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Cheers - AE

Thursday, 18 June 2009

A greenie Brown.

No, not the monocular mentalist of Drowning Street this time, but Bob Brown, fellow enthusiastic YouTube gurner* and Green party Senator for Tasmania.

About a week or so ago Bob announced that he was in a bit of financial trouble due to a large legal bill for a court case he'd lost, and that it could potentially bankrupt him and cost him his seat in the Senate.
Dr Brown** last week received a letter from Forestry Tasmania, a wholly-owned State Government business, demanding he pay nearly $240,000 in legal costs by June 29.
The Greens Senator was ordered to pay the fees by the Federal Court, after he lost on appeal his long running court case against Forestry Tasmania to halt logging in the Wielangta State Forest on Tasmania's east coast.
Forestry Tasmania, by the way, does more or less what it says on the tin and is owned by the Tasmanian government. As such I'm not really a fan*** any more than Bob Brown is, though for quite different reasons.
Dr Brown claimed the logging was endangering the survival of the threatened wedge tail eagle and Swifts parrot and was therefore contrary to national environmental laws.
The longtime environmental campaigner said yesterday he was not refusing to pay ... [but] did not personally have the funds available to pay the legal demand, and could not raise them in the next three weeks.
The letter from Forestry Tasmania's lawyers threatens it will seek to declare Dr Brown bankrupt if he cannot pay the required sum.
Any senator declared bankrupt or insolvent - or who is forced to enter into a payment schedule with creditors - is immediately disqualified from holding a seat in Federal Parliament.
Dr Brown said he had no doubt the Tasmanian Government and other "minions of the logging industry" were seeking to force him from parliament because of his long term quest to end all logging of Australia's native forests.
Senator Brown will now appeal to wealthy donors to help raise his legal debt, as well as look to raise funds through the auction of his own collection of environmental memorabilia.
This is the reason I didn't blog this earlier. I'm not a huge fan of logging having seen what a mess it's made elsewhere, but I mean "mess" literally rather than in the eco-doom sense. It's not pretty, but I think it can be sustainable if managed sensibly with an eye on monitoring not how much you've cut down but how much you've left standing. Not knowing the position in the Wielangta State Forest I wanted to look into it before commenting. Ignoring the tinfoil hattery about the government being out to get him, which isn't wholly implausible or a million miles off what I've said about various governments in the past, if Bob Brown was getting bent out of shape because the plan was to leave one tree for all the Wedge Tailed Eagles and another for the Swifts parrots I'd be on his side. Yes, really, even though he is of course a global warming alarmist who blows the dog whistle for lunacy like Earth Hour, I would be on his side. I genuinely do care about real environmental issues (as opposed to deranged media beat ups about CO2) and I would get angry - ok, angrier than usual - if someone cut down a whole forest and says to hell with any habitat loss. On the other hand, with an area of 37,500 hectares (have a look on Google Maps and count the trees) I think there's probably a good chance they won't be chopping down the whole bloody lot, besides which I can't agree with Bob Brown's goal of stopping all logging despite my preference for looking at pretty forests with the trees upright. There's a business case for logging and where it can be managed sensibly I think we have to learn to live with a little ugliness. As I said above, it's not how much you lose but how much you leave that's important.

Anyhow, that was probably going to be a blog for when I got round to looking at the details, but I had a feeling that Bob Brown painted himself into a legal corner and was prepared to take the court's judgement at face value. Given that I felt it mildly chuckle-worthy that he might theoretically lose his seat but didn't expect it to happen for a moment. The Green lobby is properly fucking minted and well able to cough up the readies to rescue a Green politician in a national parliament, but even if it wasn't I expect they'd have no trouble getting money from the same people they're able to persuade to sit in the dark for an hour. In other words I wonder if Bob Brown was milking it a bit for the publicity. Am I suggesting Bob Brown was being a bit of a media whore? Not at all. The fact that the day the story about the possible bankruptcy came out he was a guest on Good News Week (an Aussie kind of Have I Got News For You) show), taking every opportunity to speak from his eco-pulpit of course (helped by his team being thrown a number of environmentally themed questions), could be a complete coincidence. Make up your own minds.

