Sunday, March 18, 2012

Who is driving the Liberal's Pulp Mill policy?

Last year in response to a question (May 2011) during a live chat on the Liberal's Turn Tasmania Around Facebook site, opposition leader Will Hodgman replied to me saying the Libs would rule out any further financial support for the Gunns Pulp mill should they win government. Will Hodgman has also made this promise on ABC radio.
Here is the transcript of my exchange with Will Hodgman:

Rick Pilkington- ".........Will, if by some miracle the pulp mill is built will you today rule out providing government subisidies and bailouts in the event that the project falls on hard times? The so called benefits to the community are at best arguable now, with further taxpayer subsidies it would prove to the massive white elephant that many of us predict".

Will Hodgman MP: -"Rick - yes. It has to stand on its own feet."


However Liberal shadow treasurer Peter Gutwein is now refusing to rule out giving more public money to Gunns for its pulp mill.

......"Opposition economic development spokesman Peter Gutwein again called for the government to sack Nick McKim as a minister to prevent further derailment of the pulp mill project.``If we were in government, you would obviously keep an open mind to any requests for support from (Gunns) because it is absolutely vital that we get this project over the line,'' he said.........(The Examiner, 11/3/12)

This begs the question - Why has Mr Gutwein publicly contradicted Will Hodgman's position on public money for Gunns? Why have the Liberals apparently had a change of heart on public money for Gunns when not so long ago Will Hodgman slammed the Labor/Green govt over its $48M payout to Gunns?

......"This is $34.5 million that should be being spent on schools, hospitals and police, not as a bargaining tool in a dodgy political deal," Mr Hodgman said.
"This disastrous deal has been nothing but an expensive embarrassment from the start...
 Given that Gunns voluntarily gave up its native forest contracts, they shouldn't receive a cent of compensation."....(Will Hodgman in The Mercury, 15/9/11)

Contrast Mr Gutwein's near obession with the pulp mill and his apparent enthusiasm to give more taxpayers money to Gunns against Mr Hodgman's hardline against public handouts for Gunns and recent refusal to meet with a potential Pulp Mill investor. Perhaps the difference between the two senior Liberals' attitude on the Pulp Mill is more stark than is given credit.

Of course last week's revelations of Will Hodgman's Chandler snub triggered widespread criticism of the Liberal leader and speculation about his grip on the opposition leadership. Could the apparent contradiction between Gutwein & Hodgman's position on public money for Gunns be indicative of an emerging challenge to Will Hodgman's leadership and a shift toward a harder party line on the Pulp Mill/Forest related policy? It was only a few weeks ago that the Tasmanian Liberals also flagged the introduction of draconian laws to stop protests against logging industry interests should the Libs win government. Another sign of a shift to a more reactionary & hard line Liberal party on forestry.

So who is driving this shift and who in fact is now driving the Tasmanian Liberals' Pulp Mill policy?

Is Will Hodgman set to break his word on public money for Gunns to appease powerful pro mill hardliners within Liberal ranks and will we see the Liberal party with Mr Hodgman at the helm or perhaps leader in waiting - Peter Gutwein taking the party to the 2014 election with a policy of more public money for Gunns pulp mill?

Time will tell.

Unless drawn by questions from local media its highly unlikely the Liberal's will advertise plans to give Gunns public money for the mill. The Liberal party would be well aware that several public polls conducted on the question of more public money for Gunns pulp mill have shown such a proposition is even more on the nose with Tasmanians than the project itself.


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