HAVING A BEER WITH BEN By Paul Tapp


Having a beer with Ben Quin at the local was a rarity. I had seen him on several occasions entering Triabunna’s  Spring Bay Hotel and saw him as an awkward person in the company of the regular patrons of the pub. Its not easy suddenly appearing and mixing it with ordinary folk who really don’t want to be heavied on politics and so a pollie, a candidate in particular, has got to pick his moment. It was some six weeks ago now when Ben came in and read the mood right. Politics was suddenly not a taboo issue and Ben mixed a couple of tens with his views on the mood of the electorate…the Tamar pulp mill, the singular topic of interest. Ben is a quiet bloke, personifying conservatism which goes with the uniform of major, now retired, in the Australian army. I told him that I had given him my number One vote at the last election where he reduced Dick Adam’s margin by about 4 percent. Not bad for a newcomer. He reckoned that he could probably toss Dick at the next and I agreed that Dick was now acting snail-like after his stouch with his Party over forestry issues. I subscribe to my old home town (Rossarden) newsletter, an online bi-monthly that Dick seems to fund. This is passive grass-roots promo stuff at its best for a pollie. You don’t have to work hard at being elected. Ben Quin to me seemed at first blush, a poorly-selected candidate, but as we talked I reversed my opinion and pledged my support, even to help out with a bit of campaigning if it came to that. Ben’s feedback from Lyons campaigning distinctly implied opposition to a mill in the Tamar paradise. To represent the majority view of the electorate would be to oppose the mill, even though it meant having a face-off with the party that selected him to shake and rattle the popular Dick Adams. I thought Ben may have got a two-pot bravado that day in the pub for he said he’d run the gauntlet of Party wrath by opposing the Party’s Pulp Mill policy. Political expediency was not Ben Quin’s weakness. I saw him as a leader and would have accepted him as a platoon commander in a bigger hot-zone than any Australian political environment could present. His loss to the Liberal Team in this election is everybody’s loss. Independents don’t have the base support needed to be fully effective as a parliamentary representative. It wasn’t just beer talk that day. Ben stuck to his word and has now paid the full price for characteristics that are lost in the maelstrom of party membership…individuality, integrity and courage. Then again that’s what we look for when we put our men and women in the uniform of Australian army officers. That’s what Ben Quin’s still got. Robin Gray never had it and yet he has massive and frightening influence in the future of one of our most precious natural assets, the Tamar River. Herein lies the paradox of politics. We expect leadership and courage on macro matters such as the future of an entire river-valley ecosystem and associated economies. We get it from Ben Quin but party-political expediency cheats us of our right to support him as our Liberal candidate. I feel disenfranchised. If Ben’s right and the Lyons majority really don’t want the mill, he’ll get up as an independent. The election will be a close call. Ben Quin might hold the balance of power. Then we’ll see what leadership is all about. Let’s get the election over with before the first sod is turned in the lower reaches of our beautiful Tamar Valley. Next time I have a beer with the former major at the “Springy”, I hope I’m in the company of Ben Quin MHR. Then I’ll know that our hard-won democracy is still intact.