Bryan Green and presumably Lara Giddings knew the “overwhelming” financial plight of Gunns

In a recent article John Lawrence criticised those who had argued that Gunns exited native forest logging in order to work for a social licence to try to attract a joint venture partner for the Tamar Valley pulp mill. He said that “the ostensible search for a social license is Goebbels gobbledegook” ( The Unbelievable Charade, here ).

I am one of those who has always considered – at least since 2009 – that there was substantial evidence, which built over time, to conclude that a coalition of various interests was willing to work towards a trade-off which would see the establishment of the Tamar Valley pulp mill in exchange for Gunns exiting native forest logging.

What John Lawrence, Giddings knew Gunns was insolvent, ( TT Archive, here ) has been saying – beyond his frustration at the naivety of people like me – is that things are very much worse than anything that I and perhaps some others, have considered.

Lawrence, and now John Hawkins, The Underbelly of Forestry Tasmania, ( TT Archive, here ), have given real flesh to the bones of something which we have known was as warped as Richard III’s back.

But they have put flesh on the bones of these events in a way which shows the whole is more rotten than we thought we knew it to be.

What Lawrence and Hawkins have written in the past couple of weeks demands national exposure, and requires serious professional investigative journalism at that level. What Hawkins has written needs to find its way to the desk of fearless, intelligent and experienced journalists like Kenneth Davidson – who still combines occasional articles in the Age with running the periodical Dissent ( here ).

There is no way that the Tasmanian media is going to investigate any of the key issues, or that Tasmanian-based journalists of Fairfax or Murdoch are going to queer their pitch with the Tasmanian power brokers. It needs someone from outside that circle who can splash the whole lot across the national media.

The latest Hawkins article ( The Underbelly of Forestry Tasmania ) raises a range of questions – some of which have already been posed by David Obendorf – about the nature of the Tasmanian political system, which go beyond my own conclusions – articulated often enough – about the threadbare link to representative democracy.

At the heart of this miasma is the way that about $60 million of public funds were literally thrown away in mid-2011 – $23 million called “compensation” to Gunns for exiting native forest logging, and $26 million of Gunns’ debt to Forestry Tasmania written off, and over $11 million given to FT to keep them solvent at the height of the crisis between Gunns and FT which had been running for months.

A few things we know for certain. Forestry Tasmania considered that Gunns was finished at least by July 2011 when Bob Gordon wrote to Bryan Green telling him so. Well they might because Gunns hadn’t paid any of their debts to Forestry Tasmania throughout the first half of 2011. So Bryan Green and presumably Lara Giddings knew the “overwhelming” financial plight of Gunns at least by then, if not earlier.

We also know that the Liberals publicly opposed handing public money to Gunns in mid-2011, and stated what we all knew, that Gunns had voluntarily withdrawn from native forest logging and had initiated the cancellation of contracts with FT. At some point however the Liberals got to know what Green and Giddings knew about Gunns’ “overwhelming” problems which Bob Gordon predicted would see Gunns go into receivership before the end of 2011. This is where John Lawrence and John Hawkins have a more detailed understanding of the sequence of these events than I do.

The key questions are obvious enough. Was Gunns insolvent when they were gifted $49 million of public funds, and was that money paid to them to keep them solvent while the government was also lying to the public about the real reason Gunns got the money? There are plenty of subsidiary questions which flow from that which need answers.

On the face of it, the Liberals could have had the Giddings government on toast if they’d pursued the matter. Plus they could have portrayed the Greens as totally inept. So why didn’t they? This brings us back to the usual murk. The Liberals wouldn’t have wanted Gunns to go into receivership, which is as good as any other explanation. But that makes them complicit in a cover up, as John Hawkins has indicated. The other thing which needs to be said about the initial Liberal opposition to handing public funds to Gunns is that it was unlikely to be a decision based on the public interest, but more a concern to prevent areas of native forest from being excluded from future logging contracts.

Another bit of murk in the mix was the late entry of Elise Archer into the discussion, asking questions of Forestry Tasmania. Aside from the bemusing question of why she got involved, was she happy with the response? Does she think she was told the truth? I reckon Hilary Mantel would love this stuff. Forget the life and times of Thomas Cromwell, or Richard III for that matter. Tasmania 2013 is the place for real political action behind closed doors.

Which brings us to the hapless Greens. Kim Booth must be ruing the day he ever mentioned “gross malfeasance”. But he did. The questions for him and his boss are pretty obvious as well. He really does need to respond to the issues raised by John Hawkins about the events of 2011 which saw him give full-throttle support – my words – to the compensation to Gunns. His decision seems more outrageous with the passage of time. What sold him on that matter? This was a time when everyone knew Gunns owed the banks, and the issue of “substantial commencement” of the Longreach site was highly contentious. At the time there was very active speculation that the funds would be used for ploughing up Longreach and to relieve some debt pressure. John Lawrence has dealt with these matters in some depth, but been ignored by all and sundry.

This whole episode indicates the Greens were completely inept in 2011 or were complicit in the whole charade. Which one is it? It is reminiscent of Nick McKim’s amazing statement that the $100 million gifted to Forestry Tasmania in a recent budget (was it last year or the year before – I can’t be bothered checking I’m so disgusted) was money for restructure of FT or some such nonsense.

Why on earth did McKim say that? Who told him what he wanted to hear? Iago? Was it the same person who told Booth what he wanted to hear in 2011? Or am I naïve in suggesting McKim and Booth have been played as fools, but knew exactly what they were saying to the public was based on lies?

Time for some answers to some obvious questions. From all sides of the political fence, and from fence sitters as well. My thanks to John Lawrence and John Hawkins for making me realise I could still be surprised at the depth of the rot in the Tasmanian political system.