South Sister St. Marys, Tasmania

Some history

short history of tasmanian politics

bob brown on labor and the greens

Tasmanian Green Senator Bob Brown included this subjective analysis of Tasmanian political history in a Matters of Public Interest speech to Parliament on 29 August, 2003.

Brown began his speech by referring to 'the entrenched political power and the influence of the native forest based companies in Australia and their close ties to the big political parties, particularly at the state level but also federally. This extends way beyond the acceptance of political donations.' He continued:

It has to be noted that support for native forest logging has been the career path for many union officials into the Tasmanian Trades and Labour Council, the TTLC, into the ACTU and into the parliaments.

Equally, retired politicians have made their way into the boardrooms of the very companies from which their parties accepted donations while they were in office.

This cosy club of old-boy networks and chambers of commerce and the swinging doors of politics and boardrooms, with ready access and political appointments to the Forestry Corporation of Tasmania, the forest practices boards and advisory committees, add up to huge political support for the native forest logging industry long after it has ceased to be significant in either financial or employment terms.

While it may puzzle outsiders that the Labor Party in Tasmania is even more gung-ho in its support for logging native forests than the Liberals, a quick look at the politics of the 1990s in Tasmania and the current Labor government tells the story.

Nine out of 15 of the current Bacon government's members were part of the 1989 Labor-Green Accord. They chose handing the forests over to the logging companies through resource security legislation in 1991 rather than remaining in office, and they put the fortunes of the export woodchipping company Gunns, with Robin Gray amongst those at its helm, before the public interest as expressed through Tasmania Together's outcome.

To see why so many Tasmanians are now calling for a royal commission into the forest industry and into what is believed to be institutionalised corruption in Tasmania, it is necessary to go back to 1989.

While the debate about the power of the Hydro-Electric Commission in Tasmania had dominated politics in the 1970s and the early 1980s, by 1984 the future direction of Tasmania's forest industry had replaced the dams issue as the focal point in the conservation debate.

By 1989 it dominated the state election campaign and emerged as the backdrop to a royal commission established subsequent to that election in May 1989 to inquire into the events, facts and circumstances leading to and surrounding the attempt to bribe a member of the House of Assembly in Tasmania.

In 1988-89 the Wesley Vale pulp mill controversy - which I want to expand on - divided Tasmania, and the forest industry lost the issue. Until then, it had enjoyed political support from both Labor and Liberal parties, local governments, unions and business organisations and believed that it did not need public support since its political influence was secure.

The politics surrounding the withdrawal of Noranda, the Canadian company, from the project and the project's collapse highlighted to North Broken Hill and the forest industry the need for a greater public relations effort and the need to secure its political influence into the future.

After the collapse of the mill proposal in March 1989 Premier Gray called a state election. He lost; his majority was gone. Labor won 13 seats and the Green Independents, of which I was one, won five, making a majority of 18.

The Labor Party and the Independents formed the Labor-Green Accord and, before the parliament was recalled after the election, Mr Gray's office organised a supposedly spontaneous campaign of citizens calling for a second election.

Advertisements were placed in all Tasmanian newspapers and a petition was written seeking signatures supporting the call for that second election. The report of the royal commission into an attempt to bribe a member of the House of Assembly and other matters in 1991 records on page 28: The deception which attended the placement of the advertisement and petition was deliberate ... in truth the plan for it was conceived by Gray and executed by his chief advisor Tronson. The deliberate intention was to obscure the true facts by giving a false message to the community so that those who might be prompted to respond would not and could not know that it had its origins in the Premier's Office and in the Parliamentary Liberal Party. It was simply another mechanism for helping to assist in undermining the Accord and in generating support for another election.

The Premier's office organised meetings with businesses interested in maintaining Mr Gray and a majority Liberal government in power. Mr Mark Addis informed Mr Gray that the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania had budgeted $40,000 for the second election campaign, believing that a Gray government would do better for the interests of the forest industry.

However, just as the campaign for that second election was progressed, Anthony Aloi was arrested for attempting to bribe Mr Jim Cox, a Labor member of the parliament, to cross the floor and so prevent the Labor-Green Accord from taking power. On page 76, the royal commission reported: According to the evidence of Aloi, Rouse opened their conversation with a reference to the state of Tasmanian politics, a matter with which Aloi was not familiar. Rouse told him that he, Rouse had an interest in the Tasmanian timber industry and that if 'the greenies' obtained political power in Tasmania, he, Rouse stood to lose a lot of money. It is worthy of mention here that Rouse and members of his family had a substantial shareholding in ENT which in turn, had a 42% interest in Gunns Kilndried Timber Industries Ltd, which company held timber concessions and marketed a variety of timber products in Tasmania.

