On Governing

The recent outburst by Minister McKim, warning would-be investor Mr Richard Chandler and his company away from taking a stake in Gunns, highlights the absurdity of the present governance arrangements.  His outburst follows the threat from his colleague Kim Booth to disrupt the commerce of this State and the call by the Tasmanian Wilderness Society demanding to meet with Mr Chandler - to warn him off.

The call would be laughable if it was not so serious.  And it is serious for a number of reasons.

First, it places on display a Cabinet divided. The Premier has spoken in positive terms about the investment, and of its prospects for moving the pulpmill project forward, only to be undermined by one of her own government Ministers.  For those not intimately associated with the nuances of the present governance arrangements, such as interstate and overseas investors, this is a most confusing message.  And such confusion is immensely damaging to the State’s reputation as a stable economic environment.

Second, McKim is a Minister of the Government, and as such, speaks with the authority of the Government.    Ministers simply don’t have the luxury of having a view separate from the government, because they are the government.  It is impossible for him to divorce himself from that fact.

Third, it shows a Minister hellbent on bagging economic activity.  For as much as he may wish to deny this claim by stating his comment is specific to Gunns and/or to the forest sector, the broader message he is conveying is that all investment is under attack.

Fourth, the Minister together with his party colleagues are inciting social disruption.  For the Greens to talk of “a wall of protest the like of which we have not seen before” is nothing other than an inducement to others to disrupt economic activity and continue to promote divisions in the community.

Fifth, his argument is illogical.  It has nothing to do with forestry matters, as the proposed pulpmill will be operating with feedstock from private plantations.  And his argument cannot be environmental as the proposed mill has received all the requisite permits, which are of the highest world-wide environmental standards.  So on what basis does he base his argument?  To represent the mill as “toxic” is an appalling departure from the truth, and should not be tolerated from a government Minister.  

Sixth, McKim represents a minority view within the Tasmanian community.  However he represents his views as being those of the majority of Tasmanians, a claim that is patently false.

Seventh, it further undermines the Inter Government Agreement (IGA) process. His comment comes on top of a continuing round of protests against forest interests at a time when efforts are being made through the IGA to reach an end to the long-running dispute over forest access and when significant hectarage has been set aside while that process continues.  In this context, the appalling and dishonest campaign against Ta Ann and Forestry Tasmania should be condemned by all Government Ministers, including McKim.  However, the opposite is true, the protests continue unabated, and the IGA will most likely collapse as a result.

And finally, it is serious because the Government has seen fit to do nothing to bring McKim into line.  The excuse from the Premier is that this is nothing new and that we have always known of McKim’s position on this matter.  That may well be so, but it does nothing for her standing as Premier of this State to allow such comments to go unchallenged.  In fact, the continuing commentary from the Greens does great damage to the credibility of her Government, and undermines her position as Premier.

There are enormous opportunities for economic growth in this State, but it is not going to happen without a positive direction from Government.  Like it or not, the government is the elephant in the room, and it needs to recognise this fact.  Investment doesn’t just happen, it needs to be encouraged, and with the present parlous state of the world economic situation, we do not have the luxury of surplus funds looking for a home.

At a time when the Tasmanian economy is struggling to move ahead, such antics from the Greens should be widely condemned.  A recent forum held by the Tasmanian Property Council exposed the fact that the property market was subdued with little in the way of growth in sight.  And this market is a bellwether for the remainder of the economy.   In such an environment investment should be welcomed with open arms, and not trampled on for base political purposes.  Being soft on her Cabinet colleague simply undermines faith in her Government.

Some in the Government argue that their primary concern is to ensure political stability above all other considerations.  The question needs to be asked “What stability, and at what cost?’

At present “stability” means not rocking the boat, however the cost of such a cautious approach is considerable.  When stability comes at the expense of significant economic and social disruption then it is a very high price to pay indeed.  If the goal is to ensure political stability, all the Greens have to do is to suggest political instability to get the Government to fall into line.  A depressing example of “tail wagging dog”.

At some point, there will be a reckoning for this abrogation of responsibility to the wellbeing of the Tasmanian community.    From the ongoing forest conflict we have seen many in our community lose their jobs and their livelihoods.  Many have argued that it is “changed market conditions” that has caused the problem

But that is not the story by any stretch.  Sawmillers are selling all they can produce, and as industry analyst Robert Eastment reports, other woodchip suppliers around the country are finding markets for their product overseas, and at reasonable prices. 

It is the Tasmanian brand that has been trashed.  And as a community we have simply sat back and watched it happen.  We are all aware of the boastful accounts from the conservation groups how they have been successful in sabotaging overseas markets  – their care factor for their fellow Tasmanians is zero and their actions are despicable.

Many readers may not see this as particularly relevant to them – but it is.  Such a significant loss of economic activity has ramifications across the entire community, and the human tragedy occasioned by this circumstance is far-reaching.

The Premier has a clear choice.  She must show leadership and control her team.  She must rein in the Greens, even if it means a threat to the existing governing arrangements.  To not do so, to glibly say it doesn’t matter, is to baulk at this challenge.  And to walk away from her own standing and credibility.