John Gay, the executive chairman of world champion tree lopping outfit Gunns Ltd, has teamed up with boofhead Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon to provide a key diversion from the integrity questions that are swamping him, which even got a good run on The 7.30 Report last night.

Gay yesterday threatened to take his $1.4 billion Tamar Valley pulp mill offshore if enough Tasmanians vote Green to force a minority government. Former television journalist and Tamara Valley councillor Les Rochester could yet join our list of former hacks in Parliament as he is leading the community action against the pulp mill and is running as an independent in the seat of Bass.

Gay’s threats to take his project to Malaysia or China is a classic scare tactic for a community that is still scarred by past minority governments with the Greens and therefore tends to strongly endorse majority Liberal or Labor governments. Fear and uncertainty is the strongest card that Lennon has to play, so his mate has got out of the gates early.

John Gay is a bully of the first order and aggressive conflict is the only way he knows to do business. The contrast with the way Dick Pratt got his pulp mill up in Tumut, NSW, with Green groups working as consultants is stark indeed.

I’ve got $3,000 invested in Gunns and was a failed board candidate at last year’s AGM who ran on the platform that John Gay should not be the only prominent executive chairman of an Australian listed company who refuses to subject himself to election every three years.

Unfortunately for Gay, his mate Paul Lennon can’t avoid elections so the two of them have cooked up this major diversion although it might backfire because of the controversy about Gunns doing some renovations on the Premier’s historic home.

The Tasmanian election will be the first state poll since Jeff Kennett’s 1999 defeat when the integrity and character of the Premier will be an important issue.

Benefits for relatives, special deals with the Packers and controversial home renovations are just three things that Lennon and Kennett, both large and intolerant men, have in common.

Gunns shares fell 12c yesterday but recovered 5c to $2.83 this morning, still a long way shy of its 12-month high of $4.67. Indeed, some shareholders think the stock will recover if the project is abandoned because the risks are large when you have a company capitalised at just $950 million building a complex $1.4 billion pulp mill.

Gay knows how to slaughter trees and export woodchips, but building a huge pulp mill is in another league and some in the market think this simple but aggressive man doesn’t have the ability to deliver.

Peter Fray

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