If you happened to catch Paul Harriss on ABC Radio on Tuesday 13 March, he wants us to know that he went to Sarawak to check out Ta Ann’s impact on orangutan habitat. He went there to check out whether the impact of Ta Ann’s forestry practices were wrecking the environment and destroying communities.
Harriss tells us that his enthusiasm for checking the environmental credentials of Ta Ann were inspired by criticisms of Ta Ann’s “forestry” practices by one Adam Burling, a Tasmanian Green, and what Burling had to say made such a huge impression on Harriss that he just had to ask Ta Ann whether the claims were true, and so Ta Ann paid for his trip.
It was in August 2010 that Adam Burling publicly criticised Ta Ann, and then again in March 2011 (TT here). The paperwork for Harriss’s gifts from Ta Ann predate Burling’s criticism by about three years in one case.
The main point is that what we heard on radio – it’s very clear and open on the public record – makes things even more bizarre than they were yesterday. It will probably get more bizarre again tomorrow, or the day after, but meantime we are left to ponder something truly beyond belief – a Tasmanian politician asking a foreign company in a casual way about how they operate, then accepting money from them to check it out even though he had visited Sarawak before.
There’s very little doubt that Paul Harriss MLC has really upped the ante on the meaning of bizarre in the current bazaar on how best to describe governance standards Tasmanian politicians are comfortable with.
There’s just a couple of other things which need sorting out apart from the news about how Harriss has great interest in orangutan habitat. How many trips has Paul Harriss had to Sarawak? We know about two. Were there more than two? According to one source, Harriss’s third trip was in 2010. Were they all to check out criticisms of Ta Ann, or would he like to retract what he said on ABC radio on 13 March? There was a report that Mr Harriss went on holiday in Sarawak, and even that he was representing the Tasmanian government, and that he paid at least one “courtesy call” to Ta Ann headquarters. It’s all a bit hard to sort out what was a holiday, what was not, how many trips, how many gifts, how much money changed hands and why, and whether Paul Harriss MLC has a shred of credibility left.
Before we all forget, there’s also the bizarre bit about 2008 Ta Ann money being claimed in both 2008 and 2011, the 2008 document photocopied into the 2011 claim. So what’s happening here? Are we seeing evidence of a Ta Ann retainer on an annual basis for Harriss? So what does 2009 and 2010 look like? And what happened to the page in 2011 which was replaced by the 2008 document? And did he get any gifts for the (second or first?) trip? We the people would like to know Ta very much.
In the meantime there is now more reason why Paul Harriss MLC should stand down from parliament, and do so immediately while all these questions are investigated.
• Adam Burling:
The article Paul Harriss refers to in his interview on ABC 936, was written for the ‘In your opinion’ section of the Huon News dated 18/8/10. Mr Harriss’ trip took place two months later. You can read my article as printed here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/85235575/The-Dark-Side-of-Ta-Ann
Sarawak is one of the most corrupt states in Asia. Its Chief Minister Taib, whose cousin runs Ta Ann, has absolute control over the Malaysian state. He has been accused of illegally acquiring public assets (like the forests) worth billions and funnelling the money into his and his families’ pockets. You can read about one of the anti-corruption campaigns here: http://www.stop-timber-corruption.org/
Mr Harriss has a lot of unanswered questions here. In the Borneo Post article (owned by Taib) it says his Oct 2010 trip was his third. http://www.theborneopost.com/2010/10/19/tasmanian-govt-on-mission-to-sarawak/
Who paid for the other trips? Why did my article bring up new issues when Harriss had been to Sarawak before? What was paid for in the Oct 2010 trip by Ta Ann besides airfares? What was total value of Ta Ann’s paid excursion?
It does not surprise me that a virtual dictatorship like Sarawak with its corrupt practices has found friends here in Tasmania. What does surprise me is that the public and media is not questioning the operations of this company more.
• Kevin Kiernan: What’s wrong with a Tasmania-Ta Ann connection
The naivety of Tasmanian politicians like MLC Paul Harris is frightening for the risks it poses for our reputation as a state and as a people. Mr Harris should have made himself aware of a few facts before he started keeping some of the company he now apparently wishes Tasmanian industry to keep. He might have started by noticing some of his new friends’ associations with Abdul Taib Mahmud, Chief Minister of Sarawak, so let’s briefly flesh out a little more detail for those who might have missed them, and consider some implications.
