Scratch Tasmania’s premier Paul Lennon and the union firebrand who used to enjoy starting fights up the back of Trades Hall shows through.

In fact, you hardly need scratch at all – just mention the timber industry.

“We’ve been through a 20-year debate here on our forests,” he tells Richard Guilliatt in Good Weekend.

“In that time our national parks have gone from 200,000 hectares to 2.7 million hectares and we’ve still got people claiming the last tree is about to be harvested here.”

What Lennon says is true, but there’s more to the picture. Tasmania protects more than 80% of its old growth forests from logging, says Guilliatt, but it’s also the only state to clearfell rainforest, and it exports more woodchips than all other states combined – some 5 million tonnes a year.

But Lennon doesn’t want to debate the matter. “What’s this – more of the same is it?” he says, his carbuncular countenance turning an alarming shade of puce.

“You’ve come to Tasmania to rubbish us again?”

But if you really want to rattle Lennon’s cage, ask about Labor and the timber company Gunns, which has taken over 85% of Tasmania’s timber industry since the party came to power.

Gunns’s chairman Edmund Rouse was jailed in 1990 for offering a Labor MP $110,000 to cross the floor of parliament, and a subsequent Royal Commission concluded he had offered the money to advance his business interests.

Isn’t it reasonable, then, for people to be wary of corruption? “Corruption where?” demands Lennon. The corruption uncovered by the Royal Commission. “What’s that got to do with forestry?” Well, Edmund Rouse was the chairman of Gunns … “Chairman of Gunns? Are you sure?” Guilliatt says that’s what he understood to be the case. Having failed to bluster his way through the argument, Lennon decides to pick up his ball and go home. “I think we’ve just about had enough, haven’t we?” he says. “Give us a break.”

When Labor came to power in Tasmania in 1996, it was led by a formidable troika.

“I always said Jim Bacon was the mouth, David Crean was the brains and Paul Lennon was the foot for kicking people around,” says former Tasmanian Liberal leader Bob Cheek.

“Now all they’ve got left is the foot.”

This extract from Richard Guilliatt’s profile of Paul Lennon (The Age Good Weekend, March 12, 2005), is taken from, The Reader. tasmaniantimes has had numerous requests to post the link to Guilliatt’s article, but it is not floating in the ether. So in the interests of objectivity …! this extract is the superb Reader’s pithy reduction …