Tasmanian Times


Tasmanian Election 2010: Exposing a Weasel Democracy

Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett has made a decision to attack the credibility of Dr Alison Bleaney as part of his campaign for re-election. In doing so Bartlett has confirmed for all to see the authoritarian element that appears now to be dominant in his conduct.

More significantly, he has confirmed the antipathy of his government to matters of public health and welfare when they run counter to the interests of capital. Alison Bleaney herself has described Bartlett’s attack as “hilarious”, but she is being much too kind.

In any political system, at any time in history, individuals who have the courage, selflessness and principled concern to speak out on behalf of people’s welfare against an entrenched political culture seeking to maintain power and authority and the status quo, have invariably exposed themselves to the full force of the wrath of the political establishment.

Undeniably, many of these individuals have become iconic exemplars of the best that the human condition can aspire to, role models for altruism across time and place, across the boundaries of race, religion, class, culture and political systems.

Their names, in many cases, have survived emblematically, while the powerful vested interests which opposed them lie forgotten, shamed and condemned as representative of greedy and brutal exploitation of the lives of others, as representative of the inhumanity of man against man in the name of personal wealth, ego, status and power.

Some names? Think Socrates, Galileo, Wilberforce, Darwin, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi as a limited list.

So, as it would eventuate, at the height of the Tasmanian election campaign in 2010, we can see the same forces of authoritarianism in stifling debate about major issues of public welfare, in the attack by Premier David Bartlett on the independent work of Alison Bleaney, work undertaken by her, at her own expense and time, with the sole aim of protecting Tasmanians from toxins in their water.

True to the time-honoured power-wired standards of the self-serving vested interests of any political system under pressure, Dr Alison Bleaney has now been subjected to the same kind of unscrupulous and unprincipled attack so typical of undemocratic regimes the world over, now and in the past.

The attack on her is not unusual within the general context of ostracism and condemnation of those challenging conformism to the status quo in any political culture, but in a political system which calls itself a “representative democracy”, it makes a mockery of that claim.

As always in such cases, the focus of the attack is a blatant misrepresentation, designed to attack the person rather than the issues. Socrates was condemned for “misleading the youth”, Galileo and Darwin for challenging religious dogma, King and Mandela for the “crime” of fighting institutionalized and legally enshrined racism, and Aung San Suu Kyi for being a “security threat” as an advocate for human rights. Variously labeled as heretics and as terrorists by those with their hands on the reins of power, their common bond is an abandonment of the chains of vulgar caucus conformity.

Alison Bleaney is to be valued and cherished by Tasmanians precisely because she demonstrates – and has done so now for many years – the importance of independence of judgment, of examination of the evidence, of calling for independent investigation, of asking the questions that need to be asked, and of challenging the vested interests of conformism to corporate exploitation allied with political careerism.

She is to be cherished and supported for her efforts in seeking the truth. All those combined elements in the political establishment who are now conspiring against her work stand low in their own scrambling for self-preservation, for cover from scrutiny and for denial. Whatever they say their credibility is zero.

Premier Bartlett’s attack on Alison Bleaney really does deserve to be the final nail in the coffin of his political career. But even if that occurs, which is improbable, it does nothing to change the prevailing culture.

For Bartlett’s attack also illuminates quite graphically the hollowness at the heart of the Tasmanian political system. It shows that in Tasmania the use of the word “democracy” is a deception. It is a weasel word.

The typical mantra is the call for unity behind the leadership, for trust in the wisdom of the oligarchs and their corporate advisers in the half-light and behind closed doors, to trust the “tactical messages”, the carefully-worded ambiguities, the false promises, the evasions and the small-target policy sketches.

Deviate and get pilloried. That is the “standard” of “democracy” in the Tasmanian polity, the reality of the dumbed-down political culture of careerism, lack of transparency, cronyism and disregard for the public interest. This is the nature of the Tasmanian political culture, unchallenged by a compliant and timid local media, a generally cowed academy and a mushroomed electorate.

The one remaining question of how far this culture has permeated across the Greens as it has within the Labor-Liberal accord is difficult to assess. Political cultures tend to mould participants to the same ways of operating, and some signs are not particularly encouraging, as was seen recently when a Greens candidate for Bass (not Kim Booth) publicly attacked prominent anti-pulp mill activist Bob McMahon for exercising his own independence of judgment to challenge vaguely defined and contradictory messages from the Green side of politics.

It is imperative that the Greens see before them an opportunity to reshape the political culture, not merely to affirm the veracity of the mainstream standard operating procedures of evasion, tactical cynicism, vilification of legitimate political discourse and demands for old-guard restrictions on freedoms of expression.

