The Advent Of Mob Rule

The recent withdrawal by the Chandler Corporation from taking an interest in Gunns has left the Premier “disappointed”.  She goes on to say she would be “very disappointed” if the orchestrated and well-funded campaigns of conservation groups and the fierce lobbying by those groups led to this decision.

Fighting words indeed from the Premier – not only to be “disappointed”, but to be “very disappointed”.  And this in the same week when in Parliament the Premier defended the right of one of her Ministers to sabotage this very investment against the policy of her government.

Democracy is by its essence rule by the majority.  Minority rights need to be protected, including the right of free speech. However, the will of the majority should prevail.  This is no longer occurring in Tasmania.

The Premier acknowledges that a majority of people and of Parliament are in support of the pulp mill development.  A minority, including some members of parliament, don’t want the development to proceed.  The minority view has been heard.  Their rights have not been trammeled on in this debate.

The proposal has the support of both Commonwealth and State Governments.  It has passed all the environmental requirements required of it.  It will source its feedstock from private plantations, so this is NO LONGER a forestry issue.

Yet a minority remain opposed to it.  So be it.  However, that is not good enough for the protest groups.  Their view is such that if they do not get their way, then they will take whatever disruptive action they see as appropriate in order that their view does prevail.

The conservation movement has demonstrated time and time again that they will stop at nothing to ensure they succeed in their endeavours.  Protest in the streets, invasion of work sites, disruption of businesses, lobbying financial institutions, damaging overseas markets, threatening overseas boycotts, whatever it takes for their will to prevail.

That is not democracy, that is mob rule.  And for a response – one would hope it would be more than to simply express “disappointment”.

When the challenge comes to our fishfarms, our mining operations, our agricultural enterprises and anything else that helps create wealth, what are we going to do?  Be very disappointed?  We have to do better than that.

Wealth creation is not a bad thing.  Not only is it the basic tenet for employing people, but it creates a tax base which helps pay for our schools, our hospitals and our public servants.  For those reading this article who are not in the wealth generation business, the present challenge to our natural resource-based activities is just as much an attack on you as it is on them.

Because there is the broader issue, which is that investors are frightened off from investing in Tasmania.  As much as the Greens may argue otherwise, there is no evidence whatsoever that their antics have actually attracted on e dollar of wealth-generating capital to this State.  And without investment, and jobs, there is now an exodus of people seeking employment out of the State.

As I have stated previously, eco-based consumer boycotts of this nature could be justified where there is irrefutable evidence of resource use causing significant and permanent environmental damage.  However, inciting consumer boycotts by deliberately promulgating misinformation to manufacture an unwarranted imperative for change constitutes a form of extortion.

The protest groups have received much media coverage, but little analysis of their position.  This in part is a result of misleading information that has been promulgated by these groups (eg use of plantation timber) and a conservation language that covers complicated matters with simple but meaningless generalisations (eg “ancient forests”, “high conservation value”, “sustainability”, “social licence”, “intergenerational equity”, etc). 

The phrase “social licence” has been bandied around a lot of late, but its relevance is arguable.  In its present context, it not only means if you don’t agree with the protestors then you will not have their support, but that they have the right to say your view is wrong and should not prevail.  Even if “your view” is a majority view.  It can even be used for the more sinister purpose of blackmail, to gain an advantage by threatening to claim the lack of “social licence”.        

And arguments of intergenerational fairness fall flat when the existing generation suffers for no good purpose.

As a recent editorial opined:  “certain people have …economic views informed by a neo-Arcadian fantasy of phasing out resource-based activity in favour of untried and untested technologies, which … leaves battlers paying to satisfy an eco-vanity.”  A high price indeed.  

Are we to accept the dictates of the mob?  To date it would appear to be the case, with arguments promulgated based on the right of free speech and the right of Cabinet Ministers to not act as Cabinet Ministers when they don’t want to.  However, this is nothing other than the politics of appeasement, of the tail wagging the dog, and the boundaries of this argument are already moving to other resource management and water catchment issues with a much wider brief, including aquaculture, agriculture, nature-based tourism and mining.

Our natural resources should play a part in our economy, and proper systems of management are in place to obtain a competitive sustainable advantage with them.  This is a more difficult road to follow, and those who advocate it will be pilloried by those who demand no activity at all. This is the vital issue to be confronted surrounding such protest action, which is the targeting of individuals and firms and organisations that do not agree with the views of the protesters.  

However, the argument must be mounted – already the declining fortunes of the forest-based industries are having a seriously detrimental effect on our State’s economic activity.  And all based on the myth of meaningless and emotional generalisations.

If mob rule becomes the order of the day, and more enterprises are targeted, then maybe the Premier could even become ”extremely disappointed”.  She will need to do better than that.