A warning: readers may find some of the language and views expressed in this article, unpalatable, unwarranted and unworthy. The whimsical musings of an unreconstructed idealist, the article contains further unflattering and generally unfavourable commentary on the parlous state of politics in this State as reflected in the whole pulp mill shemozzle, the centre-piece being the infamous PMAA. So if you feel unable to cope with more of this stuff; or are averse to written commentaries featuring words with an “un” prefix, pull the plug now as these words are used unsparingly throughout and could causes problems for readers susceptible to adjectival and adverbial overload!
If you are still reading (undeterred by these warnings) , the ‘story’ starts with a totally unexpected request (some years ago now) from an unknown political aspirant in my electorate, asking me to review,and provide “expert “ advice to him on the pulp mill proposal for Tasmania as then embodied in a voluminous document titled the IIS. Undaunted by the scope and complexity of detail in the document (not unusual in such cases) I made a conscientious effort to read it through and provide useful, unbiased feedback.
The feedback session did not go well! Responding to my particular criticisms (relating to sins of omission and commission in the document) as undeserved and unfair, the aspirant finally made clear that what really was being sought was the unequivocal support of an“experienced businessman” – for public consumption. Said aspirant was further unimpressed when I sought access to a “missing” part of the IIS: that part dealing with costs associated with the mill development. Unfortunately, this unworldly type had never heard of a “Cost-Benefit Analysis” and was unwilling to concede that there would of course be costs (and substantial at that) associated with a major industrial undertaking of the sort proposed.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, my unsolicited advice not to declare unequivocal support for the proposal in its present form, went unheeded.
Not only was my genuine desire to assist unsuccessful, I was later to learn that other members of the aspirants’ political party had been warned-off any further fraternisation with me. I had been unceremoniously cast aside: unsound, unreliable, unsupportive. Welcome to the insular, inward-looking, highly controlled and often unsavoury world of party politics in good old Tassie where the major parties particularly seem to be magnets for sycophants; mates; hacks;also-rans ; publicity seekers; power junkies and wannabe gravy-train riders. Talent and a track-record of success elsewhere are not prerequisites for candidates for political office and this reflects in the abysmal performance of many of those elected.
Unduly critical? Unfair? Before making a judgement, can I suggest that readers delve into the political memoirs of a recent leader of the Liberal Party (“Cheeky”, On TT, HERE) to get a deeper insight into the sick joke that our parliament has become. In my view, the PMAA is simply the illegitimate product of a corrupted political system. As asserted in an earlier article (The Real Culprits, On TT, HERE), we can expect more political chicanery out of a ‘broke’ system, one untuned and therefore unresponsive to the demands of an evolving new economic, environmental and social order. The need for political reform is undeniable. In the meantime, the voice of the people goes largely unheard; the needs of a modern society largely unfulfilled;and the efforts of some to confront corrupt practice and bring about change,largely unheeded.
Some further observations on a range of matters relating to our political landscape and the unedifying pulp mill fiasco (in “un”prefixed word contexts of course)follows:
UNAVOIDABLE : that climate change and carbon-reduction pressures will heavily impact industries in the future that are major emitters of green-house gases. Forestry, mills, smelters, coal fired power stations and the like, will inevitably be hit with muchhigher costs. Has this been factored into long-term mill profit projections? Unlikely, one would think, given Gunn’s dismal previous record in responding quickly to changed market conditions( their present financial situation is testament to this !)There is nothing to suggest that the mill proponents are doing anything more than searching for a means – however unrealistic – to keep the dream alive. Any new cost imposts likely to make the mill more unviable are unlikely to get the attention they deserve in this unsettled environment.
UNDESIRABLE: the involvement of politicians in business developments: in picking “winners” and favouring a few established players, often at the expense of many more needy and deserving. It is particularly undesirable where political donations are seen to flow back to political parties from those favoured businesses. A reward for services rendered?
UNQUALIFIED: most serving politicians in terms of the financial management of large businesses - such as government. This may not be the only cause, but it’s no doubt a contributing factor in cases of gross mismanagement of taxpayer funds evident in recent times.
UNFORGIVABLE: the collaboration of the major parties in short-circuiting the role of the independent RPDC, and fast-tracking the assessment and approvals process for the pulp mill.This constitutes a blatant corruption of process, unmistakably designed to favour a publicly-listed corporation. It may well however turn out to be a disastrous political miscalculation!
UNJUST: that public consultation was abandoned in the fast-track process thereby creating further disenchantment with the political processand social discord. (Who cares what the people think!)