The attack on McMahon, like the attack on Bleaney, like the attack on Ben Quin by the Liberals in the last federal election, are signs of a political culture trying to confine expressions of informed opinion within the community to strict parameters set by party machines.

The oldest trick in the political handbook is to instill timidity, reluctance and reticence in the minds of people about having an individual voice. John Howard’s term was for the people to be “relaxed and comfortable”, meaning passive, complacent and ignorant. Bartlett’s was “kind, clever and connected”, and “lines in the sand”.

Whenever you hear the phrases like that, or such glibness as “time for unity” or “trust us”, and whenever you hear attacks on the person as responses to analysis, challenge or question, then it’s time to smell a rat, because democracy cannot exist in a society where freedom of discussion is inhibited or eliminated by the call to follow the old line of caucus conformity to policy positions determined by others, somewhere else, in another place.

The result of caucus conformity is the abandonment of independence of judgment, and there’s nothing democratic about that. In fact, in the final analysis it is the abandonment of democracy itself, and its replacement by something else. That “something else” can be nothing else except a political form which takes as its central premise a legitimacy framed in this way: – “What are the people for but to support the prince in his endeavours”.

My guess is that we are further along that path than we know.

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. phill PARSONS is beyond salvation

    March 10, 2010 at 12:20 am

    I am happy to admit pesticide use has been a question for longer than 5 years and denial of any problem with its use has been a constant until the pesticide was exposed, eg Carson’s Silent Spring and DDT.

    Besides being angry and lashing out I am not sure what point Rosser is trying to make from my comment about a current matter in an article about an election this year by drawing back 40 years and encompassing a wide range of issues.

  2. Brenda Rosser

    March 9, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    Red Bob said: “Brenda ran for the Waratah-Wynyard Council back in 2000 – 10 years ago – and was snubbed by the ill-informed voters. I don’t doubt she would have grown tired of people suggesting that if you don’t want to deal with spray drift don’t move to a farming district, even if they did and do have a point.”

    First, the relatively small number of votes received in the Waratah-Wynyard Council election was not a surprise. My participation in that election was half-hearted and done more to support a number of other women in that particular local government election. I have no desire to be a local councillor nor to be in any other form of government office. I was unwell at the time. A result of an endocrine tumour, the nature of which has been linked to triazine chemicals of the sort found in my family’s and my community’s water tanks. I still struggle with this illness.

    I have no doubt that Tasmanians are generally ill-informed about issues in the forest and other industries. It’s a crime that the major newspapers are owned by people with a clear conflict of interest with respect to many vital topics. The future will hopefully see more people reading their news from a wider variety of sources.

    Secondly, when Red Bob says that bureaucrats who insist that human beings not live in farming districts “have a point” he must surely be refusing to think about the consequences and implications of such a statement. It’s an outright admission of how dangerous ‘farming’ practices are. But Red Bob is deceiving himself if he believes that people who choose to live downstream from pesticide spray drift have chosen a safer option. Clearly they haven’t, as Alison Bleaney notes when she writes about the demise of her patients.

    Where, is NOT, a ‘farming district’ in rural Tasmania. The forest reserves, perhaps?

  3. Red Bob

    March 9, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    Regarding 15 and 19, I think the point Brenda is rather subtly making is that she has been sounding the alarm against what she refers to as chemical trespass for years and has received neither public recognition nor widespread media coverage. Brenda ran for the Waratah-Wynyard Council back in 2000 – 10 years ago – and was snubbed by the ill-informed voters. I don’t doubt she would have grown tired of people suggesting that if you don’t want to deal with spray drift don’t move to a farming district, even if they did and do have a point.

    Re: 9, for once I agree with Mike Bolan. Bartlett was silly to `play the man’ and to question the timing. Let’s be honest – it’s not like the politicians don’t time their announcements / comments for maximum benefit or at least try to do so.

  4. Concerned Resident

    March 9, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    Alison Bleaney and Marcus Scammell are searching for the truth for all Tasmanians. The Lab/lib gov’t search for anything that will appease the timber industries only, regardless of the truth.
    I see the Lab/lib gov’ts as being the effluent of the timber industries, they are so closely aligned.
    I would not believe a single word they say as they tell the twisted truth as the timber industries would have us believe. Only the gullible would believe them without question.

  5. Brenda Rosser

    March 9, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    “denial has been the mainstay of 5 years of inactivity and shooting messengers”

    5 years???! How long have communities in Tasmania been opposing the cowboy aerial spray/pesticide regime? How long has it been since a Senate Inquiry recommended the end of aerial spraying?