The push for a second election collapsed in the midst of the bribery scandal, and the Labor-Green Accord assumed office. That royal commission was established into the bribery affair. Edmund Rouse, the Managing Director and Chairman of ENT, Examiner Northern Television, and Gunns Kilndried Timber Industries Ltd, was found guilty and imprisoned. David McQuestin, ENT's managing director, was found not to have been unlawfully involved as a principal offender in Rouse's crime but - and I quote from page 810 of the royal commission: It need hardly be added that McQuestin's compliance with Rouse's direction constituted a glaring breach of the requisite standards of commercial morality given his position as Managing Director of ENT. Accordingly his involvement was highly improper.

During the royal commission, the evidence on the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania's campaign was revealed. The royal commission found that Robin Gray's 'conduct and behaviour fell far short of the standards of propriety and of the conduct and behaviour which his position and the circumstances demanded of him'. That quote is on page 77. On page 98 we read: For Rouse the Green Independents represented a threat to the commercial interests of ENT and of the Rouse family particularly because of the company's timber interests. For Gray, they represented a threat to the maintenance of the two-party system of politics in Tasmania and, in particular, to the implementation of those developmental policies for Tasmania's natural resources which Gray and his party had sought to further during his premiership.

Once in government, the Labor Party itself sought to facilitate the interests of the forest industry through the Forests and Forest Industry Council, established to sort out the forestry and conservation stand-off once and for all. David Llewellyn, as Minister for Forests, appointed an executive of the Forests and Forest Industry Council which included Paul Lennon and Evan Rolley. The conservation groups walked out of the process once it became clear that the purpose was to secure forestry for industry rather than conservation. Out of this discredited process came resource security legislation. At the same time Michael Field made the formerly public sector Forestry Commission a government business enterprise and retained its $272 million debt as a debt to be serviced by the consolidated fund - that is, the public. Thus the new Forestry Tasmania started its life debt free, having incurred a $272 million debt to that point, and throughout the 1990s the Greens argued for that debt to be serviced by Forestry Tasmania rather than the public purse, but neither the Liberal Party nor the Labor Party was prepared to do so.

As a GBE, Forestry Tasmania is untouchable. It was excused from freedom of information legislation. It is not accounted for in the budget estimates of the Tasmanian parliament. It is not a publicly listed company, and therefore its books cannot be scrutinised by shareholders at an annual general meeting. It can hide the true picture of its native forest operations as it fails to differentiate in its books between native forests and plantation activities. The activities of the forest industry in Tasmania are conducted under a Forest Practices Code which is overseen by a board but is not independent of the Forestry Corporation. In fact, the chair of the Forest Practices Board is a director of Forestry Tasmania.

In 1991 Labor introduced resource security legislation to give industry guaranteed access to the forests and do away with sovereign risk. The Greens indicated that they would bring down the government if it proceeded. Labor Premier Michael Field proceeded. The Greens moved a successful no-confidence motion. Field then relented and announced that the legislation was dead, in order to save his government. His forest minister, David Llewellyn, however, campaigned with the forest industry for the bill's reintroduction, knowing full well that such action would precipitate a further no confidence motion and the end of the Labor government.

At the same time, Mr Jim Bacon, then Secretary of the TTLC, negotiated an extraordinary deal with the opposition leader, Robin Gray. He sought Liberal Party protection of the Labor government from the Greens' no-confidence motions until Christmas 1991 so as to secure the safe passage of the bill through both houses of parliament. This was in spite of the fact that such a deal post-Christmas would inevitably result in the fall of the Labor government, an election and almost certain re-election of a Liberal government.

With the passage of the bill passing in the assembly 30 votes to five, the Labor government lost the confidence of the Green Independents and an election was called for January 1992. Labor lost. A Liberal majority under Ray Groom's leadership formed the government. Gray had lost the Liberal Party leadership only a month before the election was called. Premier Groom, with the support of the forest industry, then introduced the most draconian anti-forest protest laws in Australia.

They were enthusiastically defended by the Labor Party, especially Mr Lennon and Mr Llewellyn. These loyalists made forest protests a criminal offence with heavy financial penalties, including compensation to the woodchip companies. They effectively prohibited the community from taking any action in its own forests. These laws were so bad that they have now been repealed, not because of their unjust nature but because they infringed national competition policy as they were deemed to give Tasmanian industry a substantial unfair advantage over its mainland counterparts.

Mr Bacon entered the parliament in the 1996 election and promptly took over the leadership from Mr Field, who retired. Mr Bacon appointed Lennon as his deputy. Between 1996 and 1998, the Regional Forest Agreement was negotiated and that was signed by Prime Minister Howard at the end of 1997. The Liberal government under Tony Rundle was a minority government and was constantly under pressure from Labor, with taunts about the Green tail wagging the Liberal dog.

