An island adrift in a sea of good intentions.
This is a guest article by one of our regular commenters, Blackswan. It’s a short history of their homeland, Tasmania, and a longer history of the damaging impact of environmentalism upon it. As usual, it was all done with the best of intentions.
In the 12th century Saint Bernard of Clairvaux is credited with the wisdom of the words “Hell is paved with good intentions and desires”. That’s odd – because the good abbot didn’t know that the island of Tasmania even existed.
Nor did anyone else until 1642 when a Dutch East India sea captain by the name of Abel Janszoon Tasman first sighted the west coast of a rugged island hiding in the Great Southern Ocean, and named it Anthoonij van Diemenslandt after the Governor of the Dutch East Indies.
Thereafter the mysterious Terra Australis Incognita became known as New Holland.
In 1770 the great British navigator Captain James Cook happened along, didn’t land in Van Diemen’s Land, but continued north and claimed the whole continent for King and Country. Almost 20 years later, England sent a fleet of convicts and marines to establish a new east-coast colony under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, who was astonished to find a French expeditionary force nosing about his anchorage in Botany Bay. Its Captain, La Perouse, was resupplied by Phillip and continued on his way, never to be seen again.
Nobody gave the mountainous southern island in the path of the Roaring Forties a thought for five more years, until another French fleet commanded by Bruni d’Entrecasteaux came looking for the lost La Perouse, under orders to closely inspect the coastline of Van Diemen’s Land looking for any possible trace of the missing shipwrecked seamen.
D’Entrecasteaux happened to have some highly qualified personnel on board, men at the forefront of cartography as well as a pioneering hydrographer and they spent months painstakingly searching and charting the southern coast of this rugged and beautiful island. They were frequently sighted by British ships rounding the southern coast en route to Sydney Town, and as they were still smarting from the recent loss of their North American colonies with the active help of the French, it was suspected the French had designs on claiming their own territories in the Great South Land.
By 1798 Captain Matthew Flinders had established that Van Diemens Land was in fact an island, separated from the mainland by the 240 km wide Bass Strait, making an ideal secondary penal settlement.
In 1803 Lt. Bowen was despatched with a small squad to lay formal claim to this southern outpost, followed the next year by Captain David Collins who landed with a larger contingent of troopers, convicts and a few free settlers to establish the fledging settlement of Hobart Town on the banks of the River Derwent. Unfortunately for Collins, Sydney Town and London didn’t give much thought to the logistics of a new colony in the remote wilds of the south, with restive and resistant aborigines, no regular supplies and an assortment of tools that fell apart when confronted with the massive hardwood eucalypt forests that needed to be felled.
Collins doesn’t seem to have offered much in the way of discipline, leadership or organisational skills because after a few years of calamity and near starvation of the new settlement, he reported to London that in Hobart Town … ‘a system of the most unexampled profusion, waste and fraud, with respect to money, and stores, had been carried on, almost without the affectation of concealment and sense of shame’.
Collins had left his wife Maria at home in England while he took his various colonial commissions, but doesn’t seem to have wrought much change in rampant graft and corruption because when he died in 1810 leaving assorted offspring by local mistresses, Maria received a widow’s pension for twenty years until her own death in 1830. The catch is, Maria’s name and pension appeared yearly on Tasmanian estimates until 1842. Someone did very nicely out of poor abandoned Maria.
Despite those initial setbacks, a series of Governors took office in the growing penal colony, some well-intentioned, others vicious and cruel, and some visionary; by the time of self administration in the 1850s, the island had become known as Tasmania, the free settlers and emancipated convict pioneers wishing to dissociate themselves from the “convict stain” and the fearsome reputation of indentured servitude, bitter punishments and prisoner slavery in Van Diemens Land.
The intrepid explorers, engineers, seafarers and free settlers of the British Empire built thriving industries in Tasmania; from whaling to timber cutting to mining the wealth of copper, silver, zinc and gold in those wild mountains, to sheep and cattle on the grassy midland plateaux as well as high-yield cropping in the rich volcanic soils in the north of the island, with apple and pear orchards dominating the southern farmlands. The fruits of the labours of the hard-working islanders were exported around the world, their sons volunteered to fight the wars of the Empire, and in the mid 20th century massive rivers were dammed to form expansive lakes that still feed a huge hydro-electric power network today.