    Go back to the 1970s, Mr Parsons.


  6. phill PARSONS is beyond salvation

    March 9, 2010 at 8:46 am

    ABC Online news reports 6 experts have been appointed by the head of the EPA, John Ramsay, to investigate toxic water claims, reporting in May.

    As trust in the quality of addressing the matter by the authorities must be at an all time low given that denial has been the mainstay of 5 years of inactivity and shooting messengers when something is shown to need investigation will the EPA’s Ramsay undertake to release the investigations in full.

    Government criticised Bleaney and Scammel for protecting themselves from being vilified, and still they were vilified and threatened with legal action.

    Therefore government has no moral or ethical grounds not to release in full. Indeed it would be immoral not to release if just to reassure Tasmanians that their water is as safe as they believed before February.

  7. Jeremy

    March 9, 2010 at 12:53 am

    In the end, all detailed writings about this government are like descriptions of burst sacks of rotten meat.

    They describe the effects of corruption and degradation.

  8. Brenda Rosser

    March 8, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    ” she demonstrates – and has done so now for many years – the importance of independence of judgment, of examination of the evidence, of calling for independent investigation, of asking the questions that need to be asked, and of challenging the vested interests of conformism to corporate exploitation allied with political careerism. She is to be cherished and supported for her efforts in seeking the truth.”

    Fortunately there are a large number of Tasmanians who have followed this past. Unfortunately the mainstream media have gagged them for many years.

    Gagged and then been raped by the ‘forest’ industry.

    Thank God for online forums such as this one.
    See: http://www.yahoogroups.com/group/tascleanwaternetwork
    The message archives tell the tale.

  9. john hayward

    March 8, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    Having counted several members of the genus Mustela amongst my esteemed friends, including a skunk and polecat, I regard the eponym “weasel” as defamatory when applied to the ambulatory excreta otherwise known as the “LibLabs”. Please desist.

    John Hayward

  10. dubious

    March 8, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    It seems that the only way to sort this out is to go ahead with the seemingly proposed ‘class action’. This will mean that everyone involved has to put their evidence on the table and justify their opinion under oath. If Bleaney is right, the State Government and Water Authorities will look incompetent. If Bleaney is wrong then perhaps we will have to accept that she is not the peoples hero and has instead caused unneccessary angst and expenditure of pulic funds. Time for the evidence to do the talking.

  11. Kerri Gee

    March 8, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    In the end, who are you going to believe?
    An GP with the health and well being of her community in mind? A person who spent her own time and resources doing independent testing on water quality in her area,…. or,
    A paid politician, with his political party and political masters in mind. (I haven’t mentioned David Bartlett as serving the Tasmanian public)

  12. john

    March 8, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    The small town factor of course means that many people who read the comment already know through word of mouth who the accusations are being levelled at.

  13. Andrew James

    March 8, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    Dr Alison Bleaney made a convincing, articulate case against pesticide use in Tasmania. The Bartlett govenment has an obligation to answer these claims without invalidating her method or reputation. Please raise the level of political debate in Tasmania.

  14. Mike Bolan

    March 8, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    David Bartlett’s spurious attack on Alison presupposes that there is something illegitimate about members of the population releasing information at politically sensitive times.

    This is not the case.

    Politics belongs to everyone, it is not the exclusive domain of the powerful.

    The people have few enough rights as it is, releasing information around election times could be the only way to get any attention in a system as inert as ours.

    It seems that Mr Bartlett is struggling to justify his tenure against people in his own party who are trying to direct his every move.

    It’s not a good look.

    It just isn’t smart to attack your own electorate.

  15. hugoagogo

    March 8, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    Is democracy collapsing when governments don’t immediately respond as activists might wish, when the activist argument is based on material of such dubious veracity as follows?

    (Transcript from the Australian Story website)

    “DR CHRIS HICKEY, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF WATER AND ATMOSPHERIC RESEARCH,NZ: Since our original experiments we designed a second series of experiments whereby we would chemically analyse both leaf material from eucalyptus nitens and foam material, and then follow that up with bioassays with both our fresh water cladocerans and our blue mussels. So this is some sort of forensic toxicology work that we’re doing. What we’ve been able to do is come very close to showing that there’s a common chemical fraction in both the eucalyptus nitens leaves and in the toxicity in the foams. So from that we really feel we’re very close to being able to confirm that the eucalyptus nitens is the primary source of toxicity in the foams. We just haven’t been able to actually get down to the final fingerprinting and molecular weight determinations which will give us our final linkage to the eucalyptus nitens.”

    I detected three story killing qualifications in that passage alone.

