When the wealthy
begin to slog it out, you can rest assured that there is more to
it than meets the eye. The latest stoush between the rich of
Sydney’s harbour suburbs is being framed as something we should
be interested in. And, on one level, we should.
Gunns have just
about got their way in Tasmania and the Sydneysiders are arguing
over the merits of the largest pulp mill in the southern
hemisphere going ahead or not. What intrigues me is that John
Howard hasn’t jumped in to support Malcolm Turnbull in his time
of need. Some way to reward a major fund raiser from your own
In case you’re
not aware, Gunns is the company that runs Tasmania. The company
is able to gather hundreds of truck drivers to rally against
their own interests. It is able to access the highest levels of
government safe in the knowledge that their conversations will
be protected. Oh, and by the way, the company is destroying the
Tasmanian forests at a rate of over 25,000 hectares a year. Well
over half of this is old growth forest.
pulp mill, to be built in the northern Tamar valley region, will
not only cause irreparable damage to the forests, the effluent
it will spew out will change the environment not only in the
immediate vicinity of the mill but also in to Bass Straight. The
air pollution that will be generated will sit in the valley.
Medical experts are saying it will increase the likelihood of
children and the elderly developing chronic respiratory
conditions potentially leading to higher rates of hospital
admissions and even deaths.
Then along comes
Geoffrey Cousins, former advisor to John Howard, current Telstra
board member and former Optus and George Patterson CEO. A rich
bloke in his own right, Cousins and his contacts comprise some
of the real rulers of Australia. This wealthy elite usually shun
the spotlight, preferring to do their deals in the shadows and
behind closed doors. For Cousins to come out, all guns blazing,
so to speak, is a departure from the script. Perhaps it has
taken Malcolm by surprise.
Cousins has been
described as a ‘keen bushwalker’ who visits the Tasmanian
wilderness quite often. He said he became an environment convert
after rafting down the Franklin River back in the 70’s. He also
owns property there and a business or two. It could be said,
therefore, that he has a vested interest in the issue of Gunns’
a gaggle of the rich and famous behind him, Cousins is being
touted as the saviour of the Tasmanian wilderness. A knight is
shining armour, riding over the crest of the hill just in time
to save the virgin from the maws of the Dragon. Whether this
turns out to be true or just another example of media spin will
be revealed in time. What is critical is that the rest of us
wake up and support those who have put their lives and
livelihoods on the line. I mean, where was Geoffrey and his
money when the ‘Gunns 20’ needed him? Where was he and his money
2 years ago when this matter could have been put to rest?
will remain unanswered unless he decides to come clean as to his
real motives. As an influential ‘businessman and community
leader’, as he likes to be described, Geoffrey has the ability
to ring the Prime Minister and put pressure on him. But will he?
I doubt it. While he is quite content to bag Peter Garrett, who
with each passing day becomes even more of a consummate
politician and sell out to the values he espoused for so long,
Cousins doesn’t seem willing to put pressure on the one person
who could change the mind of the Tasmanian government. I mean,
if John is prepared to meddle in the state for his own ends and
gift to them, at our expense a hospital, surely he would be
willing to step in and prove us all wrong about his
But lets not
forget one thing in all this. What is happening in Tasmania is a
symptom of what John Howard calls the greatest thing on earth,
capitalism. It’s all about money and more importantly about who
has it and how much of it they have. Gunns has the ability to
get what it wants because it has the cash to buy the decisions
it demands. However, there is one strength left in our so called
democratic system. The ability of the not wealthy to demand and
get what they want.
I was listening
to a program on Radio National the other day, the right wing,
ultra conservative, “Counterpoint” a program that seeks to put
the alternative view to that which serves the interests of we,
the people. That is, anything that threatens the status quo and
the ability of the wealth accumulators to acquire more wealth.
On that program the guest was railing against the reforms of
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Chavez has re-nationalised
industries that were formerly owned by private capital. His
government’s reasoning is that the wealth of the land belongs to
those who occupy it and any benefits from it should go back to
them. Counterpoint’s speaker was saying this was a bad thing.
For the proponents of the Gunns’ mill and speakers like those on
Counterpoint, anyone who opposes this project is just a stupid
troglodyte who don’t understand.
Chavez his strength is not his own personality, the military or
even his political colleagues. It is the will of the people,
those poor and disenfranchised farmers who for decades were
locked out of their land or who had it taken over by
multinationals. The Venezuelan people became fed up with the way
big business ran rough shod over the top of their rights and
squashed their hopes and dreams. It is, therefore, the people
that empower the political process or who allow others to run it
for their own interests.
interested in one rich bloke’s efforts to fight on my side for
something I believe in – that this mill should not go ahead. I’m
more than willing to join in with an ally who, in most cases,
would oppose my philosophy on most things. I will take his money
and support his efforts to stop the project but I also recognise
that if we leave it up to him alone, then all we are doing is
abdicating our responsibilities once more.
When the rich of
Sydney’s harbour side suburbs begin to slog it out, there is
more to the matter than meets the eye. At the heart of this
matter is the willingness of the Australian people to give up
all responsibility for the collective good and hand it over to
faceless, nameless men in suits who do their deals in backrooms
and boardrooms and order our elected, supposed,
The Gunns’ mill
is only one example of big money potentially getting its way.
Hawke stopped the Franklin Dam not because he thought it was
good idea but because he was, politically, left with no option.
As the time is coming when the government must make up its mind
on the pulp mill, the time is now for us to act to oppose this
project not just on environmental grounds but to also show those
in power, who it is that really should be running the country.
After all, those of us who don’t live on the harbour far
outnumber those who do.