And so the cycle of generations proceeded until 1972 when a young medical general practitioner called Bob Brown emerged from the lower working classes of Sydney suburbia. Bob wasn’t a particularly happy chap – he didn’t really fit into the very heterosexual bloke’s world of Sydney’s west, and was looking for a cause that would justify his existence on the Blue Planet. He found it in green Tasmania, and set about making the place a whole lot Greener.
It was an era of the first stirrings of Environmentalism and Brown joined the fledgling United Tasmania Group, Australia’s first “green” party, determined to forge a reputation for the island state as the most environmentally aware and ‘progressive’ in the nation. Brown had a lot of material to work with in Tasmania. In 1976 he sat for a week on the summit of Hobart’s 1200 metre Mount Wellington, on a hunger strike to protest the arrival of the nuclear-powered warship USS Enterprise. The media lapped it up, always in the thrall of martyrs. In 1978 he was appointed director of the World Wildlife Fund – the only credentials he needed to make him an instant “expert” on all things environmental.
The government of the day began a multi-million dollar project to dam the Gordon/Franklin River system in the midst of the mountainous west coast wilderness, expanding the network of hydro-electric power generation that would make Tasmania entirely energy self-sufficient and other coal/gas power plants unnecessary. Brown was incensed – that wild river valley, in the folds of mountain ranges clothed in impenetrable rain forests and accessible only to intrepid hikers, kayakers and canoeists was to be flooded and an access road was being built through a trackless wilderness.
Brown was joined in his PR campaign by Britain’s Dr David Bellamy, whose face and gravelly voice dominated every TV news bulletin across the country, along with the hordes of protesters swarming the riverbanks and chaining themselves to trees or heavy earthmovers and sabotaging machinery. They were mostly university students joined by some ordinary citizens or the dope-smoking, dread-locked unemployed mob always seeking a cause to make their irrelevant lives meaningful. Brown was among many who were arrested and he subsequently spent 19 days in prison – a true martyr for the cause.
Brown knew his audience. Nobody wanted to see a pristine wilderness trashed. Television cameras sought out the corridors of felled forest, the road graders laying crushed rock through the ferns – it seemed like such an intrusion on the Garden of Eden. However, Brown wasn’t the only venomous snake in the undergrowth. He petitioned the Federal Labor government to use the Constitution to override Tasmanian state laws and the will of the majority of people for clean power generation, and had the entire project shut down in 1983.
Not only that, all the roadworks had to be dug up and sealed off and the forests regenerated, with any trace of the constructions so far to be demolished and removed. The Franklin river valley was now restored to the possums and lizards. Without any access roads into the area for ordinary citizens or tourists to enjoy the landscape, it remains the purview of the hikers and paddlers. Without that missing link in the chain of hydro power we still rely on a fossil fuel-burning back-up plant.
Flushed with this victory he stood and won a seat in the state parliament, his next goal being to close down the 200-year-old timber industry, though not before a few of his other pet issues were addressed. These included homosexual law reform, euthanasia, a nuclear-free state and gun control. He formed a coalition with the minority state Labor government and in this way secured many Green reforms and Regulations not approved or sought by the majority of the people.
In 1993 he resigned state politics with his eye now on the Federal arena but he failed in his bid for the House of Representatives, which is just as well from his perspective because his views represented such a minority he’d have had little influence. Three years later he was elected to the Federal Senate as a state representative, and as this is a ‘House of Review’ his vote often became crucial in passing the legislation of the major parties.
Inch by inch Brown became the face of the Australian Green Movement as well as leader of the Greens Party; the go-to guy for the Media wanting any comment on any subject upon which this Marxist Fabian held himself to be the only voice of reason – whether it be interjecting when George W Bush addressed the Parliament, or having sodomy de-criminalised in Tasmania – Brown had the Media in the palm of his hand.
And all the while he fought to close down the Tasmanian Native Forest industry. His sycophantic footsoldiers mounted relentless campaigns on timber coups, sabotaging heavy machinery, chaining themselves to trees, mounting arboreal platforms and trespassing on private property and in state forests to prevent logging, even on regrowth native forests that had been felled decades earlier.
