Thanks to the pulp mill scandal and the ugly revelations about the cronyism and secret dealings between the Lennon government and Gunns, Tasmania’s forests are smack-bang in the middle of this year’s federal election campaign, much to the horror of Prime Minister Howard, Opposition leader Kevin Rudd and their colleagues Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Garrett.

They all want to ignore the ongoing logging in Tasmania, but they also want to keep the pictures of flattened and burnt landscapes and poisoned wildlife as far away from themselves. They know that Australians will vote for forests if reminded about the devastation.

In December 2006, they stitched up a bipartisan deal to change the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement quietly to make legal the logging that the courts had found to be illegal. It was all going so well.

They were positioned to fight the 2007 election on the environment with water, drought, climate change, coal and nuclear at centre stage. Forests were off the agenda.

Turnbull was promoted to Cabinet to fight on water, to demonstrate his credentials and to see off Peter Costello as the PM in waiting.

Peter Garrett secured the shadow ministry by agreeing to stay out of the forest issue leaving that to pro logging Kerry O’Brien. No surprise that he departed the national Rudd-Gillard road show as it was leaving for Tasmania. Garrett’s job is to line up with the Coalition on forests, shore up Labor in inner city seats, stay out of Tasmania and away from the trees. He is performing on cue saying now that no new areas of forest need protecting.

Now their strategies are blown asunder. John Howard and Malcolm Turnbull are legally bound to assess the impact on the habitat of listed threatened species of a pulp mill which will consume 4.5 million tonnes of forest per year. Such an assessment, or the legal appeal if they don’t, will put the timeframe beyond Gunns’s ultimatum.

Ironically, Howard and Turnbull will win mainland votes and will hold Bass, even with their slash and burn forest policy, if they stand up to Gunns and Lennon, but they will lose their beloved mill. They will also have to forego another Albert Hall moment surrounded by backslapping CFMEU and Lennon supporters.

Rudd cannot win Braddon or Bass if he supports the deeply unpopular Lennon, a dodgy assessment process and the ongoing assault on Tasmanian forests. He will not win seats by “me tooism” with Howard. He has to go further. He cannot keep Garrett out of the forests.

Tasmanians baulk at fast tracking and want their island back. The people want the forests saved and their democracy restored. Does Rudd have the courage to go one better than Howard and stand up to Lennon, Gunns and save forests as well?