Lara Giddings, just one day after taking over the Tasmanian Pemier’s office, has apparently said she won’t rule out the Tasmanian government going guarantor for Gunns Tamar Valley pulp mill project. That puts rather an interesting spin on what was happening behind the scenes in David Bartlett’s decision to resign.

Just a few weeks ago David Bartlett said with a completely straight face, in an interview with the Hobart Mercury, that he was now confidently “comfortable in the skin” of the role of Premier. The message was clear. I’m here to stay. Then suddenly all of this is tossed aside.

Precious few political commentators are finding any credibility in Bartlett’s ostensible reasons for quitting. Just read what Bruce Montgomery and Sue Neales have made of it all. The fact of the matter is that nobody believes anything that Bartlett has to say about anything. His voice was lost in the wind which blew his “line in the sand” away, and his public credibility evaporated a little more every time he opened his mouth since then. By the end of 2010 the bruvvers were in the land of déjà vu 2008, when Paul Lennon’s 17% approval rating sent quivers through their collective gut survival instincts.

Remember? Lennon’s mates gave him a cuddle and a kiss, “in the interests of us all, me ole mate… especially those of us who have figured out you can’t save our skins at the next election, which is the important thing, so piss off quietly and we’ll always love ya, because you don’t have the numbers any more good ole mate, cobber… time to put the Italian leathered feet up and water the roses at Broadmarsh… more time to study the form of the neddies… watch the Cats win flags. You’re only a phone call away if we need to put the boy down, after all is said and done. Deal?”

The analysts are saying that the Labor Left politely suggested to Bartlett that he might be short on numbers in the caucus, and whether or not he had a skinful of comfort in being Premier was beside the point, don’t you know. Time “for the family”, much as we would all love you to stay, but the public don’t seem to think the “kind, clever and connected” stuff has substance at all, and never did.

On the other hand we all know that Bartlett’s relations with his former boss, Paul Lennon, were akin to the Rudd – Gillard frost, or the Costello – Howard love-in. This was apparent before Lennon spat the dummy, but more apparent after, when Bartlett asserted hubristically that he was going “to clean up the mess”. Bartlett made matters worse throughout his two years as Premier by his self-centred personal style, and his cultivation of a narcissistic image.

In the end, his claims of transparency and honesty with the public were a tattered joke, and the Labor power brokers came to see that he had well and truly lost the trust and respect of the public. If the Left now holds the reins of power, there are plenty in the Right who will be pleased or relieved to see Bartlett’s demise as well. Bartlett’s demise will have put a smile on Lennon’s face and a spring in his step.

Especially, so spectacularly especially, because Giddings has told us all so clearly – on day one of the new regime – the spell-binding truth of her new role. Just a few weeks after telling us all, as Tasmania’s Treasurer, that we are in for straitened times, of cost cutting and preparing for fiscal problems due to lower GST receipts and so on, that she is seriously considering going guarantor for a doomed private project that will cost about $3 billion.

This tells us precisely why she is the new Tasmanian Premier. Just as Paul Lennon turned the Tasmanian parliament into a planning authority for Gunns mill back in 2007, now Lara Giddings is setting out to ensure that in 2011 the Gunns pulp mill issue will intensify and extend the already deep and bitter rifts within and between sections of Tasmanian society.

For a considerable period of time now the issue has morphed well beyond the thoroughly labyrinthine web of increasingly divisive and polarised positions associated with all aspects of forestry in Tasmania, into a range of governance matters, exposing Tasmanian political parties as self-serving shells for personal political ambitions, and exposing the notion of “representative democracy” as hollow and meaningless rhetoric.

The issue, especially since 2007, has become a pervading lens through which all political decision-making in the tri-partisan parliament is viewed, whatever the policy area – health, education, infrastructure, and so on. Within sections of Tasmanian society there is now a strengthened and more deeply ingrained distrust of political power as it is used to develop policy and frame legislation in the Tasmanian parliament.

This is in part to do with the events of 2007, and the betrayal of the public interest for the benefit of a private company, enshrined nakedly in the Pulp Mill Assessment Act – perhaps the most anti-social piece of legislation passed by the Tasmanian parliament during the lifetime of all parliamentarians who supported it.

The upshot is that the deep divisions which now exist within Tasmanian society are much more serious, and likely to be much more bitter, than those which accompanied the campaigns to save Lake Pedder and the Franklin River. They are much more serious because they extend well beyond the boundaries of environmental protection. They extend to much more fundamental questions about how Tasmanians see their future, how they see where scarce public funds should be allocated for the public good, how they see the essential life enhancing connections between regional and rural and urban Tasmania, and how they view sustainability as important or not in relation to their relationships with Tasmania itself, the place they live.

The fact is that Lara Giddings, who has been in the Tasmanian parliament throughout the Bacon, Lennon and Bartlett administrations, has demonstrated conclusively in her first day as Premier, that she has absolutely no comprehension at all of the complexity of issues which have been raised and discussed in detail and in depth for years now, about the establishment of a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley.

Worse, she has suggested she is contemplating adopting an economic model for Tasmania which goes well beyond the failed Thatcher-Reagan neo-liberalism which transferred public resources to the private sector – criticised, ironically, so trenchantly by Kevin Rudd in his 2007 Monthly essays as antithetical to the aims of social democratic parties like the ALP.

So it is then that the Tasmanian ALP, with the so-called Left in the driving seat, has more in common with the hard Right of the Liberal Party in Tasmania (Australia actually), represented by Eric Abetz. What Giddings is suggesting is exactly what has occurred with the use of public funds to bail out those who caused the GFC around the world, the transfer of public funds into the pockets of Gunns shareholders, largely institutional investors, while at the same time saying that it is not possible to help farmers in flood ravaged parts of Tasmania where the bulk of Tasmania’s vegetables are grown.

There is no doubt that Bartlett was a stooge, whose vanity and egocentrism was exploited by ALP power brokers in 2008 to keep them in the manner they had been accustomed through the first years of the 21st century, but Lara Giddings is also living in a bubble, and has been her whole adult life.

In a very real sense, she is reminiscent of the paradigms of pre-Labor political authority, going back to the 19th century, where birth and class determined political influence. She has known nothing except the plaudits and the bruvverhood, and has come to imbue the current orthodoxy about the intertwined benefits of cosy labour-capital relationships, especially in relation to the interests of Gunns.

Left Labor uses the mantra of jobs, but it is a false mantra when allied with the betrayal of hard-working and exploited taxpayers to prop up the salaries of overpaid Gunns executives and the investments of self-serving amoral offshore investors.

If Giddings can be described as Left Labor under the terms of this nonsense, then the circle of political self- interest is complete. Where does she differ from Senator Abetz?

She doesn’t.

First published: 2011-01-26 05:28 AM

An updated version of this article by Peter Henning has just been published on New Matilda: Will Tassie Taxpayers Go Guarantor For Gunns?