MPs feel green ideals at disputed Tas elections

Tasmania’s election results, while not quite in the style of David Williamson’s 1971 play Don’s Party, were attention-grabbing for many reasons. It’s more common in Australian politics for one party to gain an immediately identifiable lead, or subsequent majority of seats. (It’s the Europeans who made an art form out of requiring the support of minor parties to shore up a leadership position.) 

For a couple of weeks after the ballot box slammed shut, the question was “will it be Will or Dave?” The only certainty was that neither party would be able to govern outright. But in the end, it was Dave – or rather, Labor premier David Bartlett – who governor Peter Underwood asked to form the new government, not Liberal leader Will Hodgman. (Although at one point, he looked the likely winner.)

Far more clearly on the outer was David Llewellyn, former Tassie minister for Primary Industries and Water, minister for Energy and Resources, and minister for Planning, who lost his seat in Lyons to party colleague and Labor staffer Rebecca White. 

The 24-year political veteran, Llewellyn, more speedily known as “Forestry Minister”, had been a vocal supporter of Gunns’ proposed pulp mill and native-forest logging policies. 

White, 27, campaigned on “renewal”, and even subtly mocked her older adversaries – including 68-year-old Llewellyn – via a television ad campaign that showing Polly Waffle wrappers being swept into the rubbish. Those being mocked included other long-term Labor pollies, including veteran speaker Michael Polley, 60, (a member for Lyons since 1972) and Heather Butler, 62. (White was asked to atone, and, predictably, the original, unaltered ads are now cyberspace faves.) 

Post-election comments squarely link Llewellyn’s loss with his determined and vocal support of the mill and native logging, as being out of touch with Labor voters’ views. So what does this mean for the mill? 

Who knows. But a heap of people care deeply – whether they’re for or against. At the time of writing, Labor’s 10 MPs were working out who’s who in the zoo. Probably an important part of that was whether to retain the same policies that at least partly shaped the election result or to venture into new woods. 

Green groups were banking on their mid- to late-April campaigns of having a strong chance of influencing the new Labor government, with four of the 10 new Labor government MPs being brand new to parliament. 

While those newbies are unlikely to be intimidated by pages of protests, they will, no doubt, be cognisant of what’s just happened. 

But whether the new Government supports Gunns’ proposed mill or not could be moot – it’s still yet to gain a financier. Gunns (still) says it’s “in discussions” – including with Sodra and “a number of purely financial investors”. 

According to ASX info, Gunns is reshaping “to realise value in the group’s assets and participate in growth opportunities”. This will enable the market to “more appropriately
value the forestry assets” (Gunns has said the market hasn’t recognised its $1bn tree investment).  

Samantha Schelling is a writer and editor with a long-held interest in the environment and sustainability.

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