UNSUBSTANTIATED: the economic benefits to the State claimed by mill proponents. These claims were never formally subjected to critical review and analysis by genuinely independent, expert economic analysts. Some private, independent reviews totally discredited their claims but the proponents,unmoved, are still unprepared to disclose the basis of their projected “benefits”.
UNMASKED: the contempt for parliamentary process and the interest of the people revealed by most MLC’s who abandoned their “ House of Review” responsibilities in what can only be described as indecent haste to pass the enabling legislation for the pulp mill. There was never any pretence at public consultation; seeking expert advice and critical independent analysis; or the imposition of public safeguards of any description. That they didn’t even debate the various clauses in the Bill before signing-off on it was agross dereliction of their duty to the people. By any standard, a perfidious act.
UNBELIEVABLE: the frequent media releases issuing from Lindsay Street in relation to corporate results, and pulp mill start up.When will the ASX be moved to take a serious look at these releases for possible breaches of theCorporations Act?
UNFORESEEN: the magnitude of public opposition to the mill from the outset ; and the extraordinary achievements of individuals and groups in halting a seemingly irresistible force unleased on the community by an unholy alliance between government and big business. This delay bought time for concerned, independent experts in various fields to probe and question the multitude of errors and omissions in the mill document. This should have been the responsibility of those elected to protect the public interest but who in this case seemed more intent on ignoring it. Another clear-cut case of party politics and vested interests trumping principle and the public interest.
UNENVIABLE: the lot of well-intentioned individuals and groups trying to navigate the minefield of entrenched forestry conflict in this State with the aim of brokering a peaceful, workable solution for sustainable forestry operations in the future. They deserve all the support and encouragement we can give them even where we may disagree with elements of their “solution”. Their endeavours give a whole new meaning to the term “mission impossible”.
UNBREAKABLE: the spirit demonstrated by people such as Peter Cundall in relentless public opposition to the mill. An Octogenarian, Mr Cundall would have little personally to gain by his public stance but like many of us, his concern is for the health and well-being of future generations and the environment.
UNFATHOMABLE: the apparent indifference of the local media to the pulp mill imbroglio, evidenced by a reluctance to engage with community groups and report on matters of particular concern such as the impact mill operations may have on public health, road safety, employment and the environment. Which raises the question: to what extent do commercial considerations influence the decision of media players to involve themselves in, or stay aloof from, controversial issues such as government financial backing for a particular business ?
UNPROFESSIONAL: the action of business bodies in the community who offered unqualified support for the mill from the outset. A classic example is a previous head of the TCCI, who,when interviewed at the time of the IIS public release, was positively euphoric about the mill because of the benefits he perceived in job creation, payroll taxes, etc. It transpired that he hadn’t even read the document! Before commenting publicly,a prudent business professional would have sought time to read the fine print, and carefully assess the business case for any deficiencies or possible ‘dis-benefits’such as damage to other businesses in the region; overburdening the road system; overheatingthe labour market and the like.
A professional would also have instigated an independent review of the mill business case because if you are going to declare unqualified support for a major investment of this sort, you need to be totally certain of its economic viability; and that other businesses in the region you also represent, are not going to be adversely impacted. The least you would do is demand to see a full cost-benefit analysis carried out!
Our business reps were thus part of that “irresistible force” unleashed on the Tasmanian community. It should be stated now however that new leadership of the Chamber appear to be adopting a far more independent and professional approach to representing business interests.
UNNERVING: the fact that our (major party) politicians were perfectly willing to ignore dire warnings from medical experts on the negative impact the mill almost certainly would have on public health - in the Tamar region particularly. Add to that the reluctance of our public health bureaucrats to be involved in any way.
So much for protecting the public interest!
UNREALISTIC: to think that the mill proposal will simply fade away in the face of public opposition; a sagging pulp market; scarce finance, and a forestry industry in decline. The other side of the equation is: federal and state liberal and labour support; a toothless,compliant EPA; a politicised bureaucracy; and the support of key business bodies. And then of course there’s the real power behind the scenes: the CFMEU!
Need further convincing? A new State premier whose first public utterance was to voice her support for a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley – going so far even as to suggest the State could go guarantor for the project. That the State coffers are empty apparently doesn’t compute! Alice in Wonderland stuff? Of course – but just look at the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars pumped into a failing forestry industry over the past decade or so and you get the picture!
UNPREDICTABLE: the response of the newly-created Tasmanian Integrity Commission to any matters that may be referred to it on such matters as government scuttling theindependent RPDC, and substituting a politically controlled fast-track approvals process.
