For the Bob Hawke of 1983, writing off Tasmania was easy enough because there was no state Labor Government to worry about, the prospects of picking up House of Representative seats was negligible and opposing the damming of the Franklin River was a wonderful way of gaining support from the environmentally concerned on the mainland.

The strategy worked like a charm. Throughout the 1980s Federal Labor courted votes by defending the trees of the island state. Difficulties only started arising when, from the mid 1990s, State Labor was safely back in office.

Mark Latham was a victim of the tension between the chop-the-trees down policies of a development minded State party and the protect-the-trees policy which best suited Federal vote getting. Latham dithered around for months and when he finally stuck with what was most likely to win the greatest number of votes outside Tasmania it was too late to gain any benefit from doing so.

Now Kevin Rudd is faced with the same choices as his predecessor and it will be interesting to see if he has the nerve to tell a small time Labor Premier that he does not agree with the way he is approving the Gunns Limited pulp mill.

It would be in the best interests of Rudd and his Federal election chances to do so and to do so quickly. Premier Paul Lennon is rapidly becoming an embarrassment in Hobart with his blustering defence of the decision by Gunns to withdraw from the process agreed to by both the state and federal governments to ensure that the planned mill meets environmental guidelines.

Even Tasmanians who are in favour of development are becoming uneasy about a Government allowing itself to be blackmailed by a developer. There are certainly no votes in Tasmania for Rudd being seen as an ally of Lennon.

Yet there are still votes elsewhere in Australia by being on the side of the trees. Certainly the new Liberal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull appreciates that there are votes to be lost by being seen as anti-tree. He now has the unenviable task of having to be involved in the environmental assessments of the Gunns project.

Peter Fray

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