Remember when Paul Lennon, as our then Premier, made a widely reported round-400km dash to Launceston to see John Gay about one of the many crises situations regarding the Pulp Mill?

In what capacity did Lennon need to talk with Gay, presumably at public expense? Was it consultant? advisor?, partner in a project? potential benefactor? Whatever the answer to this question may be this visit was a widely reported part of the story of the pulp mill in the Tamer Valley project.

Fast forward, from that particular event; Lennon subsequently saw it necessary that he resign as public criticism of his role as Premier escalated, and John Gay after unloading a large numbers of his shares in Gunns is under heavy criticism, including from some his corporate associates. Yet another important piece to the Gunn’s mill story that has now seen the light of some public knowledge and critical scrutiny concerns the surfacing of scientific information that strongly indicates the introduced E nitens trees used in these plantations, encouraged by a Howard Liberal Coalition Government tax subsidy scam, produce poison leaves.

It has been argued that these Plantation Ash (E Nitren) trees imported from their natural habitat in Victoria and south-eastern NSW, and planted in Tasmania have been modified in that they have been selectively bred to increase the toxicity in their leaves. Personally I believe that this is so. However, the issue of whether or to what extent these trees have been modified, whilst important, is not the main issue. The main issue is that they do produce toxins, that they are in monoculture plantations in our water catchments and that these toxins are killing wildlife and affecting the health of human beings.

As one of Tasmania’s and Australia’s top scientific experts on water related issues, Dr D.E. Leaman, wrote in the Sunday Tasmanian (March 21st, 2010, p. 45):

“A conclusion like that of Bleaney and Scammell’s was drawn several years ago but, because the government panel considered the toxin natural, nothing more was done. A toxin is a toxin and we need to know all about it and its risks. Because this toxin might involve the forest industry, any review must be fully independent.

“We should thank, not accuse, Bleaney and Scammell for their concern and effort, while observing that our government has yet to match that care and concern.”

The plantations producing these toxins cover large areas that were once natural forest and are situated in areas that are the catchments for a large part of suburban Tasmania’s water supply. The tree concerned requires a lot of water to enable fast growth and according to www.tastimber.tas.gov.au ‘its best development occurs on deep rich loamy soils over clay,… “ In other words on the best agricultural land.

Monoculture plantations have taken over land previously covered by natural and diverse forests as well as productive farm land. In the former case our water supplies have been compromised and in the latter rural communities destroyed and valuable farm lands rendered much less productive.

This threat to Tasmania’s “Clean and Green’ image is only recently become part of a limited public discussion. Wildlife, food supplies, potable water and human health are all affected. The whole issue must be confronted openly and in the full light of public scrutiny. What happens in this regard will be a vital test of how serious Premier Bartlett is about us seeing a new face to our Premier, post state election. It is a problem which the Greens have to make a central issue in order to retain their reputation as a serious political force.

The Gunn’s mill story highlights two basic facts that influence our current political reality, namely the influence unelected short sighted and greedy corporate chiefs have with politicians and the closeness of the basic policy approaches on the Labor and Liberal Parties. The tax dodges introduced by the Liberal Party nationally encouraged the plantation of massive areas of trees that produce poison leaves. At the State level Lennon and the Labor Party were obsessed with creating a pulp mill that never had a viable future. The mill project encouraged the development and plantation of trees that produce poison leaves. In economic terms even large public subsidies could not make many plantation ventures viable. In ecological terms the mill project, even as it fails, has left us with a potential, even likely, massive statewide disaster.

The over production of woodchips and pulp worldwide, and the ecological, and economic, necessity of ending the waste of the world’s remaining forests by pulping them highlights the urgent need for a new approach to forestry and the use of forest products.

How can we clean up this mess that greedy and shortsighted corporation chiefs and intellectually limited and pliable politicians has placed us in?