UNIMAGINABLE: the consequences for people and businesses in the Tamar region should a catastrophic event occur in the future (e.g. earthquake, fire, flood, tsunami, cyclone) causing major damage and disruption to mill operations. A disaster could also occur as a result of human error or equipment malfunction- and that is why such major industrial operations are never (in the modern era) sited in valleys. Given the particular air- shed characteristics of the TamarValley and its relatively dense population of both people and businesses, it is hard to imagine a more unsuitable and unsafe site than the one proposed.
Public health, safety, environmental impacts and community support should be the prime determinants of mill location, not economics. That the mill proponents seem untroubled by the possibility of some catastrophic event in future wreaking havoc on the region, again reflects a lack of concern for the safety and welfare of people. The reality is that natural calamities are occurring all around us- it would be folly to think that Tasmania is somehow immune. We should forward-plan accordingly.
UNDEMOCRATIC: In a previous article (the Real Culprits: On TT: HERE) I lamented a breakdown in the observance of principles and processes underlying our parliamentary democracy. There is no better example of this than the unprincipled and unprecedented decision of the parliament to scuttle an independent, expert body (the RPDC) and substitute a so-called fast track Mill approvals process involving no person or organisation genuinely independent of the mill proponents. It seems that, in the interests of political expediency, the end justifies the means. Avoid independent, expert scrutiny and consultation with the people at all costs: Just keep building that “irresistible force”.
UNAUSTRALIAN: In a life-time of experience in public service, big and small business (including service on government advisory councils, etc.), I have never encountered anything that compares with Section 11 of the PMAA. It is manifestly undemocratic – but goes even beyond that. In my view, it is unaustralian – and that is the harshest criticism I can level. Why would any government deny an aggrieved citizen the right to take legal action on any matter relating to the mill assessment and approval – unless they had something to hide? And the fact that a trained lawyer (in the UpperHouse) is understood to have been involved in reviewing the wording of Section 11 provisions, makes this travesty of democracy and justice all the more shocking!
UNSAFE: reliance on the IIS to produce a credible business case when it focussed on perceived benefits only, ignoring all cost associated with such a major undertaking. This must be the only case in modern industrial history where a major corporation has spurned the well-established and proven “Cost Benefit Analysis” process when considering a major new investment. It speaks volumes about the conduct of business in this State that all the parties involved were willing to accept a “benefits only” study, happy to ignore costs. Call this laughable evasion of accepted business “best practice” what you will (unsophisticated, uneducated, and unprofessional) but the fact remains: someone will have to pay the costs. The corporation involved apparently believes it’s not them. Who then? Could it possiblybe the taxpayer? Nah – surely those often irrational, irresponsible clowns in government wouldn’t risk bankrupting the State by backing a decidedly dodgy (at best) business development, managed by the same incompetents who brought a once profitable enterprise to its knees? It beggars belief that supposedly rational, intelligent beings are even contemplating a “bet the company” play in an era of increasingly volatile world trade and financial instability.And in an industry where competition will only increase.
UNFINISHED: the business voters have with all the politicians involved in this unseemly, undemocratic and unaustralian saga. These compromised political animals have caused widespread social division, business uncertainty and disillusionment with our political system and must be held accountable. Methinks history will not treat them kindly. Nor should we.
Unexplained to this point is the reason for the unusually high frequency of “un” prefixed words throughout the article, unlikely to find favour with some readers. This unorthodox approach follows a discussion recently with a self-professed “wordsmith” who was lamenting a general decline in literary standards – in particular, abuse of language, form and style. One or two glasses of good Tasmanian pinot later, I unaccountably and perhaps unwisely, accepted a small wager – to do with writing a piece employing an unusual approach; in this case, using an abnormally high ratio of “un” prefixed words for effect : hopefully, to engage readers and refresh the message. The “rules” were that the piece had to be topical, intelligible and unlikely to outrage, or otherwise drive readers (particularlythose with literary pretensions) to total despair. Oh, and it had to get published!
So if you found the unorthodoxy in this article unappealing, or simply unsatisfactory for whatever reason, blame it all on the Editor as it was his decision alone to inflict it on TT’s readers. As a result, your unabashed writer will be enjoying the fruits of his wager: an excellent bottle of Tasmanian Shiraz! To be enjoyed now in case the unthinkable happens and the mill goes ahead on the back of government financial backing. If this were to eventuate, our “clean green” brand would of course be tarnished beyond redemption and our emerging wine industry, like many others, would take a king hit! Is nothing sacred?
An unrepentant Anthony John is:
- Tasmanian born
- Senior Military Officer
- Senior Executive (GM) of one of Oz’s largest corporations.
- Principal: business consulting firm
- Lived and worked around Oz and overseas
- Graduate Arts/Economics
- Presently small agri- business owner/operator