Wednesday, August 27, 2008 may well become the most important day in the political lives of all sitting Labor and Liberal members of Tasmania’s House of Assembly.
On that day, in Launceston, all members of the Bartlett Labor Government and the Hodgman Liberal Opposition in the lower house of the Tasmanian Parliament rejected Kim Booth’s private member’s bill to repeal the Pulp Mill Assessment Act 2007 (PMAA), thereby renewing their commitment to the PMAA in its entirety, endorsing all sections of the legislation as it stands and all associated conditions in the Pulp Mill Permit (PMP).
Now it is no longer possible for any of these politicians to claim unease or discomfort or shame associated with the “fast-tracking” of the legislation in 2007, entailing the abandonment of established planning and parliamentary processes. It is not now possible for them to argue (as some are reported to have done) that a variety of pressures caused them to overlook their responsibilities to proper processes and their responsibilities to the maintenance of democratic parliamentary practices.
Nor is it possible for any of these politicians to escape their personal responsibility for the methods used to prepare the legislation, methods still withheld from public scrutiny. The precedent has now been set by these people for the Tasmanian Parliament to operate without regard for due process in the future, and for legislation to be prepared, influenced and written in ways and means hidden from public view, and then “fast tracked”.
There is no reason at all why these same politicians, or others in the future with similar derelict attitudes and values, will not repeat this legislative pattern, if they believe it suits their interests.
Now that the Tasmanian Parliament has ensured that the PMAA remains law, in all its provisions, and demonstrated clearly that it “is right behind the pulp mill project”, in the words of a Gunns’ spokesman, it is in the interests of Tasmanians, particularly in the Tamar Valley, to understand clearly the position they face into the indefinite future in relation to the PMAA.
An experienced Australian economist, with over 30 years of professional life under his belt, including senior management positions, and in recent years consultancy roles in China, divulged privately, the day after Kim Booth’s bill was thrown out, that the PMAA showed unequivocally that the Tasmanian Labor Government and the Liberal opposition had no interest in the welfare of people living in the Tamar Valley, or of the future prospects of the Valley’s communities or businesses if they were disadvantaged or destroyed by Gunns’ pulp mill.
The economist, who has not been involved in any way in the divisive pulp mill debate, and has given no media interviews and made no public statements either for or against the project, expressed his views in the light of David Bartlett’s comment (in his parliamentary reply opposing Booth’s bill) that he would not allow the pulp mill to be built if he believed “there was any possibility in his heart of hearts” that the mill would cause damage to the Tamar Valley and its people.
The public record shows, as a majority of Tasmanians must surely now know, that no consideration was given to any possible or potential social, economic or environmental impacts of the mill on anything at all in the Tamar Valley. This is not just an opinion. It is a matter of fact.
No base line studies were done on any industry in the Tamar Valley. No independent advice was taken into account about possible adverse effects of the mill, whatever the source. The only advice taken into account was that provided by the proponent or advisers to the proponent. All other advice was ignored, whether it was medical, scientific, engineering or anything else. The most obvious example of this is the advice of the AMA, and the pleas for caution by more than 80 Tasmanian medical practitioners, all dismissed out of hand by Labor and Liberal politicians, including David Bartlett.
As far as the two major parties are concerned, at all levels of government, and as far as a majority of “independent” Tasmanian MLCs are concerned, the people in the Tamar Valley are on their own. What this means in real terms, as UTAS constitutional lawyer Michael Stokes has written, is that “a lack of base line readings will make any challenge difficult except in extreme cases because of the lack of evidence”.
That is just the beginning. In writing, as distinct from simply leaving from consideration, is Section 11 of the PMAA, designed to prevent common law challenges to anything “arising out of or relating to any assessment or approval of the (pulp mill) project”. In this context, it should not be overlooked that Section 11 also applies to the Pulp Mill Permit, and prevents appeals to all future “permits, licences or other approvals as may be necessary for the project”, that are not currently in the PMAA. The full extent and range of this statute bar may or may not be clarified by the Supreme Court action currently undertaken by Environment Tasmania and a group of Tamar Valley farmers.