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Interview with Federal Greens Senator Christine Milne – transcript

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This interview – conducted with Senator Milne the morning after the Pulp Mill Assessment (Approval) Bill first cleared the Tasmanian Lower House – extended to the politicization of Tasmania’s disappearing old growth forests, what Mark Latham’s ‘Tasmanian disaster’ was really about, and an extreme crisis of confidence in Tasmania that has shifted the focus from a threat to the environment to the state of a dying democracy. There are some particularly interesting insights into major party politicking at the federal level around Tasmania’s possible futures.

Good morning Senator Milne – the news has just come through that the Pulp Mill Assessment Bill has gone through the Lower House after a 14 hour debate. What happens now – has the Parliament taken a break or will it go through the Upper House today?

Senator Christine Milne: “The Legislative Council will consider the matter next week, but what happens in Tasmania now is almost irrelevant, because the Federal Government has to assess the pulp mill now. That is now where the serious effort will go. It’s quite clear that the Tasmanian government had the numbers; they were always going to ram it through. They’ve guillotined it in the end – adding insult to injury, they’ve cut the Tasmanian people out of the process. The Liberals have gone along with the whole thing and now, in Tasmania it’s going to be up to the Legislative Council to see whether they pass it; but my experience of the Tasmanian Upper House is that it will do a lot of posturing but, ultimately, pass it. That is not ‘a big tick’ for the pulp mill because the Commonwealth has no option but to assess it under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) legislation. That puts it firmly on the federal election agenda. Malcolm Turnbull has to conduct an assessment and that has to include the impacts on listed threatened species, and that means it will have to include the impacts it will have on the forests as well as the marine environment. That is likely to take much longer than the 3 months that is Gunns’ ultimatum. The cronyism and secrecy that has gone on in Tasmania and the complete abrogation of proper process means that it’s now fairly and squarely a federal election issue.”

I think that many mainland Australians don’t really sense the level of collusion between the Tasmanian Government and industry there, but what I’ve been told is that Tasmanians first heard about this project when Paul Lennon and John Gay were discussing it over dinner in a restaurant?

CM: “That’s correct – the first that Tasmanians knew that a pulp mill was actually being proposed was in 2003 I think when Paul Lennon and John Gay were having dinner in a restaurant in Hobart. They left the documentation (Gunns Ltd Pulp Mill Proposal) on the table as they were discussing it. And so it was reported to the Greens at the time that there they were in the restaurant discussing a pulp mill – not through Parliament, not through appropriate processes, but sitting around a dinner table sorting out what was supposed to happen with the pulp mill.

“That’s where it began and, essentially, that’s where it’s also ended. It has been the relationship between Paul Lennon and John Gay that has ended up bringing the RPDC process unstuck. When it was clear that Gunns could no longer meet the requirements of the RPDC – either in terms of the standards for the pulp mill or the timelines – John Gay made it clear to Lennon that he wanted legislation to reduce the amount of time. Lennon was very keen on cutting the public out of the process as well; the problem for them was that the Honourable Justice Wright, who had been put in charge of the RPDC, was going to have none of it. So they’ve now ended up in a complete mess with legal advice suggesting that Paul Lennon may well have broken the law, but that remains to be tested.”

There are further claims emerging today that, in addition to a possible breach of the RPDC s.17, he may be open to prosecution for interfering with a judicial process under the Criminal Code – but whether or not any of that goes ahead it has really shone a bright light on the collusion between government and corporate power. It could really undo his Premiership…

CM: “Absolutely. I think that he is gone as Premier of Tasmania and there’s no way that either John Howard or Kevin Rudd can in any way associate themselves with Paul Lennon and what’s gone on in Tasmania; he’s now a big liability for anyone politically, and he’s a liability for his own party; it’s only a matter of time before they get rid of him. Of course, whether he then goes onto the board of Gunns or not remains to be seen. There’s a good deal of speculation that that will be the next stop; indeed it was for Robin Gray who was the Liberal Premier of Tasmania the last time we tried to have a pulp mill in Tasmania, and when he lost the Premiership he went straight onto the board of Gunns.