But now it seems there's more to it because the sums of money involved don't quite add up.
Last week Senator Brown said he faced bankruptcy and the loss of his Senate seat because of a $240,000 legal debt.
He closed his appeal after receiving donations from more than 1,000 people.
However, Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz says Senator Brown did not disclose that he had already raised nearly $750,000 by last October.
"Sadly some so-called environmental activists have in the past put cuddly animals on their websites to solicit donations for what are essentially scams praying upon people's good nature and gullibility," Senator Abetz said. have more details, which I'm going to quote at some length:
You probably missed it, but Senator Brown slipped into his YouTube broadcast that he actually meant ‘technical bankruptcy’—by which I assume he means not actual or real bankruptcy—but there was no such disclosure in his media release which was faithfully regurgitated by many of the fawning members of the media.
Nor was there any challenge, by the way, to Senator Brown’s vehement condemnation of people who take legal action against him. Legal action against Senator Brown by its very definition, it seems, must be bad. And, of course, legal action, no matter how ill-advised, taken by Senator Brown is also by very definition good. The double standard is easy to ignore if consistency and intellectual rigour and integrity are not part of the framework under which you operate.
Which brings me to the question of Senator Brown’s personal legal costs. So far as the register of senators’ interests is concerned, Senator Brown has only disclosed legal costs of $35,000 for the six months from 1 July 2005 to January 2006. A press release issued by Senator Brown said:
The High Court awarded no costs against Senator Brown because of the public interest of the case …
However, the Federal Court’s decision to award costs against Senator Brown may leave him with a bill, including his own representation, of $200,000 to $300,000. However, numerous recent briefings by Senator Brown put his personal legal costs at $600,000.
When pressed on exactly this point last Wednesday evening by Gerard McManus from the Herald Sun, Senator Brown’s office confirmed his personal legal costs were $600,000.
Even on this basis, when making his recent appeal he needed less than $100,000 to pay legal costs and maybe nothing at all.
It is extraordinary that, immediately the Herald Sun probed and questioned the apparent healthy state of his fund and the veracity of his claims to be on the verge of bankruptcy, Senator Brown closed down his appeal, saying there had been a huge public response and that any extra money would be put into the campaign to save Australia’s forests.
This includes, the so-called Triabunna 13, individuals facing the Supreme Court for blockading and chaining themselves to machinery, costing struggling contractors tens of thousands of dollars. I wonder how many well-meaning people who gave to save Senator Brown from phantom bankruptcy knew their donations could be used to defend these irresponsible antics.

I understand that Senator Brown is now explaining the discrepancy between what he raised and what he owes by claiming to journalists that his personal legal costs are not $600,000 but $1 million.
Like many of Senator Brown’s claims, this latest claim to be on the verge of personal bankruptcy just does not add up.
That's the meat and potatoes, but there's quite a bit more and the whole thing is worth a read. The long and short is that Bob Brown with his kindly face, calm voice and reasonable persona, which is a far cry from the shrill cries, spittle flecked lips and swivel eyed madness of typical eco-types, is in fact no better than the troughers on the other side of the world that have kept me entertained for the last month or so. And if he is indeed going to funnel that surplus into furthering his agenda I'd say he's worse. Bob, ask for donations to your party by all means, and solicit donations to help the headcases who chain themselves to logging plant if you want. But be fucking honest about it. Frankly the appearance of honesty was almost the only thing going for you in my book, but it's starting to look like you're a typically underhand political animal.

UPDATE: Predictably, Bob Brown still has friends at The Age and can expect a sympathetic hearing. They've actually turned it into an attack on the Liberal Senator Abetz, with the details of the allegations against Bob Brown himself conspicuous by their absence in that article. What else should we expect from a paper owned by Fairfax Media, the co-inventors of Earth Hour and which will cheerfully spin "acoustic ice monitoring reveals absolutely fuck all" as "acoustic ice sensors monitor ice break-up" so we're all about to die?  H/T Watts Up With That? for the ice monitoring bit.

*No, I'm not going to embed Bob's syrupy thanks for the money in case I'm overcome by the urge to nut the monitor. It's linked above in the vexnews quote if you really must. In fairness he's about a squillion times more natural than Gordon Brown was on YouTube, though having sex with kitchen appliances is arguably more natural than Gordon Brown was on YouTube.
** Incidentally, he really is what most people think of as a doctor in the way that Dr Caroline Lucas of the UK Greens, er, isn't. Which doesn't stop her from styling herself Dr Lucas for political stuff as in this PDF about bird flu. Deliberately misleading? Who knows, and she does have that PhD so she can call herself Doctor as much as she likes. But using the title Doctor on a letter about an infectious disease without specifying Doctor of what... hmm, not so sure about that.
***State owned monopoly - like I'm ever going to love them.
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