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Controversy surrounds Gunns Tasmania pulp mill: foresters pressure mill opponents amid suggestions of corruption and secrecy

Posted by gmarkets on 20 September, 2007

As then Labor leader Mark Latham found out, the politics of Tasmania’s marginal seats, Bass and Braddon, are more quicksand than woodchip, reported The Australian (15/9/2007, p. 26).

Economic wellbeing the key: Latham announced he was protecting the forests and within days John Howard was receiving standing ovations from forest workers and took Bass and Braddon. Former Howard minister Warwick Smith knows the quicksands of Bass. He won it twice, then lost it twice: by 40 votes in 1993 and 76 votes in 1998. “The long-term economic wellbeing of a small island is what people will vote for.”

Deliverance country: “A road trip across Tasmania is one of life’s great pleasures,” The Australian said. “But the journey takes on a sinister edge when I visit filmmaker Brian Dimmick, one of the Gunns 20, who faces intimidation not from Gunns but from pro-forestry locals. His water has been poisoned and some days locals drive along his fence spraying something towards his house. Some nights locals shine spotlights on his house. We’re nestled in the mountains but hearing some of Dimmick’s experi­ences it feels more like we’re in Deliver­ance country. A culture of fear has taken hold. A businesswoman told us she had been warned not to speak against the mill. Where had the warning come from? ‘Within government.'”

“They can’t let it fail”: Given the controversy surrounding the project, if this development were in NSW, Queensland or Western Australia, it would have been referred to a corruption commission. (Tasmania has no corruption commission.) Tony Whish-Wilson, a former Rio Tinto exec­utive and part of a Tasmanian establish­ment family, sids he lived in Perth during the scandals of WA Inc, which involved an unholy alliance between private companies and the state government. Whish-Wilson said: “Not only are they putting government money to promote this, they have to set the permits in such a way that … the permits work. If this struggles to be financially viable, they can’t let it fail. They have to prop it up if it fails: more taxpayers’ money.”

Public trees sold for secret price: Secrecy is also a concern. Premier Paul Lennon will not say how much Gunns pays to buy trees from government plantations. Both Lennon and Gunns chief executive John Gay in separate interviews argue commercial-in-confidence. But when challenged that it seemed remarkable that public trees were being sold and the price kept secret, Gay agreed he would be happy for the information to be made public.

The Australian, 15/9/2007, p. 26

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