“The fact is that for the past 20 years in Tasmania there has been a very close relationship between both Liberal and Labor politicians, the timber industry, and Forestry Tasmania and it has been a relationship which has lacked transparency and is above, well, below politics – in the sense that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Liberal or a Labor politician; they’re all involved.”

It hasn’t been so widely commented on yet, but from reading the Bill that’s now going through Parliament – it looks to me like it’s been written by exactly the same people who showed such incompetence in preparing the writ in the Gunns 20 Case – the writ that was rejected 3 times…

CM: “And exactly the same as in 1989 when they rammed through similar legislation – it was called the Northern Pulp Mill Agreement Act in 1989, and then the Northern Pulp Mill Doubts Removal Act in 1989 to hand over everything to the company. And afterwards, the company said that regardless of what the government of the day said, they wrote the regulations to suit themselves. It’s very clear that this legislation had been ticked off by Gunns before it went into the Parliament. Now, what sort of a process is it where a government takes the assessment process to the developer and says, ‘will you agree to this before we actually agree to this, or do you want changes made?’ I mean, it’s just appalling.”

In announcing this new process to Parliament, Lennon described Jaakko Poyry as a ‘world leading independent expert’…

CM: “Independent? So independent that they’re the main consultant to the pulp and paper industry, and pro the pulp mill, and no independence about them. I mean, it’s just incredible.”

The Howard Government have actively pursued policies and laws over the last 10 years which restrict, or silence, dissent and protest. Of the 300 amendments that were rammed through federally on the EPBC Act late last year, the federal government rammed through changes that will likely exclude application of Nathan Dam or assessment of upstream impact of projects like the pulp mill in forest areas. Do you feel that the political climate is closer now to tolerating and even allowing this kind of project to go through now than it was back then?

Senator Christine MilneCM: “I think there is a willingness by politicians to ram it through and turn blind eyes and that sort of thing, but I don’t think there is with the public. In 1988/89 when I was running the campaign against the Wesley Vale Mill there was widespread opposition to the mill. But what ticked people over to become absolutely outraged and take to the streets in even bigger numbers was the fast-tracking of the process, the cutting out of the public, and the trampling of people’s rights. That became as big an issue as the pulp mill itself. That is where we’re up to now with this project as well.

“It is absolutely true that over the last eighteen years since the pulp mill project before, we have seen a culture of fear and intimidation across academic circles and across the public service. We have lost the public academic and the public servant. We now have a ministerial service and a completely fearful academic community where there is very little public interest research being done and almost all research is applied research at the behest of the corporate backers of that research. It has been a tragedy that that has occurred, but I think we’re reaching a point where the community is really rebelling against what’s happened – especially as the scandals have come to light about the extent to which the coal and oil industries have embedded themselves in giving ministerial advice in Canberra on climate change, the tobacco industry has been exposed around the world; I think people are just now recognizing they have to take back their democracy or they’ll lose it.

“A lot of the anger in Tasmania is about the fact that the Premier was so keen to jettison the public hearings, and anything to do with the public from the process, because that’s really a statement of contempt for the people of the state that he supposedly represents.”

Talking about this issue now being one from which both federal Labor and Liberal need to keep distance: it seems that since the last federal election, any issue of environmental protection and forests in Tasmania at a federal level is political poison, particularly for Labor…

CM: “They’re in it up to their necks together. It’s bipartisan almost; there’s been an unspoken agreement between the federal Coalition and federal Labor to absolutely stay away from Tasmania’s forest – not visit it, not go there, not discuss it – to the point that when Peter Garret was appointed as shadow Environment Minister the deal in the Labor Party was that he stay out of forests. Forests would be managed by Kerry O’Brien, who is the Tasmanian Labor Senator who is an absolute pro-logger, pro logging at absolutely any cost. And that uranium and all mining would all be dealt with by Chris Evans who’s a big supporter of expanded uranium mining. And that Garrett’s role was to confine himself to public relations for the Labor Party in the inner-city seats, and that the real business of resource management for Labor would go to the pro-mining and the pro-logging factions and shadow ministers – and that’s what occurred.

