“If the law is unjust, then access to the law is not access to justice” (Julian Burnside 2006).
On April 2, 2008, Environment Minister Peter Garrett gave the green light to Gunns to start bulk earthwork operations on the site of their proposed pulp mill in Tasmania’s Tamar Valley
This has occurred in the aftermath of the first anniversary of Gunns withdrawing from the legislatively defined planning processes in Tasmania for the approval of Australia’s biggest pulp mill, amid new revelations that millions of dollars of extra public money may be funnelled into essential infrastructure for the mill.
And it has occurred just one month after a senior Tasmanian official of the CMFEU, speaking on behalf of his union on national television, described opponents of the pulp mill as “terrorists”, who should be subject to the full force of the law, by which he clearly meant the Howard anti-terrorist legislation.
During 2007 the standard term used by Premier Paul Lennon for opponents of the mill, whoever they were, became simply “extremists”. The position now taken by the leadership of the CMFEU is a step made possible by this groundwork.
Just as during the bitter divisiveness of the Howard decade, when language was carefully and deliberately crafted to create fear and prejudice about difference for crass political gain, for example by transforming political refugees from “asylum seekers” to “queue jumpers”, to “illegals”, the language used in Tasmania against critics of the pulp mill has gradually proceeded in the same direction.
It is a process, as Australia’s pre-eminent human rights lawyer, Julian Burnside, has said, which enables language “to smuggle uncomfortable ideas into comfortable minds”. The notion of citizens who oppose Gunns’ pulp mill as “terrorists” is but a small step from Lennon’s term “extremists”, just as “queue jumpers” soon became “illegals”.
The Premier of Tasmania, if nothing else, is a keen apprentice of John Howard, especially in the politics of division as a means to implement a neo-liberal agenda in the interests of corporate power. How better to do that than by putting all dissent into the “extremist” tray, courting the “battlers” in true Howard fashion, and leaving the Liberals me-tooing about the main game of all-and-everything for the big end of town - or in this case the biggest end of town - Gunns.
The result has been predictable enough. In relation to the pulp mill there is a political-corporate-union-business alliance, involving both main parties, Gunns, employer groups and the CMFEU. Lennon Labor, Hodgman Liberal, the CMFEU, the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Gunns are cosily all arm-in-arm. It is in the context of this odd and unhealthy political alliance that a judgment can be made about the statement of mill opponents as “terrorists”, and perhaps equally significantly, of the silence that has greeted this pronouncement in the main corridors of power.
Just over one year ago, soon after Tasmania’s independent planning authority, the RPDC, informed the Premier’s Department that Gunns’ plans for the pulp mill in the Tamar Valley were still critically deficient in some key environmental areas, Gunns withdrew from the legislatively defined planning-assessment process and Lennon quickly established a special fast-track process, designed specifically for Gunns.
The areas identified by the RPDC as requiring additional information from the proponent were not now pursued. Lennon then turned the Tasmanian parliament into a “planning” authority to replace the RPDC as both the recommending authority and the decision-making body, and all politicians of both main parties, and a majority of “independent” upper house members, agreed to pass legislation, already perused by Gunns, in a very tight time-framework mandated to suit Gunns’ stated timetable.
In this way the Pulp Mill Assessment Act 2007 became law in Tasmania in July 2007, as did Section 11 of the Act, headed “Limitation of rights of appeal”, which reads as follows: