reaction fourth story from the top of www.tasmaniantimes.com.
More grief for Tasmanian National Trust
From the first November 4 sealed section
By Gretel Green
their behaviour finally be catching up with National Trust President
Patricia Woods and her henchman, Trust Treasurer Lionel Morrell?
According to yesterday’s Launceston Examiner,
the Industrial Commission will next month hear claims of threats and
intimidation from this duo who have presided over the financial
deterioration and possible demise of their organisation.
staff members employed at the Trust’s head office have lodged
applications to the commission alleging that Morrell repeatedly bullied
and harassed them and that Woods threatened to sack employees.
Morrell is staying mum on the matter but Woods denies the allegations. The Examiner
quotes her as saying “I don’t know how it can be alleged that I have
done anything wrong when I have never heard of any complaint.”
as President she must surely have seen the damning report on the
allegations commissioned by the Trust from Business and Human Resource
Management Consultants Patricia Dottori and Associates and delivered in
Trust loyalists, anxious to clear the air of the
stench of cronyism, say she has consistently refused to table the
report has been in private circulation for over a year! Little wonder
it has finally leaked out. The miracle is that they have managed to
keep the lid on this for so long.
In my opinion, Woods and
Morrell should resign and the sooner the better for the Trust. On their
watch, membership has crumbled, Entally has been hived off to Gunns
(Gunns’ boss John Gay was best man at Wood’s wedding!) in a shady deal
that does nothing for the Trust’s teetering finances when it might have
been leased to John Hawkins and reaped a half a million windfall.
entire organisation has descended into apathy and anarchy. Internecine
feuds are rife among the Trust councillors, relations with the
Government and with its Heritage Department are at an all time low and
only one local government body in all of Tasmania now asks the Trust’s
opinion on heritage matters.
Observers reckon things are so bad that a fire sale of its properties is the only way to pull the Trust out of the red.
the full story of Woods and Morrell’s behaviour is yet to come out, but
down in Tassie mates are often co-operative. How else to explain why
this story was buried on page 16 of the local rag.
John Gay best man connection confirmed
From the October 20 sealed section
By Stephen Mayne
A publisher who does not need dead trees to tell stories
Crikey had quite a good little scoop on Sunday with this story
by Gretel Green about the outrageous deal which sees the National
Trust, an organisation supposedly interested in conservation, handing
over the historic Entally House in Northern Tasmania to world record
tree-loppers Gunns to run as a wine venture.
We spoke to
ABC Tasmania’s Tim Cox yesterday morning and he confirmed that it was
true, as Gretel Green reported, that National Trust President Patricia
Woods did indeed have Gunns executive chairman John Gay as the other
best man at her wedding more than 30 years ago.
shares continue to go from strength to strength and rose another 7c to
a record high of $15.09 yesterday. This values Gunns at a whopping
$1.278 billion and John Gay’s stake is now worth more than $70 million.
should note now that John Howard’s legacy will include helping create a
world leading logging giant which is today twice as valuable as our
biggest listed IT company, MYOB, which is only capitalised at $548
million, even after the merger with Solution 6.
understand how dominant Gunns is in Tasmania, you only had to look at
the way it could muster all those trucks and timber workers at short
notice during the final week of the election campaign.
And consider the size of the next three biggest Tasmanian companies after Gunns:
1. Gunns Ltd, tree lopper: $1.287 billion
2. Roberts Ltd: $98 million
2. Tassal Ltd, salmon and tobacco: $78 million
3. Websters, commercial services and supplies: $42 million.
shares have now risen by 8 per cent since voters returned the Howard
Government and this has added $94 million to its value in the eight
trading days since the election.
Much of this value comes
from the ability of Gunns to slaughter the mighty Tasmanian forests
with the express permission of Labor Premier Paul Lennon, his
like-minded Liberal mate in The Lodge and their thuggish mates in the
Oh, the share price might also be up a few cents
courtesy of this latest sweetheart deal on Entally House, which is so
emblematic of all that is wrong with Tasmania.