From an impoverished childhood Taib’s personal wealth today is pretty good for someone on a relatively modest Malaysian ministerial salary - the Swiss-based Manser Fund has documented that he and his family now have massive sums invested in close to 400 companies in 25 countries, including Australia. Their Malaysian companies alone are worth $US 1.46 billion. As Chief Minister Taib gained virtually total control of the timber resources of Sarawak. His family members have been installed in key government and state company positions, and there are numerous accounts of the dubious disbursements of state resources and development approvals, including logging licences to his family’s companies. For example, Taib’s brother Onn Mahmud holds a monopoly on the state’s timber exports and also controls issuing of the state’s shipping permits. The Director of the Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation is Taib’s cousin Hamed Sepawi, co-founder of Ta Ann Holdings Berhad and also Chairman and a major shareholder of the developer Naim Holdings Berhad, recipient of over 1 million hectares of logging concessions in Sarawak.
And then there are the wider linkages. Another company favoured by Taib’s largesse with Sarawak timber has been Samling, owned by timber tycoon Yaw Teck Seng. Among the claims to fame of the predatory Samling is its receipt and subsequent inhuman control of an 800,000 ha logging concession from the notoriously corrupt Cambodian government (ranked at 164th of 183 countries assessed by Transparency International in 2011) and its illegal logging of a Cambodian wildlife reserve. The Yaw family subsidiary CSY Investments appears to have shown some reciprocal largesse to Taib family members involving one-dollar transactions for mansions in Seattle.
Taib and 13 other members of his family are now under considerable pressure in relation to the acquisition of their remarkable wealth, and long-standing allegations of abuse of public office, corruption, fraud, theft and illegal appropriation of land – at the expense of displaced indigenous people, the diversion into personal coffers of revenue that rightfully belonged to the people of Sarawak and might otherwise have helped them advance their lives, and of the environment.
One key point in all this is that the laundering of this money would not have been possible without the complicity of some people in developed western countries, and the naivety of others. That some of Taib’s money was tied up in North American companies from as far back as 1987 was exposed in 2007 by his former aide Ross Boyert, who claimed he was subsequently harassed and who was then found dead in a Los Angeles hotel room with a plastic bag tied over his head.
A further important point lies in just how widely the tentacles have been allowed to spread. Other beneficiaries have also taken advantage of the naivety of those far from the suffering tribes-people of Sarawak, including Samling which invested its logging profits massively in US real estate as affiliates of California-registered Sun Chase Holdings Inc., headed by Chee Siew Yaw, son of the Samling boss. Further fanning the housing bubble that led to the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the USA, this outfit promoted “master-planned communities” using “distressed real estate assets”, leading to infamous fiascos such as the Mountain House Project in California that left thousands homeless while Chee Siew Yaw made it safely back to his own home outside the country. And so the web stretches ever on…
It would appear that Tasmanian electors have a pretty inadequate employee if his fact-finding capabilities overseas are really so inadequate that the Borneo Post of Tuesday 19 October 2010 was able to record Tasmanian MLC and self-admitted recipient of petty monetary gifts from Ta Ann Paul Harris claiming that allegations by some environmental groups against Ta Ann were scathing and unreasonable, and that the allegations were damaging to Ta Ann and the state’s timber industry as a whole. In stark contrast, writing in The Independent of Thursday 10 March 2011 the more adequately-informed former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown described the destruction of the Sarawak rainforests, in which Ta Ann is deeply implicated, as “probably the biggest environmental crime of our times.”
No Mr Harris, it is not the abundant evidence of wrong-doing on a global scale which has now led to investigations and legal activity in various countries around the world that is damaging to Tasmania’s timber industry. Rather, it is the naivety of people like you whose heads remain firmly in the sand as you continue a push that would have Tasmania become further embroiled in this unseemly web.
• John Hawkins: These facts apply to Members of the Lower House. The Upper House appears to have no rules in particular over cash payments. Reader’s comments will be appreciated.
Receipt and Giving of Gifts and Benefits
Guidelines for Government Members of Parliament
• The acceptance and giving of gifts by Members should be guided by the principles set out below. It is inevitable that situations will arise which are not adequately dealt with by this policy. There is always a judgmental element and it is the responsibility of the member to decide what is appropriate. Guidance can be obtained from the Premier or the Secretary, Department of Premier and Cabinet if required.
• The overriding concern is to ensure that no conflict exists or appears to exist between the public duty and private interest of a Member. Such conflict or appearance of conflict could relate to a Member’s past, current or future duties.
• The propriety of accepting any gift must always be judged in terms of the possibility of creating or appearing to create a conflict of interest not withstanding that the gift might be of lesser value than the monetary limits established by this policy.
• Under no circumstances should Members accept gifts involving the transfer of money or financial instruments regardless of value.