    I think the response of government and the media to this illustrate the undue impact a very wobbly but well promoted argument can have on public affairs.

  16. Stephan

    March 8, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    “The oldest trick in the political handbook is to instill timidity, reluctance and reticence in the minds of people about having an individual voice.”

    An even older trick is to instill fear and then provide the “necessary” solution or deterrent. This is generally done to (for) the profit of the person or organisation who has built the case for fear.

    Check it out in ads and campaigns. Never provide correlative stats and facts. Always use single points that are expanded, generally out of context and by “respectable/knowledgable” people, and provided as the basis for being or feeling afraid/uncomfortable/unloved. Try this product it, gets rid of that condition – yeah, right.

    Politics by fear and intimidation is not politics. It’s crass, it’s primitive and it insults the audience. It’s such a shame most of the audience doesn’t either give a shit or have the education to see and refute the treatment they’re getting.

  17. someone's mum

    March 8, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    From last’s weeks research..The Spirit Level-
    Why Equality is Better for Everyone, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett,Penguin,2009.

    “Controversies in the natural sciences are usually confined to the experts: most people do not have strong views on rival theories in particle physics. But they do have views on how society works. Social theories are partly theories about ourselves;indeed, they might almost be regarded as part of our self-awareness or self-consciousness of societies. While natural scientists do not have to convince individual cells or atoms to accept their theories, social theorists are up against a plethora of individual views and powerful vested interests.
    In 1847, Ignaz Semmelweiss discovered that if doctors washed their hands before attending women in childbirth it dramatically reduced deaths from puerperal fever. But before his work could have much benefit he had to persuade people – principally his medical colleagues – to change their behaviour. His real battle was not his initial discovery but what followed from it. His views were ridiculed and he was driven to insanity and suicide. Much of the medical profession did not take his work seriously until Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister had developed the germ theory of disease, which explained why hygiene was important.”

    I wish Alison Bleaney fortitude. And I also wish for testing to be done after ‘significant rain events’ when it appears that the ‘significant data’ appears.

  18. Heather Donaldson

    March 8, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    The dyke is leaking – that huge wall that hides and holds back secrets in this sorry state.
    Alison Bleaney, Peter Henning and good people everywhere tear at it with bare hands to widen the transparency while our political masters, and theirs, fluster frantically about like dykemen with a dearth of digits.
    Heather D

  19. Steve

    March 8, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    It’s a pity Alison is not able to fight with more than moral support.
    David Bartlett basically accused her of plotting for Australian Story to be aired at a crucial time in the election campaign, in order to assist the Greens.
    This is obviously nonsense, as he would well know, the ABC doesn’t work that way. Therefore he’s deliberately made allegations, knowing them to be false, with the sole intent of damaging her reputation.
    It’d be tricky and expensive but that must come very close to defaming Alison. As a GP, her reputation for upright behaviour is obviously more important than that of most of the populace.

  20. Dismord

    March 8, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    Yes, Salamander, Bartlett is a bully but the frightening fact of Tasmanian politics should keep that in perspective. That is, the majority of the Tasmanian electorate have always, and still do, hold bullies and thugs in high esteem.
    And thank you Peter Henning for a beautifully written, cogent and highly elucidating essay. If the print media in Tasmania were blessed with writing half as good maybe there would be some hope for democracy in this state. A brief acquaintance with the Launceston Examiner (Gunnsxaminer?) is enough dampen any such hope for now.

  21. salamander

    March 8, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Bartlett is a bully, and like all bullies he is weak. He has his government power to give him the appearance of strength. But the government has no decency left, it is morally bankrupt with only died-in-the-wool labor supporters still able to support him. They can’t imagine not voting labor, it’s in their genes!

    Alison Bleaney fights with little more than moral support, but she uses truth, a far greater ally, with many more supporters.

  22. phill PARSONS is beyond salvation

    March 8, 2010 at 10:00 am

    Perhaps there was a high in levels of dissent as protest against a foreign war in Vietnam crossed with those against racism here and in South Africa to be followed closely by the conservation movement finding its power and voice.

    Even during those times the many sat on the sidelines worried about other matters. The people have not moved from supporting the government of the day because they have the legitimacy that brings.

    It appears to me to be the reason the parties converge over time as the ‘new’ idea takes hold and becomes legitimate as the ‘paradigm’ of the time battered into something recognizable but rarely the ‘new’ idea in its initial form.

    Its how the philosophical opponents of anything can overtime come to support it and how it slowly looses its threat and then its force as something newer emerges.

    Therefore i contend there will always be a conformity and those that rebel against it will continue to do so.

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