“As recently as December last year when the Federal Court found that logging in Tasmania, in the Wielangta coup, was illegal because it was driving threatened species to extinction, the Federal Government not only brought in the amendments to the EPBC Act, they also changed the Regional Forest Agreement to try to make legal that which the courts had found to be illegal, and Labor went along with that. So there’s absolutely bipartisan agreement but now it’s blown up in their faces – they can’t get away from it, they have to deal with it because the feds have to now assess the pulp mill.”

If we can talk more about the federal situation: it seems that the media’s take on the last election and the data that came back from Tasmania has ignored the fact that Labor were already polling behind in seats they didn’t pick up in Tasmania before they announced their forest policy, before Latham’s visit to Tasmania in 2004…

CM: “Exactly. Labor was losing three seats in Tamania – Braddon, Bass, and Lyons before Latham’s forest announcement. They were actually losing those three seats and they saved Lyons on Greens preferences because of Latham, not in spite of Latham. And that is because Dick Adams, who is one of the biggest pro-loggers in the federal parliament for Labor, is the last choice for most Greens but Greens preferenced Labor in Lyons because of Latham. They said regardless of Dick Adams we’re preferencing a Latham government to implement the Latham forest plan. So in fact it was Latham that saved Lyons when they were set to lose three seats, and the mythology that has surrounded the outcome ever since has been completely wrong and not based on the polling of the time or the realities of the time.

And that’s why now, when they go back and look at it again, they’re going to realize that Howard has no option now but to come out and conduct a proper assessment on the pulp mill project. That will win him enormous favour in Tasmania because Tasmanians are disgusted by what the Labor Government has done in that state. So if Rudd wants to win Bass and Braddon back from the Liberal Party, what Rudd has to do is not only support a proper process for assessment of the mill, but he has to actually come out and save forests – and that is the big challenge for Rudd.”

 

Do you feel that this will move the Federal Opposition to a constructive position rather than one of strategic indifference?

CM: “There’s going to be a huge internal fight in the Labor Party because the CFMEU in Tasmania is rabidly pro-logging, have always been rabidly pro-logging, and will support which ever party supports pro-logging – as they demonstrated last time with their backslapping of John Howard in the 2004 campaign. But I think Labor has to take this issue on now – it has dumped them all in it whether they like it or not, and it is the opportunity to redeem itself federally by doing what it always ought to have done and that is have a policy of protecting Australia’s threatened species and the habitats on which they depend.”

And although Paul Lennon seems quite happy to refer to him as ‘Christopher’, Justice Wright really is someone who knows what he’s doing in putting out a statutory declaration with the details of…

CM: “Exactly, exactly. We’ve got a situation now of, ‘who do you believe?’ Do you believe an ex-judge who has an impeccable record or do you believe a Premier whose record has been blemished for years in Tasmania? I think the people will make up their minds about the statutory declaration, about how it’s been referred to the DPP – there’s some doubt over who can and can not refer things to the DPP but I think ultimately there will have to be an investigation as to whether any criminality has been involved – but regardless, what has been exposed by shining the light on Tasmania is what we in Tasmania have known for years and that is that there is an extremely unhealthy relationship between several people in both Labor and Liberal politics, Gunns, and the forest industry.

“We’ve been calling for a Royal Commission to expose this for years. I called for one again in the Senate this week and the feds ruled it out – I think it’s a mistake; Tasmania needs to have a Royal Commission to really get to the bottom of it because people are not going to come forward and say what they know because there is such a culture of fear and intimidation that anyone who speaks up will be run out of Tasmania. We need a Royal Commission to give witnesses protection and get to the truth.”

 

 

 

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Written by typingisnotactivism

April 12, 2007 at 11:33 am

One Response

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  1. great article, interview and additional images and cartoons, keep the good work rolling on this one!

    Shame garret getting silenced. This is turning into a big issue that could have serious repercussions for all players if they dont play straight.

    Looks like Tunrbull is gonna review it..

    http://www.examiner.com.au/story.asp?id=394106

    Theres some good info and mapping done in the Google Earth program if anyone wants to see excatly what is happening to the Tasmanian forests.

    http://www.wilderness.org.au/campaigns/forests/tasmania/tas-forests-google/

    john

    April 14, 2007 at 1:15 am


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