I’m a member of the Labor Party in Tasmania and I think Paul Lennon stinks. I think his Government stinks. I think the relationship with Gunns is disgraceful and the handling of the pulp mill proposal, in particular, is an example of a bullying Government behaving at its very worst.
The Lennon Government is a poisonous government. Anyone who raises a scintilla of criticism is dragged out and kicked and kicked and kicked till they’re a whimpering, bloodied mess. This is a Government of thugs where thuggery reigns supreme. Like a medieval monarch, Lennon rewards his nastiest, most vicious dogs with the juiciest rewards – as long as they whimper at his feet.
You’d think this would all be grist for the mill for the Liberal Opposition but they are pathetic, snivelling, grovellers at the feet of Gunns. What a sorry state of affairs for this otherwise sensational island state. The Greens and ejected Labor MP Terry Martin provide the only voices of dissent and every time they do they are vilified and attacked, not for what they say, but for saying anything at all.
The unfolding of the pulp mill process is stomach-churning. It should have been simple enough:
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1. Gunns applies to build a pulp mill.
2. The Lennon Government announces enthusiastic support but promises the application will go through the required process (independent assessment by the RPDC).
3. The RPDC assesses various criteria and receives full cooperation from Gunns. Meanwhile, the Lennon Government butts out till the assessment is complete.
4. Gunns runs whatever public relations and advertising campaign it likes, using its own funds.
5. The RPDC makes its recommendation and a) the Government abides by the recommendation in full or in part or, b) the Government decides to act counter to it. The Government explains its decision and reasons to parliament and in a media statement but not in taxpayer-funded advertising.
6. The pulp mill is built (or not) depending on what the Government decides.
Instead of the above, the Lennon Government sacked the RPDC and established a complicated process clearly designed to provide a positive recommendation. And even despite all the goal-post shifting and rule-changing, the new consultants still said the mill didn’t meet environmental promises.
So does Lennon tell Gunns to clean up its act? No, he waters down his previously iron-clad commitment to a clean green mill to something less, that’s sort of good enough and never mind the sludge in your scallops. And then he spends $300,000 of public funds to advertise a private venture.
The political problem for Lennon and his cronies on his rotting hulk of state is that the opponents of the pulp mill are not just the usual pot-smoking old hippies. Opponents include business-people, tourism operators and ordinary working Tasmanians. Lennon hasn’t quite cottoned on to the fact his only supporters are the Luddite timber rump of the CFMEU and his own whimpering Caucus. Even those in the community who support a mill because of jobs and industry are aghast at the complete corruption of process.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with a pulp mill per se. If we’re going to use paper and a mill has to be built, better here than in Malaysia or Port Melbourne. I don’t buy the argument that the forest industry in Tasmania is unsustainable.
The problem I have with this mill is its location on the Tamar and effect on water and tourism, and the grubby, indecent haste with which the Government is ramming it through. There’s been no attempt to inform and educate – merely to bully and intimidate.
I know I’m not the only one in the Tasmanian ALP who feels sick at the conduct of this Government: Upper house Labor MP Terry Martin, for instance, has paid a very heavy price for his outspokeness. Not only kicked out of the Caucus, he is regularly vilified, with Ministers lining up to crucify him.
The backbench – treated like mushrooms by Lennon throughout the pulp mill process – has been painfully silent throughout this sorry process. One can understand their reluctance to take on Lennon Incorporated. But the backbench of Caucus needs to get behind Terry and bring this Government to account. One or two of the better, decent Ministers need to say “enough” and tell Lennon it’s time to retire.
It’s time to give us reason to be proud to be Labor.