On the 27 January 2006, the Tasmanian Senator, Erich Abetz, became the Federal Minister for Forests in the John Howard Liberal Government.
On the 16th March 2006, some 6 weeks later, Abetz lunched with Ian Blanden, CEO of Gunns Plantation Schemes, and discussed the Gunns Pulp mill, MIS plantations and the 12 month pre-payment rule with no sunset provision … matters vital to the future solvency of the Gunns’ business.
This conversation was documented by the Chairman of Gunns Ltd John Gay in a letter to Abetz dated 29 March 2006 on Gunns Ltd company letterhead and sent to the Minister. (Document 1).
Three weeks later on the 21 April 2006, Gunns gave the Liberal Party $50,000 … which was accepted.
Was this a donation made in an attempt to influence the thinking of the Minister to act in favour of the company?
A large political donation made outside the electoral cycle is unusual. It was, I suggest, made with the sole aim of gaining the ear of the Minister of Forests, one Senator Erich Abetz.
Abetz was in a position to protect and promote the highly-profitable Ponzi Nitens Woodlot Managed Investment Scheme (MIS) schemes that were at this time keeping Gunns Ltd solvent. The demise of these schemes through ATO action caused their promoters to finally call in the liquidators.
Abetz was seemingly drawn into line by Peter Dutton, then Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer, although the correspondence is incomplete. (Documents 2 and 2A)
The $50,000 donation to the Liberal Party was authorised by John Gay, subsequently convicted of insider trading, but then the Chairman of Gunns Ltd.
I suggest that Gay appears to be creating a similar situation to that related by Bob Cheek in 2002 when as the Liberal Party potential Premier he was summoned to Gay’s office in Launceston. Cheek was offered: “$10,000 no strings attached and another $20,000 if I [Cheek] could guarantee we [The Liberal Party] would continue with our policy of supporting logging in old growth forests and clear felling”.
By 22 June at the latest, (the letter has a date stamp which is illegible) Abetz reports to Gay on his progress. (Document 3)
Unaware of this $50,000 additional donation, I wrote to the Financial Review expressing my concerns over Gunns’ political donations to the Liberal Party. The Financial Review published my letter on 15 Sep 2006. (Document 4).
Bob Brown was attacked by Minister Abetz in February 2007 in a letter to The Age (Document 5) to which I replied (Document 6).
This resulted in Abetz threatening to sue me for defamation over my reference to the two substantial Gunns’ donations stating that they were not made to him but to the Liberal Party …
This particularly annoyed me and I dug further and deeper and discovered the additional $50,000 gifted by Gunns Ltd to the Liberals after Abetz was made the Minister. (Document 7).
I asked Abetz for his thoughts regarding this discovery and informed the Prime Minister by copying him into the letter.
Abetz then sent two goons to my front door to threaten me. I informed them that the days of the Third Reich and jackboots were over and that they should return to their master and tell him that I would pursue him to the grave.
The above narrative is a reflection on what I believe is a corrupt Tasmania where these important matters are seemingly of no interest to its principal newspapers: The Mercury and the Examiner.
The promotion and political protection of forestry Managed Investment Schemes by the then Minister for Forests allowed the continuation of the extraordinary corporate profits of the MIS Forestry companies which in turn, allowed financial advisers to charge extraordinary fees for unsustainable management practices.
The points raised by Dutton – then in part ignored by Abetz whose original letter appears to have been destroyed – are worthy of a Royal Commission; for Australians have lost in excess of a billion dollars thanks to what I believe is political protection and questionable activity related to Ponzi Nitens woodlot schemes.
Supporting documents …
Document 1: The first 2 pages of a letter from John Gay to Minister Abetz written shortly after the appointment of Abetz as Minister for Forests and before the payment of the $50,000 by Gunns to oil the wheels.
Document 2: This 2 page document from Dutton to Abetz makes mention of a letter dated the 7 August 2006 which importantly seemingly no longer exists. Has it been shredded? Why do only 17 documents survive from the whole of this tumultuous period.
Document 2A: This is the result of my FOI request. Only 17 documents remain regarding the MIS correspondence signed by Abetz between April 2006 and February 2007. The shredder seems a likely option for a Royal Commission!
Document 3 of 2 pages: The reply by Abetz to Gay after the $50,000 had been paid to the Liberal Party and Dutton had drawn Abetz into line.
Document 4: John Hawkins letter to the Financial Review published 15 Sep 2006 which elicited no comment from Abetz who would not have wished to draw attention to the missing $50,000 that I had not yet discovered
Document 5: The Abetz letter to The Age, Feb/9/2007, attacking Bob Brown to which I replied as published by The Age below.
Document 6: John Hawkins’ letter as published in the Age that caused Abetz to threaten him with a case of defamation on the basis that he personally had not received the $60,000. He did not challenge the incorrect figure which should have read $70,000.
Document 7: My letter to Abetz noting another $50,000 to the Liberal Party; the latter made after he was made the Minister of Forests from Gunns, making a total of$120,000. Abetz promptly dropped his proposed defamation case against me sending his goons to my front door to warn me that it was not in my interest to continue my vendetta against the Senator.
*John Hawkins was born and educated in England. He has lived in Tasmania for 13 years. He is the author of “Australian Silver 1800–1900” and “Thomas Cole and Victorian Clockmaking” and “The Hawkins Zoomorphic Collection” as well as “The Al Tajir Collection of Silver and Gold” and nearly 100 articles on the Australian Decorative Arts. He is a Past President and Life Member of The Australian Art & Antique Dealers Association. John has lived in Australia for 50 years and is 75 this year. In two of the world’s longest endurance marathons and in the only teams to ever complete these two events, he drove his four-in-hand team from Melbourne to Sydney in 1985 and from Sydney to Brisbane in 1988.