Eye on the environment- November 2008

Hooroo to someone’s backyard
With a self-proclaimed dislike for old-growth logging, Don Burke has accepted a job with timber giant Gunns. The former television gardening show host and co-founder of Greening Australia, has copped flak for taking up a paid role with Gunns to help it win support for its proposed pulp mill.

Burke, who recently stepped down as president of the Australian Environment Foundation (AEF), often described as a “green sceptics’ group”, said his new job would not compromise his reputation as an environmental pioneer.

After accepting the role last month he said, “I wouldn’t have given Gunns the time of day if I wasn’t convinced they were decent and committed to the environment.”

Burke has supported the mill in the past 12 months (including as AEF president), but said his new role would not influence his opinions. He told the Sydney Morning Herald, “I don’t like old-growth logging. My track record is going into the areas where the greenies will never go, and actually getting better outcomes.”

Describing himself as a (paid) “honest broker” for the troubled mill, Burke said he had asked Gunns CEO and MD John Gay to speed up the time by which the pulp mill would not rely on native state forests for feedstock. “Obviously, it would be better for Tasmania to use plantation timber.”

Burke told The Mercury he had persuaded John Gay to use charcoal from the mill’s wood-burning power plant for bio-char, a product that stores carbon and improves soil.

“There is much more to be gained from working with companies such as Gunns to lead in good environmental practice than there is to protest against them.”

Peter Cundall, an equally well-known household gardening name, who lives in the Tamar Valley, has sharply criticised his bearded colleague for being bought. Burke’s catch phrase of “hooroo”, was beamed into lounge rooms for years on one of Australia’s most popular television shows.

Mill opponents say it’s hooroo to Burke’s credibility. Criticism of Burke is similar to that of 1980s telly bush legend, Harry Butler, when he accepted a Tasmanian Government consultancy for the Franklin Dam.

No brainer
Comments have abounded that Don Burke was a no-brainer choice for Gunns to help garner support for its mill, especially considering links between Gunns and the Australian Environment Foundation (AEF), from which Burke has just stepped down as chair.

In 2006, the AEF gave Gunns an award for its grasslands management and protection of the endangered Ptunnarra Brown Butterfly. At the time, Gunns’ north-west manager, Brian Hayes, said the award was an honour, particularly as not many people associated Gunns with environmental protection. He told the ABC, “I might point out, of our total estate of about 205,000 hectares in Tasmania, about 37,000 hectares is set aside for conservation and reservation purposes.”

According to SourceWatch, the AEF is strongly linked to the conservative Melbourne-based think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). Director of the IPA’s environment unit, Dr Jennifer Marohasy, was the AEF’s founding chairwoman. Australian Securities and Investment Commission documents also list her as an AEF director. SourceWatch says Dr Marohasy is the listed registrant of the group’s website, “although the address and phone number … are identical to the address and phone number for the Victorian office of the logging industry front group, Timber Communities Australia.”

According to Crikey, Gunns has also provided funding to the IPA.

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