Another grubby Gunns deal
First published on October 17
By Gretel Green
Sunday’s Launceston Examiner
carries the news that Entally House, an historic 37 hectare country
estate at Hadspen, is to be leased for 99 years to timber giant Gunns
and will be run as a “wine centre”.
Tasmania’s Tourism, Parks
and Heritage Minister Ken Bacon, who announced the sweetheart deal,
claimed that this decision would set “a benchmark for heritage
preservation”. Bacon predicted that Entally House would become “a
showcase for using commercial sponsorship to preserve historic
It’s already proved a showcase for something else – Tasmanian muddleheadedness.
is owned by the State Government and managed, some would say
mis-managed, by the Tasmanian branch of the National Trust. Over the
years attendances have been declining disastrously and with only a
piddling income from admissions, there has been no money to spend on
maintenance and the property is in pathetic shape, a situation made
worse by the attitude towards visitors displayed by the volunteers who
are about as welcoming as puff adders.
A couple of years
back, a well-heeled antique dealer from New South Wales, John Hawkins,
made a proposal to take the property off the Trust’s hands. He offered
them $500,000 and pledged to use his own money to restore and furnish
the house. He also agreed to open it to the public on designated days
during the year.
This plan was scuppered by two dissidents
on the Trust’s executive, one Patricia Woods, President of the National
Trust, and an architect called Lionel Morrell, the Trust’s Treasurer.
According to insider reports, these two leaked news of the offer to the
press and virtually declared war on the upstart Mainland.
was much tut-tutting and rattling of sherry glasses among the blue
rinsed biddies of the Trust who took a dog in the manger attitude to
what was a rational proposal that would have given the Trust a
much-needed cash injection and provided an optimum outcome as far as
the preservation of the property is concerned. A minor storm in a
teacup blew up and Hawkins, incensed by this example of parochial
narrow-mindedness, withdrew his offer and bought elsewhere.
the property is to be handed to Gunns and the deal is less attractive.
Gunns have offered the same amount of money as Hawkins, $500,000, but
it is to be doled out as widow’s mite in five installments over five
years, with the money used to restore the house. In return, Gunns will
be allowed to run a commercial venture, at the property.
was built as a private dwelling and Hawkins would have kept that way.
And under his proposal, the Trust would have received the money and
Hawkins would have undertaken the restoration and maintenance on top of
that, a far better deal for the Trust and for Tasmania.
there’s an interesting twist to this tale, the perfect example of the
cosy little insider deals for which Tasmania (and Gunns!) are famous.
of the executive of the Trust thought that Hawkins was the best man for
the job. The only dissenters were Woods and Morrell. Did Woods tell her
colleagues about the other “best man”? When Woods was married, the best
man at her wedding was none other than John Gay, now executive chairman
of Gunns, the company currently deracinating Tasmania. Gay is an old
style tree-lopper who suddenly finds himself worth more than $60
million thanks in part to his ability to log old growth forests and
send the woodchips overseas.
Next house on the block must
surely be Clarendon, currently being run (into the ground!) by the
National Trust. Thanks to Woods and Morell and their colleagues, this
house, the finest in Australia, is lurching towards decrepitude,
attracting an embarrassingly low number visitors.
million dollar grant from the Federal Government was blown on the
construction of a hideous restaurant slapped on the front wing of the
building. Apologists say it “recalls” the conservatory that was once
there, but in practical terms it’s a disaster, impossible to heat in
winter, too hot to sit in in summer. And given the appalling visitation
figures, no operator could ever make a profit there.
further dilemma for the Trust is this. If it’s genuine about its
mission to conserve the natural and built environment, then it should
align itself with the Greens. But so many of its genteel supporters are
rusted-on Libs that such an alliance would be anathema to them. Not to
And so we have the Gilbertian situation of a
State conservation body leaping into bed with a corporation hell-bent
on destroying the environment in that very state.
Only in Tassie!