• If two or more gifts from one source are received by a Member or their immediate family in any calendar year, the aggregate value of the gifts shall apply to each individual gift. Regular or frequent gifts from a single source should be discouraged and avoided.
• Sponsored travel includes the provision of transport, accommodation or living expenses to Members other than from official funds or the Member’s own resources
• The expectation is that Members travelling on official duties will do so at the expense of the State or Parliament or, in certain cases, the Commonwealth.
• All offers of sponsored travel other than from the Commonwealth are to be referred to the Premier for decision. In normal circumstances, such a request should arrive with the Premier at least six weeks prior to the proposed travel.
• Sponsorship by another body may be approved particularly if acceptance of the offer could be considered of benefit to the State. Sponsorship by private firms or groups, however, is more likely to give rise to the appearance of a conflict of interest.
• Offers of sponsored travel are not made acceptable by being undertaken in the Member’s own time or in an unofficial capacity particularly where any link exists or could be construed between the offer and the official duties of the Member.
• Jenny Weber, Huon Valley Environment Centre: Conservationists outraged at Libs plan as Ali incarcerated
Tasmania’s Conservationists are penalised
Conservationists today have expressed outrage at the Liberal Party’s claim they will institute harsher penalties on protesters, while Ali Alishah is currently incarcerated in the medium security section of Risdon Prison.
‘Once again Will Hodgman has it all wrong. Tougher environmental laws are needed to stop species extinction, not punishing the people who are standing up for environmental protection’ said Jenny Weber of the Huon Valley Environment Centre.
Peaceful protesters in Tasmania, are often held in remand, and have been sentenced with imprisonment, thousands of dollars in fines, suspended prison sentences and community work orders.
‘Globally, human activities are causing a massive extinction of species, the full implications of which are barely understood. This mass extinction is being driven by human impacts such as the destruction of natural habitats, and climate change. And in Tasmania, a community of environmental activists are acting non-violently for the protection of native forests and species habitat,’ Jenny Weber said.
• Senator Christine Milne: Hodgman’s draconian policy a recycled failure
Liberal Leader Will Hodgman has embarrassed himself and the Liberals by recycling one of former Liberal Premier Ray Groom’s failed policies, Australian Greens Deputy Leader Christine Milne said today.
“Not only is it a King Canute strategy to try to prevent dissent against logging of native forests in an age when this is seen as increasingly ecologically abhorrent, but it is also embarrassing since it highlights a big Liberal failure.
“It failed once and it will fail again as it will infringe national competition policy.
“Ray Groom went into the 1992 election promising to get tough on forest protesters following the Liberal and Labor passage of resource security legislation. Like Hodgman, Ray Groom thought he could accelerate logging whilst suppressing dissent and silencing protesters.
“The Liberals then enacted the most draconian forest protest laws in the country, making protests a criminal offence with heavy penalties and compensation to woodchip companies.
“These laws were later repealed because they infringed national competition policy because by taking away democratic rights in Tasmania, the Tasmanian loggers had secured an unfair advantage over their mainland counterparts.
“This embarrassing episode taints Ray Groom’s premiership.
“Will Hodgman does not represent generational change, he is a continuation of last century Liberal Party “born to rule, silence and destroy” policy. It failed then and it will fail now.”
• STATE’S VALUABLE CLEAN, GREEN REPUTATION UP IN SMOKE AGAIN
Paul ‘Basil’ O’Halloran MP
Greens Health spokesperson
The Tasmanian Greens today called for an end to Forestry Tasmania’s annual burn season and commencement of 245 so-called forest regeneration burns across the state.
Greens Health spokesperson, Paul O’Halloran MP, said it was difficult to justify why the entire island had to suffer such regressive air pollution just for Forestry Tasmania to pursue its failed business model.
“Forestry Tasmania is again torching Tasmania’s world-renowned clean, green, clever and creative reputation, with wholly unnecessary so-called regeneration burns,” said Mr O’Halloran.
“The time last year, Forestry Tasmania admitted to causing air pollution from high-intensity regeneration burns across the north-west. Now Forestry Tasmania is planning an increased number of burns this year, it is bad news for people’s health, bad news for tourism, bad for smoke-sensitive industries, such as our cool-climate wineries, and bad news for our valuable brand, based on Tasmania’s still largely pristine environment and clean air.”
“New research led by the Menzies Institute has found that similar fires around the world, particularly in the developing world, contribute to over 30,000 deaths per year. Toxic cocktails of chemicals and particularly small PM2.5 particles are particularly dangerous to health and are produced in abundance from this practice.”