Hence, any moves towards protecting forests under the RFA were constantly criticised by Labor as going too far. It was pressure from the Labor opposition in Tasmania, the TTLC and the timber industry which prevented the Liberals from having the room to move to protect forests. As bad as the RFA was when it was announced, Paul Lennon, then opposition deputy leader, said it had gone too far and protected too much and that the Labor Party would not have protected the Savage River rainforest in the Tarkine wilderness, for example.

Labor constantly goaded the Greens to bring the Liberals down because of the RFA, but there was little point as the Labor Party had already announced its intention to adhere to the RFA or renegotiate it into a worse position for forest protection. Labor remained in opposition and was destined to be there forever in Tasmania as long as the Greens were in parliament, so to secure power Labor needed to remove the Greens since it would not win a majority under the existing electoral process. While it could have won more seats than the Liberal Party, Labor had backed itself into permanent opposition by vowing never to work with the Greens or take minority government again. The only option for Labor was to change the rules to eliminate the Greens.

On the back of popular sentiment to reduce the number of politicians in Tasmania, Labor embarked on a campaign to change the Tasmanian Constitution and the electoral system. It succeeded with the support of the trade unions, the Tasmanian business establishment, the Liberal Party and the Legislative Council - all of which understood the ramifications for the Greens and democracy. The change to the Constitution was not put to the people in a referendum; it was made by a two-thirds majority of both houses. Once the changes were secured, an election was called immediately and, as predicted, Labor won a majority and the Greens lost all their seats, with the exception of Peg Putt in Denison. Paul Lennon became Minister for Forests, David Llewellyn was made Minister for the Environment and Primary Industry and all bases were covered from the forest industry's perspective. What more could the industry want than a Premier, Deputy Premier, Minister for Forests and Minister for Environment all with a track record of unswerving support for the industry? I ask that the remaining notes I have plus the table which I have circulated be incorporated into Hansard. [(Time expired) Senator Brown then asked for the following table to be incorporated which he said was 'a who's who of the forest industry in Tasmania now and a who's who from 10 years ago.']

Tasmanian Who's Who: How the Forest Industry has gained control of the power structure in Tasmania since 1989.

  1989-1991 2001
Edmund Rouse Chairman of Gunns Kilndried Timber Industries Limited in which ENT Limited both directly and indirectly held a large shareholding.  
Robin Gray Liberal Premier lost election to Labor Green Accord in May 1989. Leader of Opposition Director Gunns Limited.
David McQuestin Managing Director of ENT Limited
Director Gunns Kilndried Timber Industries Limited.
Director Gunns Limited.
John Gay Managing Director Gunns Kilndried Timber Industries Limited
Managing Director Gunns Limited
Director Department of State Development
Bill Paisley Director North Broken Hill Peko Limited
Director Gunns Kilndried Timber Industries Limited
Chairman Gunns Limited; Director since 1988
Mark Addis Executive Director Forest Industries Association of Tasmania (FIAT) Secretary of Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources. Appointed by Bacon government.
Jim Bacon Secretary of Tasmanian Trades and Labor Council (TTLC) Premier
Paul Lennon Former TTLC Secretary; Appointed by David Llewellyn as Deputy Chair of Forest and Forest Industry Council. Replaced Ken Wriedt as Labor MHA Franklin in 1990: Member Forest Protection Society Deputy Premier Minister for Forests
David Llewellyn Minister for Forests
Labor Green Accord
Member of Forest Protection Society
Minister for Primary Industry, Water and Environment.
Evan Rolley Chief Commissioner Tasmanian Forestry Commission Managing Director, Forestry Tasmania
Barry Chipman Convener: Forest Protection Society Funded by Industry Convener: Timber Communities Australia Funded by Industry and Forestry Tasmania

[Senator Brown concluded, saying:]

'Add to that the Secretary of the Department of Infrastructure Energy and Resources, a crucial position given the Basslink debate and the proposal for woodchip furnaces to generate so called 'green energy', and a Forestry Corporation immune from budget scrutiny exempt from Freedom of Information legislation and blissfully free from any independent scrutiny of its practices. Not to mention The Managing Director of Gunns being also a Director of the Department of State Development.

'Gunns would have taken all that into account when making its decision to buy North Forest Products and become the monopoly owner of the woodchip industry in Tasmania exporting approximately six million tonnes of woodchips per annum. Gunns knew it could count on bipartisan political support for native forest logging, for unconstrained supply, for native forest furnaces and any amount of government subsidies including a bargain basement royalty of seven dollars per tonne for old growth forests.

'Whilst this situation may appear cosy, it is neither ethical nor sustainable. It is extremely vulnerable to boycott, community protest and adverse publicity as the community continues to mobilise to challenge the replacement of the Hydro-Electric Commission with Forestry Tasmania as the de facto government of Tasmania.'

[Republished with permission of Senator R. Brown.]

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