This has obviously been a controversial issue on the Apple Isle.
Here is an example of a press release issued by Peter Tucker – a
Hobart-based accountant, consultant town planner
and property developer who was director of the Tasmanian Heritage
Council from 1997 to 2001.
Sunday 1 August 2004
Government must toss out National Trust legislation
A past director of the Tasmanian Heritage Council said the government
must act now to end the parochialism and in-fighting dogging the
Peter Tucker, director of the council from 1997 to 2001 said that the
only way out of the mess was to repeal the National Trust of Australia
(Tasmania) Act 1975 and start again.
“Few Tasmanian’s would realise that the National Trust is a creation of
state parliament; and what the state gives it can also take away,” Mr
“In-fighting and administrative turmoil is sinking the National Trust
in Tasmania. Unless the government acts now, it will disappear
without a trace.
“The trust’s elected office bearers have already lost the confidence of
the minister, Ken Bacon, and the rest of the population must we
wondering what on earth is going on,” Mr Tucker said.
Mr Tucker was responding to continued internal bickering within the
trust. Just in the last week there has been a motion of no
confidence in the northern regional committee chairperson, an
on-again-off-again general membership meeting called for August, and a
very public feud between the trust’s president and its executive
Mr Tucker said there was no way forward under the legislative status
quo, and the government is throwing good money – taxpayer money – after
bad if it thinks it can put through a reform agenda and leave the
“It is deluding itself even more if it thinks the trust can fix its problems from within,” Mr Tucker said.
Mr Tucker said that the main difficulty with the legislation is that it
entrenches parochialism and factionalism by requiring the trust to not
only have a central governing council, but also three state regional
committees, each with its own chairperson and office bearers.
“Regionalisation might have worked 30 years ago, but it is a recipe for
administrative and financial disaster in the modern world,” Mr Tucker
“At times this year various factional groups have called meetings,
issued statements, and made decisions. Then there is a scramble
while another group denies the legitimacy of its rival and makes
proclamations of its own. Is this a joke?” Mr Tucker said.
“Not only is the trust in an administrative mess, but it has lost sight
of its raison d’être, and has chosen to concentrate on means rather
“The ownership and preservation of individual house museums, like
Clarendon, Entally House and Runnemede, has consumed the trust at the
expense of a whole host of other activities it could and should be
focusing on,” Mr Tucker said.
Mr Tucker said that the ownership of heritage properties used to be a
necessity for the trust as a way of saving historic places from either
the bulldozer or neglect.
“But times have changed,” Mr Tucker said.
“We now have effective heritage legislation at local, state and federal
level to protect heritage assets. It is now not necessary for the
National Trust to own buildings just to save them.
“Ownership of heritage places is only a means to an end, not an end in
itself. Again, it is the internal factions that are the problem;
they have remained attached to properties within their fiefdoms at the
expense of the real reason for the trust’s existence – to promote
heritage conservation for the whole state.
“Yes, there have been hundreds volunteers over the past 40 years who
have dedicated countless hours to maintaining and operating National
Trust house museums. But an organisation, along with its members,
must be able to change as the times change.
“And the times tell us the National Trust is $750,000 in debt with a
dysfunctional state council and a dwindling general membership.
“Sadly, it is the general membership – those dedicated volunteers –
that have been let down the most by the parent body,” Mr Tucker said.
Mr Tucker said that the National Trust has an important role to play in
Tasmania promoting public education in heritage values, providing
specialist training for design professionals, and as an advocate for
heritage issues on behalf of the public.
“A focus by the trust on these activities would be a far better use of
its resources and achieve a lot more in terms of conservation than its
current preoccupation with in-fighting and house museums – and they
might just start to attract members back again.
“But this cannot happen unless this act of parliament is repealed and
replaced with a modern governance framework. The alternative is
to watch this comic tragedy unfold leading inexorably to the demise of
a once great organisation that has given so much to Tasmania,” Mr
“And what a pity that would be.”