It’s true, I’ve been lukewarm on Latham. I want the Liberals to go, but as Rob Schaap says, “I want Labor to win – much in the way I prefer my ageing cat’s vomit to its diarrhoea”. I was disappointed when, in March of this year, Bob Brown took Latho for a tour of the Styx valley in Tasmania. (Warning – PDF). The PM-in-Waiting mooched around much like a spoilt kid being dragged around an Old Masters exhibition by an enthusiastic uncle, then went on the ABC’s PM program to say that old growth forest was all very well but he wasn’t about to
annoy the CMFEU, Gunns and the Tasmanian Labor government put the jobs of Tasmanian forestry workers at risk. And that, it seemed, was that.
I wasn’t expecting anything more, because the whole thing fitted in so well with my picture of Latham as the pseudo-working class hairy-chested hero of the Western suburbs of Sydney, trying to be a Man of the People and distance himself from Greenie basket-weaving Girly men. Further, the Labor Government in Tasmania is completely in the woodchippers’ pockets. (Or is it the other way around?)
So imagine my surprise when Latham comes out with a plan to save not just the Tarkine and Styx forests, but other threatened areas as well. And this is what he said about the ruffled Tasmanian Labor MPs:
Despite the threat to Labor seats – the party holds all five Tasmanian federal lower house seats – Mr Latham said he was not worried. “That’s not a consideration. We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
After an election campaign where expediency and bribery have been the order of the day, it is bloody wonderful to hear a politician say he’s willing to pi$$ of influential bullyboys in his own party and risk seats because it’s the right thing to do. It’s almost the Anti-Tampa.
OK, you weren’t expecting me to criticise Latho’s decision. And who has? well, the usual suspects: John Howard, the CFMEU, Tasmanian premier Paul Lennon, and “more than 500 timber workers” in Hobart.
You might be asking what my attitude to the timber workers is, since I’m both green and bolshie, aren’t I torn? No! BUY THEM OUT. Featherbed them if necessary – hell, they’ve done it for the ethanol and shale oil industries, not to mention a whole range of rural interest groups. It is simply nauseating to hear John Howard on the radio going into Trades Hall mode, declaiming about the rights of the Working Man not to lose his job to cruel Labor policies. Please!
It’s also not impressive to hear Gunns Ltd stooges (Tasmanian Labor MPs) weeping crocodile tears about the poor heroic workers when they must be aware their industry has employed fewer and fewer people in the past few decades, with mechanisation replacing most of the workers directly involved with timber cutting. And don’t think they wouldn’t get rid of the lot if they could. Many “timber workers” are really truckies, poor contractors with a miserable hand-to-mouth working life sans entitlements such as holidays and sick pay, and terrible hours. Less than 500 people are actually directly employed in old growth logging, so if “more than 500” workers demonstrate, they must include these wretched contractors. Their jobs are shit, but they have nothing else; I sympathise with that. Again, BUY THEM OUT. If you must , make it a condition they spend it on developing new value-added and plantation industries. And there must be scope for the State government to employ a few hundred blokes to maintain the fringes of the rescued wilderness – keep feral animals down, weed, maintain tracks and fences, shoot Toorak Tank drivers, et cetera. (One of those was tongue in cheek, OK!)
I’d like to take issue also with the emotive language of the Bush (AKA the real Australia) versus the City (home of Chardonnay-sipping wankers and girly-men). Like Dick Adams, Labor MP: “I never expected to hear such a sell-out of a state on behalf of a few city dwellers keen to see Tasmania locked up and abandoned”.
Let’s pass over the “few” ( 80-85% is not a few, Dick) and talk about us city dwellers for a moment.
Us city dwellers have been outsourced, downsized, rightsized and restructured until our pips squeak. 650 Kodak employees in Melbourne have recently been sacked wholesale, without causing any political crisis, or indeed any expressions of sympathy from Tasmania. That alone is more workers than are directly employed in the entire old-growth clearfelling industry in Tasmania. But that’s just one company. In my suburb alone, Footscray, we have had mass sackings and factory closures as a yearly event as manufacturing jobs fall victim to economic rationalism, offshoring and technological change. Meanwhile, people who used to work at clerical jobs and customer service have been thrown out of work for the same reasons over the last three decades. We’ve had the equivalent of the whole Tasmanian workforce sacked many times over. I have watched as the number employed by my own small company has dwindled from 130 to 30, while productivity actually rises, due to technological change.
So spare your crocodile tears, Mr Lennon and others. You are not concerned about jobs for the Little People, but your massive subsidised profits rort. If the little Tassie Battlers aren’t thrown out of work by your increased mechanisation, they’ll be thrown out of old-growth clearfelling once all the old growth is cut down. One way or another, it’s a job they should never encourage their children to follow them into.
BUY THEM OUT. I’ll be happy to see my taxes help out. Hell, they already help Gunns Ltd, Manildra, and various other corporations dear to politicians’ hearts. At least it will be doing some good.
John Howard, on the other hand… This is even worse than I expected.
There’s a discernible gap now. Labor and Liberal are no longer so much Tweedledum and Tweedledee. This, together with the Kyoto policy, has upped the ante for me. If I lived in a marginal seat, I’d be voting Labor despite my misgivings. It’s a shame this election is being portrayed as a choice between a tax cut here and a subsidy there; there’s so much more at stake.
The ageing cat’s vomit is starting to almost look OK.