Ever since the events of 2007, now just over five years ago, there has been no basis of trust in the whole process – in all aspects of it, from the events which led to the passage of the Pulp Mill Assessment Act right through until, and including, the West report.
Plenty of people have had their say, or have watched and heard the litany of things that have followed since the PMAA was implemented. The litany is long, too long to enumerate and be convinced that it’s comprehensive in its coverage, but the one strand running through the whole sequence of events is the continual strengthening of distrust, ever growing, ever deepening. Now distrust is overwhelming.
Without wishing to provide more than a snapshot of how that distrust has accumulated since the days of the RPDC back in 2006, just consider the shreddergate affair, the Lennon promise of funds for Gunns’ pipelines, the dirty linen exposed by Richard Flanagan in his Monthly article (Gunns out of control; issues which have never been resolved, or even pursued to this day), the “line in the sand” lie, the continuous press statements by Gunns, for years on end, that money would be available to start work next week, next month, next year, the continual lies from the politicians about “best practice”, the overseas trips by government ministers on Gunns’ behalf at public expense, the… Well that will do, at least up to the beginning of 2010.
It was during 2010 that the distrust took on another dimension, when it became widely known that ENGOs were willing to trade off the pulp mill for Gunns exiting native forests and using only plantation feedstock in the mill. 2010 was the year which promised “peace in our time” on the back of a whole industry restructure designed to get Gunns’ mill kick-started from ground zero through a process which excluded public participation, and excluded anyone and everyone who were not interested in the trade off.
In October 2010 the statement of principles (SOP) confirmed the trade off, but Forestry Tasmania was excluded from the frame and tried to continue business as usual. The SOP agreement was facilitated by Paul Lennon and then Bill Kelty, with meetings in Gunns’ headquarters for all the signatories. Fantastic process to generate trust, wouldn’t you say?
Then we had to have the inter-governmental agreement, signed off and agreed to by two governments who gave the pulp mill their unequivocal whole-hearted support. Remember Lara Giddings, in a moment of frustration, telling Will Hodgman on the floor of parliament that he should be in total support of the roundtable-SOP-IGA process because it was all serving the purpose of helping Gunns? Then we had to have Gunns paid millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to keep them afloat on the spurious claim of paying for “residual rights”. At the same time we had to have special ways and means for Gunns to evade the expiry of its permits under the PMAA.
If trust was indeed undermined in 2007, it was dead and buried for more and more people as all these bizarre shenanigans unfolded. Bizarre is not the right word at all. It needs something much stronger.
Is it any wonder that when opponents of the pulp mill read parts of the West report which recommend that protests against corporations like Ta Ann and Gunns (which don’t abide by triple bottom line forestry accreditation practices in Tasmania anyway), “must” cease, they immediately see another attack on their rights? Is it any wonder that people who have been ignored and excluded from the processes, and been marginalised by epithets such as “eco-terrorists” and “extremists”, don’t look carefully at things like the West report with a heightened sense of scepticism and awareness of the possibility (probability actually) of another sellout?
Is it any wonder that when West says on radio that he spoke with anti-pulp mill groups that he be asked to identify which ones, and who in those groups he spoke to, apart from the ENGOs and their front organisations? Is it any wonder that after the West report came out and after West went public in its defence, that people started to ask who West really was, what his resume looked like, who he worked for and with?
The fact is that it is very pertinent to know who West is, what government advisory roles he currently holds and what private corporate boards he sits on. That should be knowledge made available as a matter of course in the mainstream press.
In conclusion, the whole set of processes established on the back of the PMAA in 2007 are all shonky. None of them can be trusted. Trust cannot be built on a process which excludes public participation from the beginning and then gives the mantle of bestowing “social licence” to those, such as the unrepresentative ENGOs, who indicated some time ago their willingness to trade on the pulp mill issue.