Timber towns, whose lifeblood were the sawmills, truckers and processors were at war with the new ‘alternative lifestyle’ settlements where organic produce, arts and crafts and ‘eco-tourism’ reigned supreme. The state’s biggest timber company, Gunn’s, sued Brown and others for $6.3 million in compensation for the damage wrought upon their company, but it was thrown out by the Supreme Court, itself appointed by the Labor/Green government of the day. Brown even followed our Trade missions to Japan and China, berating them over buying our timber products and demanding such contracts be torn up.
It was a war of attrition, and the timber industry blinked – sent to the wall with loss of our export markets, damage to plant and equipment, sawmills closing down for want of lumber and the relentless negativity of the mainstream media.
Brown advocated the industry revert to ‘plantation forests’ of Tasmanian Blue Gum hardwood, that unique forest giant whose massive logs had been exported for 200 years, many of which built piers on the river Thames and which still stand today. Plantations meant that the open grazing pastures, hard-won from the forests by the back-breaking toil of our pioneers and convict labourers were soon to see thousands of acres planted out to the fast-growing blue gum eucalypts.
This had many unintended consequences of its own as 1080 poison was laid to kill off the foraging animals. The poison contaminated the water table and forest streams, linked to cancer clusters in townships reliant on those water supplies. Even household rainwater tanks, gathered from rainfall on rooftops weren’t immune as the spraydrift from the nearby plantations inevitably caused illness and ‘unexplained’ deaths. Local doctors, alarmed at these cancer-clusters, sought to have water samples tested and investigated, but government agencies refused, necessitating having the tests conducted privately offshore, the results confirming the locals’ fears – toxins thousands of times in excess of World Health Organisation’s guidelines.
Such trees take decades to grow to maturity and so the sawmills, starved of product, continued to close. Timber town businesses closed their doors, unemployment soared, and the hard-working people despaired of seeing the lives they lived and the forests they loved restored to them. Among Brown’s ‘forest management’ policies was a banning of citizens being allowed into state forests to forage for deadwood on the forest floor, a lifeline against the cold for low-income folk to fend off the chill of winter frosts and snow. The Greens claimed such fallen logs were homes for snakes and lizards and must be preserved for them.
Also banned were the controlled seasonal burns of forest undergrowth, usually conducted in the still cooler months, thus reducing the dangers of rampant wildfire in blistering summers as these might disturb the protected birdlife and possums. Under Green policies the forest fuel-load compounded across the seasons meaning any fire begun by lightning strike, arson or runaway burns now become a conflagration destroying not only every living thing in its path, but the high overhead canopy as well, leaving a wasteland in its wake. With such firestorms breaking out of the forests into grasslands and farming communities, millions of dollars in damage has been caused with terrified residents who lose their homes and their livelihoods, taking years to recover.
Job done on the timber industry, next on Brown’s wish-list is the mining industry. In 2007 he attempted to have all coal exports banned, describing it as the “energy industry’s heroin habit” and stating that the export of alternative technologies should be the priority. With the Federal Labor government elected to power in 2007 Brown saw his chance, persuading the new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to back his call to ratify the Kyoto Agreement and to set fixed carbon targets immediately, announcing this at the UN Bali Climate Conference in 2007.
By the next Federal election in 2010 a new prospective Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was running the campaign. Days before the election she announced to the nation – “There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead” – but it did her no good and the Opposition Liberals won the vote. Gillard and Brown weren’t honouring democracy and the will of the people without a fight; they signed an agreement agreeing to share power with three Independents and their combined numbers gave Gillard a majority of one single seat. Now the Labor Party were under the control of Brown and the Greens, blackmailed into whatever Brown demanded under threat of bringing the minority government down.
Tasmania’s goose was cooked, and definitely singed around the edges. For the past sixteen years the state has had either Labor or Labor/Green minority governments and they have served to tighten the buckles on our social and industrial straitjacket. Past mining practices had seen the west coast Mt Lyell copper mine’s sulphurous exhalations denude the surrounding mountains of their vegetation leaving a lunar landscape that became a tourist attraction, though nobody wanted to see the dead Queen River, nothing more than a gutter of toxic effluent. The past thirty years has seen mine operations clean up their act with a green fuzz spreading over the denuded ranges, once again proving that Mother Gaia is more than capable of repairing the damage wrought by negligent mankind.
