The palawa people have treasured lutruwita/Tasmania for time beyond our imagining. The black war against invasion was the first chapter in an ongoing story of people who continue to doggedly fight off attempts to privatise and exploit this land.
We have a history of governments rolling out the red carpet for corporate free-for-alls. Whether it’s cronyism, dodgy monopolies, siphoning public money to corporates, mates rates, secret deals, purpose-designed loop holes, or fast-track laws – we’ve had it all in Tasmania.
Too many times people have been elected to represent the state’s best interests, only to spend their time in public office aiding greed and profiteering.
The ongoing fight against exploitation has involved countless instances of communities pushing back – against people abusing power to make money for themselves or their backers.
On the back of individual struggles, both won and lost, we live today enjoying the fortunate inheritance of this resistance for the common good. How bleak would our wondrous island be if actions of some past governments had not been checked by the people?
The wild Franklin River would be dammed, and pulp mills would have chewed through our remaining ancient carbon-dense forests. Ribbon developments would dominate our coasts, headlands and fertile regions. Built heritage would be scant, and privileged elite hideaways would destroy our wilderness values.
Living in a democracy means having the equal right to voice our opinion, to have eyes on government decisions, and to vote people out of power if they don’t act in our interests. This is fundamental to the peaceful and just fabric of our society.
You may be aware of the Liberal Government’s attempt to undermine a key pillar of our democracy with their extreme – thankfully, still unrealised - anti-protest laws. There is more in the pipeline.
The proposed Major Projects legislation is being spun as essential for ‘simplifying’ existing planning approvals. Don’t be fooled – this Bill is about far more than dry, technical changes to bureaucratic processes. At its heart it seeks to remove government accountability, along with the say of communities, from decision-making for select developments.
The Bill represents the government’s attempt to silence community dissent when it comes to the assessment of divisive proposals – ones that would be ‘major’ in their outrage factor, even if not in scale.
A Panel of assessors would be hand-picked to oversee decisions, made up of people unaccountable to Tasmanians. Their final decision could not be challenged.
Large and controversial developments by definition have more significant impacts on the natural world and our collective future. If anything, the government should be expanding the democratic processes at the heart of these planning decisions, instead of removing them.
Coronavirus, with all its tragedy and terror, has presented an unexpected opportunity. We have been forced to pause and assess what we value. We have a real chance to shape our future in the most positive way. The decisions we make now will set our state’s course for generations to come.
The State Government has already starting pitching the major projects legislation as crucial for the road to recovery. It seems to have chosen the murky well-worn path of past governments, wanting to remove ‘green and red tape’ so short-horizon big developers can come and squeeze out a quick buck.
As always, there is another way.
We need to focus investment on projects that make our island a healthier and fairer place for kids to grow into. In a rapidly heating world, we need to generate carbon-neutral jobs, and use our precious public land as a resource for public good.
There are so many positive choices for the state’s rebuild that would create meaningful jobs: constructing more social and affordable housing; investing in health, education and arts; financing climate solutions in carbon storage and transport electrification; incentives to establish an industry in resource reuse and advanced manufacturing; skills and qualifications for more young Tasmanians – the list goes on.
Our recovery from COVID-19 should build on the unity we have shown in these past months. We need our democracy to help us negotiate differences, and avoid abuses of power. The Major Projects legislation, however, is designed to shut people out of being involved in important decisions about our future. It will contribute nothing of value to a post-pandemic Tasmania.