A CANE TOAD IN TASMANIA By Paul Tapp


The amazing thing of course is Al Gore being the first Nobel Peace Prize winner to be given this distinguished award for scaring the hell out of everybody. In the context of scary films, Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth is hardly a nail-biter because fact simply does not compete well with fiction in the box office. It was naturally expected that the Academy Award winning film would simply dissipate into the archives like so many classic films . But the eminence behind the Nobel foundation made sure it didn’t. The message behind the award is simply: we are imperilled. We have cooked the earth. Stop. Reverse thrust. Al Gore and now the Nobel Foundation are shouting from the highest peaks; beyond the sight of smoke stacks and the screeching of logs that are shredded for cardboard. Can the collective intellect in our own country translate the message into easy-to-understand, read-my-lips dialogue. No Monster Pulp Mill In Paradise. Does the collective voting power in this country understand the enormity of the mistake of the Tamar valley pulp mill and its eco-equivalent? The apathetic ethos of Tasmanians has been manipulated with the antediluvian mantra of jobs, jobs, jobs. There are more jobs in mining and yet infrastructure required for development in this sector is largely ignored by governments. Perhaps Al Gore might do a sequel doco on the concept of a giant runaway cane toad in Tasmania’s Tamar Valley. A vile creature that spawns an increased network of apostates to feed its insatiable gluttony. Log dogs like Al Gore’s film, will terrify the population with their omnipresence; day and night, an additional 700 or so. When he was Premier and me a lowly hack ABC journo, I had the temerity to ask a question without notice of Robin Gray, camera rolling…can we develop a tourism industry in tandem with an increasing volume of log-truck traffic on our relatively poor roads? I wonder today if the likeable Robin saw himself as a future most-influential board-member of a giant forestry company when he answered in the blithe and growling affirmative. Like any industry there will be a number of injuries and deaths in proportion to the size of the operation. What the proponents of this mill are saying, expect a proportionate number of road deaths. These are expected and accepted…and the unsuspecting tourist, mainly Victorians, suddenly finds a caravanning holiday in Tasman confronted with a convoy of log trucks, passing at the rate of one every few minutes. If a Tasmanian politician had the Gore foresight and could look into the future to a loved-one in the rubble of a log-truck fatal, would the risk of a super-mill be taken, beyond of course the ecological cane-toad effect? It is my right as a citizen to expect our Parliament to reduce the road risk, as a priority of Responsible Government, guaranteed us under the Australian Constitution. Paradoxically the inevitability of additional road deaths, has hardly been raised in the mill debate. But it takes equal place with the ecology when my family arrive into Tasmania for a visit. It is the first thing on my mind…take care on the road! Try not to arrive in Tasmania at night! There is nothing more intimidating that a racing giant ant, night-eyes blazing, tail tucked up and empty, making impatient progress to the bush to get its quota of food for a monster in our midst. A journalist, even when retired attracts much unsolicited and often disturbing information from individuals who virtually whisper their anecdotes of discontent on matters diverse. The following anecdote is based on the experiences of a former hands-on worker at the Triabunna woodchip mill, at a time before jobs were replaced by efficient tree-gobbling technology. It was this information that has urged me subliminally ever since, to question the integrity of those who operate pulp mills. To intellectualise the information simply meant that pulp mill operating guidelines need constant and independent supervision … otherwise they are no more than superficial public appeasement guidelines to be ignored in practice. This anecdote related to flushing practises, that is when the crap from the mill can be purged into Spring Bay. My whispering deepthroat told me that the strict regimen of flushing frequencies were regarded as a joke. “We flush every night…after dark, so nobody sees it.” Scientific assessment of the Tamar Valley mill still plays a key role in its future, but if my informant is right about the alleged contumacious nature of running a mill, perhaps the Tamar Mill should have permanently embedded independent supervising scientists, perhaps on detachment from the CSIRO as part of the deal. No amount of brouhaha can change the course of the monster mill, we’ve got it and have to live with it…or leave. But it must not, through time and apathy, be allowed to become its own master. Governments control casinos and can replace their masters overnight if necessary. In changing times, the Commonwealth is replacing impotent Tasmanian health policy with radical salvation funding plans. Let the mill be Commonwealth supervised at least as an offering to its neighbours domestic and enterprising in vineyards and fishermen who fear the worst for a contaminated fishery. It is timely that Al Gore got the world’s most prominent award as we head into another election. It must be embarrassing now to a Prime Minister who never bothered to watch a film destined for global recognition. On the entire election front I find no leadership, for there appears almost to be collusion between the major parties to introduce a cane toad into my Tasmania. It’s almost a Constitutional matter. The only endorsed Liberal candidate I could have voted for in the Lyons electorate to oppose the mill was Ben Quin, now excommunicated for his opposition to the Tamar pulp mill and party policy to support the mill. Gough Whitlam once said there’s no place in Parliament for independents. But if there’s a place for independent Al Gore on the global pedestal of eco-responsibility and courage, then there’s a place for Quin in the Australian Parliament…because there’s no place for a rampant cane toad in Tasmania.