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Deadlines just don't seem to apply to Gunns

By Peter Henning - posted Friday, 14 November 2008

Lines in the sand when broken, confirm, and confirm without doubt.

(Perhaps the most famous story about “a line in the sand” derives from the Battle of Alamo in 1836, the famous battle between Mexico and Texas, in which all the Texan defenders of the fort at Alamo were killed. The story goes that all defenders, except one man, agreed to cross the line and fight to the death, which they did. “A line in the sand” signifies a final position, a line which cannot be broken)

Last week the national secretary of the forestry division of the CFMEU, and member of the national executive of the ALP, Michael O’Connor, called for taxpayer funding to ensure that Gunns’ proposed pulp mill was built in the Tamar Valley.


The timing of his announcement was designed to take advantage of the Rudd Government’s decision to bring forward major infrastructure developments to combat the expected economic downturn as the fallout from the financial meltdown in the United States starts to bite into the real economy in Australia.

The announcement was also made to coincide with the Rudd “community cabinet” meeting in Launceston and Gunns’ AGM, to distract attention from the real issues surrounding the pulp mill at a time when those issues would (and should) be again at front and centre stage in the national media.

Age columnist Kenneth Davidson wrote on Monday (November 10, 2008) that current federal “government thinking about infrastructure is limited to multibillion dollar projects that can be packaged as public private partnerships [PPPs] that can generate huge economic rents for their promoters at the expense of taxpayers”.

He goes on to say that five of the six members of the newly established Infrastructure Advisory Council, chaired by Rudd-appointee Sir Rod Eddington, “have backgrounds connected to the PPP industry and privatisation”, and questions whether people with such backgrounds should “be involved in setting infrastructure priorities for the Government”.

Notwithstanding the absurdity of the CFMEU working hand in glove with Gunns to bring more public funds into a company which pays a number of its senior executives more than the Prime Minister’s salary, while at the same time watching as its own members are shed from Gunns’ labour force in the forestry industry from Scottsdale in Tasmania to Yarloop in West Australia, it needs to be remembered that the CFMEU has some influence in the Rudd Government. After all, O’Connor was powerful enough in 2004 to endorse and support the re-election of the Howard Government and yet still retain his position on the ALP executive.

How many others in positions of authority in the ALP around the country could have done that and got away with it? Ask Terry Martin. Consider what would happen to Peter Garrett if he failed to toe the CFMEU line on forestry. That’s a no-brainer.


The picture’s clear enough, is it not? Gunns has completely ignored David Bartlett’s commitment that “from November 30, government permits and involvement in the (pulp mill) project would end unless Gunns had achieved real finance and real progress on construction.” (The Australian, July 1, 2008). The company has not even bothered to consider November 30, 2008, as a deadline of any sort at all. They are on record as saying that it is of no importance to them if the sovereign risk agreement is terminated. Of course it’s not. It’s not much money in the scheme of direct and indirect subsidies they already receive, and there’s no hope that they can attract a joint-venture partner in the short-term.

So what can we say about the rest of Bartlett’s commitment - to end government permits? Not only has Gunns ignored this, but so has the Rudd Government. Garrett has given Gunns an extension until early January 2009 to complete all modules requiring federal assessment - whatever that means. Garrett, as previously mentioned, is just on the payroll. “Honest Peter” does what he’s told, as did his predecessor in the job, Malcolm Turnbull. Back in 2007 it was “honest John” telling Turnbull what to do in a cabinet rigidly controlled by Howard; now it is Rudd-Gillard and the CFMEU telling Garrett his place in cabinet is to toe the party-union line.

Are we to believe then, that the federal government has granted Gunns an extension until January 2009 knowing that Tasmanian permits will end on November 30, 2008? Are we to believe that Gunns is continuing to work on the federal modules knowing that Bartlett is going to withdraw permits at the end of November?

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First published in the Tasmanian Times on November 10, 2008.

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About the Author

Peter Henning is a former teacher and historian. He is a former Tasmanian olive grower, living in Melbourne.

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