Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon has shown he can quick step with the
best of them, saving a bay and screwing The Greens at the same time. Big Red, or
the Big Chipper, turned a tinge of green when he yesterday announced
that he had personally sealed the deal to save Recherche Bay from
logging. Speaking in Hobart, Lennon said he had written to the PM asking the Feds to match
the state in the purchase price, saying it would be “churlish” of them not to come to the party.

But this morning, the Federal Minister for Fish and Chips, Eric Abetz
is spitting chips. Abetz, the new Minister for Fisheries, Forests and
Conservation, has said no way to Lennon’s call for funds. According to
Abetz, Lennon has sold out to the Greens a la Mark
Latham in “buying out jobs at a huge price.” Lennon is “hand in hand”
with Bob Brown and “spooking” the timber industry. The land in
question is regrowth, with “no bio diversity worth conserving”, while
the area of historic value where the French landed in 1792 and
1793, can be protected without buying the whole place.

Spooking the timber industry? No doubt about it. But Lennon in bed with Bob Brown? Hardly!

Lennon cut Brown out of a deal to save 142 hectares of the north east
peninsula of Recherche Bay in the state’s far south, owned
by the Vernon family, which was scheduled to be logged by timber giant
Gunns Ltd. What Lennon did was defuse a flashpoint before the state
election.

Brown had been working for months to stitch up a deal to buy the
property from the Vernons. Dick Smith had offered a donation of
$100,000 and an interest-free loan of $1.9 million for 12 months, and
he had about $300,000 in pledges.

Late last week, Smith rang Lennon to ask him to repay the $100,000
stamp duty on the sale and it was at this point that the premier
decided to win Brownie points by cutting the ground from under Brown –
who was left in the dark about it.

By yesterday, Lennon could announce that Smith will put up the money
needed for the $2.1 million purchase, which includes what is believed
to be $200,000 in compensation to Gunns for loss of revenue, to be
repaid if and when raised, removing
the danger of the land being resold if the money couldn’t be raised in
12 months, which was unacceptable to the Vernons. Plus a State
Government package of up to $680,000 – $380,000 towards the purchase,
associated costs and support for Tasmanian Land Conservancy which will
manage the land, which sealed the deal. This includes up to $300,000
for rehabilitation of the nearby Southport Lagoon reserve, as a result
of a logging road already bulldozed through the area.

Guess what? His press release made no mention of Senator Brown. It’s a
bitter sweet victory for Brown. In Canberra for the only week
the Senate is sitting this month, he was right out of the picture –
literally – at the announcement, at which Lennon was flanked by the
Vernon brothers. There was nothing left for him to do but say he was
delighted by the outcome.

Peter Fray

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