The main ABC television news last night gave extensive coverage to a stepping up by Labor of its attack on Malcolm Turnbull over one aspect of his past dealings as a merchant banker. This morning the newspapers largely ignored the story.
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Minister Tony Burke was the Minister chosen to lead the attack because the Dorothy Dix question was framed around the desirability of sustainable forest practices. Could the Minister provide, Mr Burke was asked, examples of dangerous and reckless logging practices?
He most certainly could and proceeded to do so in considerable detail:
I am reminded of the example of Axiom Forest Resources, a company that engaged in logging in the Solomon Islands in the 1990s, at the same time that the Leader of the Opposition
was both its chairman and a shareholder. I read with interest an article earlier this year in the Sunday Telegraph. The title of the article is: ‘Malcolm Turnbull linked to mass logging operation in Solomon Islands’. It went on to report about the island of Vangunu, home to just over 2,000 people in the Solomons. The Leader of the Opposition’s company certainly left its mark on the island; it was never the same. A report provided by AusAID said:
… more like a clear-felling operation and bearing little relation to an attempt at even retaining a token sample of future commercial crop on the site.
The degree of canopy removal and soil disturbance was the most extensive seen by the authors in any logging operation in tropical rainforest in any country … The impact from the destruction of the resource was such that, instead of it being done in a sustainable way, the resource was essentially shot to pieces and that then had an ongoing impact on the soil. When rain went through, the water would take in the order of 24 hours to a week to clear and, in the rainy season, the plumes became a semi-permanent feature.
It was also revealed in March 2007 that the chairman of that company bought in at 200,000 grand and sold out one year later for $25 million. That is not a bad story for the Leader of the Opposition but a pretty shocking story for the residents of that island in the Solomon Islands. In a 1997 report into logging practices in the Solomon Islands, it was also revealed that complex corporate arrangements where consistently entered into to avoid tax. This is something that would be known fairly well by someone who has been willing to be an opportunist in this way—an opportunist who was also willing, as the minister for the environment, to describe rainforests as ‘the lungs of the world’ some years after he had decided to be part of an operation that was clear-felling the lungs of the world.
Quite clearly the Government has decided that the Turnbull years as a merchant banker will provide fertile ground to be tilled between now and the next election.