Pulp mills stink. To convey how badly, in 2007, a former CSIRO scientist, Warwick Raverty, smuggled a sample of the odour, soaked into cotton wool and contained in a wine bottle, into Tasmania’s Legislative Council.
As Quentin Beresford recounts in The Rise and Fall of Gunns Ltd, the councillors weren’t having that. “No,” Raverty was told. “Take that out immediately. It is a contempt of Parliament. You’re not going to poison parliamentarians.”
Too late: almost everyone who has had anything to do with the Tamar Valley pulp mill, mooted just over a decade ago by what was then Tasmania’s biggest private employer, can attest its toxicity.
Its reek enveloped successive Tasmanian premiers Jim Bacon, Paul Lennon, David Bartlett and Lara Giddings. Kevin Rudd, John Howard, Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Garrett remain tainted by their attitudes to it.
Not even the Greens, whose vote in Tasmania at the last state election was its lowest this century, can claim to have benefited by opposition to it.
The company itself, of course, is a corporate carcass, having collapsed in September 2012, while its former boss John Gay is a convicted insider trader.
It’s a great story: how politicians, public servants, businessmen and trade unionists conspired to present the darkest and most satanic of mills, smelly, seedy, subsidised and cynical, as a kind of gleaming industrial New Jerusalem.
It is, indeed, as Geoffrey Cousins puts it on the cover, “a tale that needed telling”.
Alas, Beresford’s telling is a failure, a pedestrian chronology put together, one suspects, in too much of a hurry to do more than relate the surface story. A former journalist turned academic, Beresford exhibits arguably the most unfortunate propensities of both.
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