“Forestry Tasmania is effectively reproducing these developing country effects in Tasmania”.
“I note Professor David Bowman, from the University of Tasmania’s School of Plant Science, was reported in February as saying said the forest industry was not trying hard enough to find alternatives to so-called regeneration burns.”
“Prof Bowman was quoted in the Mercury newspaper  as saying alternatives needed to be found. Prof Bowman’s comments included:
“If the [forest] industry says there are no alternatives, I say they are not trying hard enough. It is erroneous to suggest smoke pollution is similar to other pollution. There are all sorts of weird and wonderful organic compounds in wood smoke. We cannot wish the science away.”
“How can Labor’s health policy emphasisise the need for prevention while also supporting this archaic and unnecessary practice, which puts at risk the health of a large number of Tasmanians, particularly children, elderly and those with respiratory illnesses? They are they ones who will be suffering in this autumn’s burning season.”
“Labor has pledged to ban smoking in public places yet it supports Forest Tasmania’s completely unnecessary regeneration burns, which will swathe the state in thick and toxic smoke.”
“In 2008, Clean Air Tasmania estimated that the emissions created in Tasmania’s airshed numbered between 86,000 to 120,000 tonnes of particles, from the burning of 7.2 million tonnes of wood (EPA Division, Tasmania 2009). This is to the equivalent of 6.45 trillion and 9.15 trillion cigarettes being burned across Tasmania and inhaled by Tasmanians.”
“How much longer will Tasmanians, especially our children, elderly and respiratory ailment sufferers, have to put up with the life threatening and health destroying burns, which have never belonged in any era, let alone the 21st century?”
“When I asked the Health Minister, Michelle O’Byrne, whether she was aware of the Menzies Institute’s new research, her reply was disappointing but predictable. In standard Labor practice, she appeared to deliberately confuse commercial forestry regeneration burns with fire-prevention burn offs.”
“This does nothing to move Tasmania forward and leaves our most vulnerable people subject to the health effects of smoke pollution no better off.”
“I believe the days are numbered for this practice but it will take a Minister truly committed to ending this medieval practice to make it happen. While we wait for them to arrive, the Greens will continue to campaign against this industrial-scale air pollution,” said Mr O’Halloran.
• MINI PEELER VENTURE COLLAPSES
Was Bob Gordon’s China Trip Linked?
Kim Booth MP
Greens Forestry spokesperson
The Tasmanian Greens today called on the Forestry Minister Bryan Green to explain Forestry Tasmania’s abrupt cancellation so called “mini peelers” logs for export to Asia.
Greens Forestry spokesperson Kim Booth MP said that the failed mini-peeler export venture is the latest example of Forestry Tasmania failing to read the market, exploiting contractors, trashing the forests and needlessly draining money from the public purse.
“This is yet another example of Forestry Tasmania misleading the industry by announcing a new market for a product which does not exist, or is at best a loss maker for both contractors and taxpayers,” Mr Booth said.
“The Minister needs to reveal why the mini peeler operation has been cancelled and whether it is linked to Forestry Tasmania CEO Bob Gordon’s recent trip to China.”
“Minister Green did not deny that Forestry Tasmania loses public money on every boatload of mini peelers and woodchips.”
“Tasmanians deserve to know how much public money has been lost on this latest reckless and ill-advised venture by this joke of a GBE.”
“Now that the mini peeler venture has fallen over, you can bet your life savings that Forestry Tasmania’s next big thing will be native forest woodchips for Chinese furnace fuel.”
“Forestry Tasmania has demonstrated that it is an out of control rogue agency that continues to trash public resources and waste good public money, whilst at the same time exploiting its contractors.”
“It’s unconscionable to allow Forestry Tasmania to get away with this type of mismanagement while the community is forced to wear cuts to services such as health.”
“This demonstrates beyond doubt that the old industry is dead and that restructuring the industry though the Forests Intergovernmental Agremeent is vital,” Mr Booth said.
• Former gov’t forestry chief joins Ta Ann
A former boss of Forestry Tasmania has been appointed to the heirachy of Ta Ann Tasmania.
The timber company has announced the appointment of Evan Rolley as its Executive Director.
Ta Ann says Mr Rolley will work closely with the local management team to assist the company with product development and marketing.
Mr Rolley is also a Director of Tasports and Forest and Wood Products Australia.
He is also a former Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet.
• Matthew Denholm, The Australian: Loggers demand greens agree to forest peace terms
THE timber industry has “parked” the Tasmanian forest peace talks until green groups accept conditions that would see the creation of forest reserves in stages and linked to the abandonment of anti-industry campaigns.
