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Pub: Sydney Morning Herald

Pubdate: 11-Jun-2009

Edition: First

Section: News and Features

Subsection: Opinion

Page: 13

Wordcount: 806

One Tuesday, two lessons about murky bilge politics


Writing about politics always feels much like guddling about in the bilges of some half-sunk prawn trawler. Occasionally you find something live and shining but mostly it’s dripping handfuls of tar, anaerobes and scum.

Tuesday turned up a doozie, two great dollops of the tangled muck. In one, a live, shiny thing gasped for breath – the sole hero of Australian politics likely to be drummed out of Parliament before month’s end. But the second yielded his symbolic opposite, a creature with priorities so out of whack he finds baring the planet less offensive than baring breasts. And who, de facto, is planning the state.

Bob Brown and Fred Nile. Beyond the single-syllable names they’re about as different as it’s possible to be; the one serving his principles to the point of serious personal risk, the other giving the impression his principles serve him.

All right, I confess. I love Bob Brown. Nothing personal. Never met the guy. But I love his articulate, undaunted, unself-aggrandising and untiring defence of the planet. And the way he consistently but alone opposes those whopping, pay rises for parliamentarians who already earn per fortnight what a pensioner gets per year. And all while his parliamentary colleagues nod robotically at Nick Minchin’s risible assurances that these vast piles of gold “attract the best and brightest to our parliaments to ensure … good parliamentarians, good ministers, good shadow ministers”.

Oh Lordy Lordy, if only it were so.

This particular Brown story starts in 2005, when he took action in the Federal Court against Forestry Tasmania, arguing that logging the Wielangta Forest threatened the endangered wedge-tailed eagle, the swift parrot and the broad-toothed stag beetle. Brown won. Logging ceased.

Until both the Lennon and Howard governments joined the loggers in appealing to the full bench of the Federal Court . They didn’t bother arguing that the species were unharmed. Only that the Forestry Agreement allowed such harm. And the full bench bought it. But for Brown’s subsequent High Court appeal, just to be sure, they rewrote the agreement, deleting the perilous words “agrees to protect”. On February 23, 2007, this amendment was personally signed by Paul Lennon and John Howard.

This gave the court little option but to find, just last month, for the loggers, giving habitat destruction the green light. Still not content, however, Forestry Tasmania sent Brown a $239,368.53 demand. If unpaid by June 29, this will increase by $2830.99 interest, plus $69.04 a day thereafter.

Of course it’s not really about money. In a manner worthy of the Guatemalan secret police, it’s really about rubbing Brown out of politics, bankrupts being barred from Parliament. Don’t send chocolates, send cheques.

Now let us consider Nile’s curious taste in bedfellows. He’s being fed and watered from the ALP’s bounteous trough, with two paid committee-chair posts listed on his website. That might not sound like a plentiful feed, but compare it to none each for Gordon Moyes, Barry O’Farrell, Clover Moore, Ian Cohen and most non-government MPs. Never mind an administration desperate enough to flog every last asset. The trough, even if lightly supped, is the trough.

The Nile story also goes back to 2005 when the reverend obligingly raised his hand for the Part 3A legislation that replaces heritage and environmental protections for “state significant” sites with flim-flam ministerial discretion.

Back then, Nile was accompanied by both the Opposition and his Christian Democratic Party colleague, Moyes. Since then, the Opposition has changed what we laughingly call its mind and Moyes has decided to take the first two epithets in his CDP more seriously.

So Nile’s vote has become increasingly critical in pushing unholy legislation through the eye of the upper house needle. Now it’s generally just he and Roy (Shooters Party) Smith who vote the Government’s way on planning and environmental matters in the upper house.

Thus it was with the Planning Minister, Kristina Keneally’s, further depredations last week of the Heritage Act, a 19-18 upper house vote to turn the last remains of our once-proud heritage system already eviscerated by successive maulings into a stuffed ministerial toy. And so it will be, no doubt, when Parliament legislates to validate its manky approval of the Rosecorp and Huntlee developments at Catherine Hill Bay, after the fact.

Consider the coincidences. One, on Tuesday, Frank Sartor who as planning minister wielded Part 3A with such glee to approve, inter alia, those 900 Catherine Hill Bay houses made headlines denying his bid for premier.

Two, the developers involved, Duncan Hardie and Bob Rose, donated between them hundreds of thousands of dollars to the NSW ALP before the last election.

Politics is full of these happy synchronicities. Like the way these two stories run so strongly parallel the private exchange of public favours, the donations and secret deals, the retrospective documentation to win moral arguments on amoral technicalities.

It’s how that black old stinky bilge water accumulates.


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