Tossing babies out with bath water is Brown’s speciality and he simply wants the entire mining industry shut down. One by one our manufacturing plants have closed up and relocated offshore, usually to China or India – Brown having no qualms about inflicting pollution on a foreign peasantry, so just long as they are yellow or brown people. The prime example of this are his demands for the solar/wind Renewable Industry. Wind turbines have proliferated on the island’s northeast and northwest coasts, while the sheen of photovoltaic panels spreads across rooftops everywhere. Brown and his coterie of adherents care little for the death and destruction their manufacture in China and India causes for those people – they aren’t his constituents – out of sight, out of mind.
Meanwhile, he bathes in the rosy glow of self-satisfaction as the island state sinks deeper into the mire of unemployment, bankruptcy, an aging population and the flight of our best and brightest youth to the mainland or foreign shores seeking a financially viable future for themselves.
Bob Brown retired from the Senate and has now handed over the captaincy of the Green Party to his deputy Christine Milne, the architect of Gillard’s Carbon Dioxide Tax, forced through Parliament under Green threats to her minority government. Milne began her political life as the mousy country schoolteacher enamoured of Brown’s pontifications on the environment, and wields her Green credentials with particular venom. Brown and his boyfriend are ambassadors for Greenpeace, at the nominal helm of the Greenpeace fleet as it chases Japanese whaling ships across the Great Southern Ocean.
A couple of months ago Tasmanians breathed a sigh of relief as the Green/Labor government was thrown out of office after sixteen long and turbulent, unproductive years. The new Liberal government has vowed to get the island moving again, its first order of business being to tear up the Green Forest Peace Agreement which put an end to logging wars, now opening thousands of hectares of native forests for operations and hoping to revive a once-thriving industry.
The legacy of years of Labor/Green government reflect that of the new Federal Liberal government in that Brown and his apparatchiks have fostered a Renewable industry that has tied the state and the nation into contracts with foreign multinationals and governments which have us committed to decades of contractual obligations that carry massive penalties should they be rescinded.
Thirty five years ago it seemed such a good idea to save the beautiful rainforests, save the possums, save the lizards and the snakes, save the wilderness for future generations and help a weedy, well-meaning medico misfit into his political career – such grand intentions all round. Better still to tax the energy use of industry and the population, and to hand over $10 billion a year to the United Nations who would save the planet from the certain “catastrophic” effects of man-made climate change.
Those ‘good intentions’ have paved the road to the ‘hell’ of industries and livelihoods destroyed, businesses shuttered and abandoned, our frail aged huddled in the cold, our youth seeking a future elsewhere, unemployment rising and welfare dependence increasing, with our bloated bureaucracies now boasting tens of thousands extra superannuated personnel, some more highly paid than our politicians. Our Treasuries are emptied on profligate Green ‘stimulus packages’, our borrowings of foreign money at record levels and the interest on our debt obligations ensuring that our grandchildren will still be paying our dues for decades to come.
An overriding reaction to the debacle of the recent decades of Labor/Marxist/Green Socialism is one of betrayal. It is we who have betrayed the trust of our forebears, those who lived and died, suffered privation and loss of their homelands to give their children and all future generations a better and more secure way of life. They sailed the stormy seas of the Roaring Forties in wooden ships with canvas sails, felled forest giants the like of which they’d never seen to clear farmland, build homes, grow crops and raise livestock; they cut mines into mountainsides, roadways through untrammelled wilderness, built industries to provide work and fostered enterprise through innovation and vision for a better world. That vision is now blurred by tears of regret.
The saving grace is this beautiful island itself, a balm to troubled souls, and the spirit of the people who live here and refuse to be cowed by opportunistic carpetbaggers in Green cloaks who foster good intentions while they lead us to ruin. Those days are finally over and it’s time we rolled up our sleeves and got our hands calloused and dirty rebuilding a future for our children, just as our forefathers did. It’s the least we can do to honour their legacy to the nation.