Industry groups including the Australian Forest Products Association and Timber Communities Australia, as well as the CFMEU forestry union, fear that a final deal to end 30 years of conflict will not be supported by the Greens and “radical” groups.
They are concerned that Markets for Change will continue to campaign against veneer maker Ta Ann in key Japanese markets, while the Greens will continue to fight the Gunns pulp mill.
Yesterday, the timber groups failed to show up to important briefings by the independent verification team attempting to guide the historic peace talks.
Timber Communities Australia national chief executive Jim Adams told The Australian that the group had “parked” the process, but not abandoned it.
• STATE NEEDS POST EMPLOYMENT SEPARATION LAWS
Must Also Clarify Mr Rolley’s Tas Ports Director Status
Tim Morris MP
Greens Deputy Leader
The Tasmanian Greens today called for post employment separation regulations to be introduced for both Ministerial and senior government employees, following the announcement of Mr Evan Rolley as Executive Director of Ta Ann Tasmania.
Greens Deputy Leader Tim Morris MP said that there are clearly significant commercial arrangements between Tas Ports and Ta Ann Tasmania, and called for clarification of Mr Rolley’s current status as a Director of Tas Ports.
“While Mr Rolley has not done anything that breaches current regulations by accepting his new role as Executive Director of Ta Ann Tasmania, his recent career in the public sector, from head of Forestry Tasmania, Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and apparent current membership of the TasPorts Board, once again raises serious concerns about this gap in Tasmania’s governance structures,” Mr Morris said.
“In particular Mr Rolley’s membership of the TasPorts Board, as listed currently on the Tas Ports website and in its 2010-2011 Annual Report could be perceived to have potential benefit for Ta Ann, given that Ta Ann has a commercial arrangement to access Tas Ports storage and wharf infrastructure.
“The Greens have previously tabled Bills to introduce a post employment separation regulation system that would require two years breathing space for ex-Ministers and senior government staffers, between working for the public and moving to the private sector.”
“The ACT, NSW, South Australia, Victoria and the Commonwealth have post employment separation codes, it is also being discussed by the Integrity Commission, and we are urging the Premier’ prioritises getting a state system in place.”
“It is disappointing that the Premier failed to commit to introducing post employment separation regulations for ex-Ministers and senior government employees which would bring Tasmania into line with many other States,”
Mr Morris also dismissed the Premier’s desperate comparison with ex-Greens Leader Peg Putt’s current work for an environment organisation, as completely missing the point.
“Either this was a desperate attempt by Premier Giddings to confuse the issue, or she is actually very confused herself. Ms Putt was never a Minister, and nor was she employed as head of the Premier’s Department, or on a GBE’s Board, therefore she would not have had any direct corporate insider knowledge that would benefit her current employer.”
“Further Ms Putt retired from the State Parliament in 2008, which is clearly more than two years ago, which was the provision provided for in the Greens’ Bill, unlike Mr Rolley’s situation as he was still listed as a Director of Tas Ports last year, and could still hold that role currently according to Tas Ports website,” Mr Morris said.
Tas Ports Link:
• ABC Online: Forestry ‘not feeling the love’ from peace deal
Forestry Tasmania says it’s had a “gutful” of baseless allegations from the Tasmanian Greens and warned them to prepare for a vigorous public defence.
The organisation is rejecting claims made by Greens MP Kim Booth that it had lost a Chinese contract to supply ‘mini peeler’ logs.
Mr Booth said it was another example of Forestry Tasmania misleading the community, by announcing a new market for a product which does not exist.
The Minister Bryan Green told parliament, Forestry’s contracts are commercial in confidence.
“And of course I’m not in a position to provide information with those commercial negotiations,” he said.
Forestry Tasmania’s Ken Jeffreys says there has been no cancellation of any so called ‘mini peeler’ logs for Asia.
Mr Jeffreys has told ABC Local Radio the Greens make constant attacks on business.
“Frankly, we’ve had a gutful,” he said.
“We’re sick of the language of hate, the IGA is supposed to bring peace to the forests but we’re not feeling the love.”
Mr Jeffreys says staff have told Managing Director, Bob Gordon they want FT to hit back at claims that simply are not true.
“What mini peeler collapse?,
“[He] claims we’ve lost contracts and there’s a boat sitting down at the Hobart port loading 25,000 tonnes of hardwood peelers.
“If Mr Booth walked outside Parliament and looked down he would have seen there was a boat loading peelers and therefore his statement was incorrect.”