The problem

Now it is well known that eucalypts can produce oils that are poisonous but can also be useful as medicines if used sparingly and carefully. The E nitens , or Plantation Ash, eucalypts produce poison leaves that discourage wildlife and insect pests. Tests, carried out and checked by several reputable scientific institutions, suggest leaves that produce poison that then washes off in rain and enters the water systems.

These plantations cover a large area of Tasmania including in the water catchments that provide water for most people in Tasmania. Thus there is an urgent need not only to end the spread of these plantations but to clear them from the vast areas of land they now cover. The issue of doing this clearance at the least possible cost needs to become a subject for wide public debate and for action by elected parliaments.

Possible ways to help provide solutions.

According to www.tastimber.tas.gov.au (22/03/2010) what they call Plantation Ash|Eucalyptus nitens;- “Plantation Ash is an exclusively plantation grown hardwood suitable for a wide range of applications internally and, if treated, externally . The timber can be used structurally in commercial, industrial or domestic construction in solid, nail-plated, glue laminated or truss forms. It is also suitable for flooring and paneling, joinery and furniture. Planing or sanding to an excellent finish, the wood accepts the full commercially available range of adhesives and finishes.”

What I have personally gleaned, from people involved directly in the building industry as builders or educators, indicates that the Plantation Ash or E nitens timber in quality terms is not as strong as our natural hardwoods . But it is superior to timber from pine plantations and it is much easier for carpenters to work with than our natural Tasmanian hardwoods. Given this and the hope that the poisons in the E nitens are confined to the leaves the clearance of these trees with dangerous leaves could possibly be done in a manner that need not be too economically costly. The evidence available indicates that failure to act on the clearance issue as a matter of some immediate urgency could be very costly to human health and our whole natural environment. And that of course means that it could be an economic and social disaster of quite massive proportions.

Stopping further plantations of trees that produce poison leaves seems to me to be a must. Younger plantations that will take several years to become usefull as timber could perhaps be grubbed out as quickly as possible and replaced with a variety of native species or returned to farmland. Older trees capable of being milled for timber should be harvested as soon as possible. My understanding is that Plantation Ash or E nitens timber requires additional support when being dried. Natural Tasmanian hardwoods can be stacked by racking, that is by placing small timber batons at right angles to the timber pieces being dried, thus allowing air circulation. The Plantation Ash apparently requires extra measures to prevent it from warping.

Who will bear the cost? People whose health has been affected are already bearing a very heavy cost, as are some small businesses and people in industries that are negatively affected by polluted waters. How the cost of cleaning up the mess will be met needs both serious thought and open public discussion with none of the commercial in confidence nonsense being used to hide the truth of what is being done.

Dr Peter Hay, in a recent ABC T V interview, drew on his own experiences as an important Government short term appointee seconded to work on issues involving co-operation in the first Labor Green Accord period. Dr Hay stressed the importance of the role of top government advisers and heads of departments and the need to have people who were capable of accepting the need for change in these positions.

In this context the points made, in a letter to all MHAs after the March 20th election signed by a number of people, concerning the comfortable relationships that develop between top public servants and private corporation chiefs need to be taken to account. A paragraph from this letter stated:- to quote:

“For example the English speaking world’s most celebrated economist and a noted public figure of the 20th century, J. K. Galbraith, described the situation in his homeland, the USA, when he wrote of the power of the corporations, ‘The corporation also exercises power in and by way of government.  This too is agreed.  Its payments to politicians and public officials are believed by no one except the recipients to be acts of philanthropy or affection. And less mentioned but more important is the naturally advantageous relationship between the modern corporation and the public bureaucracy.’ (For full context see Galbraith J.K. The Age of Uncertainty, 1977 pp257-259)”

David Bartlett will need to ensure some rather radical changes to his immediate support staff. The Greens continue to have a heavy responsibility to push for big changes. Whatever the changes they can be greatly influenced to the extent people outside of the parliamentary area are vigilant, think creatively and use their own talents and opportunities to push for changes in a more positive direction.