Mr C. Thompson MP
House of Representatives Privileges Committee
Canberra ACT 2600
Dear Mr Thompson
Thank you for your letter dated 7 December 2006 in which you invited me to respond to allegations against me to the House of Representatives Privileges Committee in relation to its current inquiry: “documents being fraudulently and inaccurately written and issued in a member’s name,” the April Fool’s Day inquiry. You asked whether I would be prepared to give evidence to the Committee.
I would be pleased to appear before the committee and give evidence provided that the hearing was open to the public and provided the condition outlined below is met. I am not prepared to appear at any in camera hearing.
The Committee’s Summary of Evidence against me does not mention that the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has decided against prosecution. I presume that the Committee knows this, but has nevertheless resolved to pursue its investigations against me, possibly resulting in the Parliament imposing a prison sentence or a heavy fine. I am not willing to appear without access to all documents and full transcripts of evidence provided by the Australian Federal Police, including any advice from the DPP.
The subject of this inquiry is a joke, intended to satirize and parody the open ended and unaccountable nature of Government cash subsidies to the woodchipping industry.
The activities that have so annoyed Mr Gary Nairn all took place on April 1st and were clearly not intended for the personal gain of any person.
APRIL FOOLS DAY
April Fools Day has a long and distinguished tradition in western society and in many other parts of the world. It is common on that day to play tricks and practical jokes on others, and most “victims” take these jokes in good spirit.
There are few things worse than having to explain why a particular joke is funny, so I will not attempt to do so in this instance.
Woodchipping of native forests has been a major public concern in South East NSW for over 35 years. Successive governments have defied public opinion and presided over a steady expansion of the industry, with a record 1 million tonnes of woodchips exported from Eden in 2006. This has been at enormous cost to the environment, including cruelty and suffering of native animals, destruction of waterways and loss of topsoils and catastrophic consequences for climate change. Not only have Governments allowed this to happen, they have handed out many millions of taxpayer dollars to woodchippers to further mechanize an already highly capital intensive industry.
Most cash grants are given to buy machines which put workers out of a job. If there were any reason to permit woodchipping, it would be for employment, but these subsidies do the opposite. Each mechanical harvester, for example, puts about four loggers out of a job.
FOREST INDUSTRY STRUCTURAL ADJUSTMENT (FISAP) GRANTS TO BRUCE MATHIE AND SONS
The principal subject of the April Fools Day jokes was cash grants totaling $365,000 to Bruce Mathie and Sons, loggers of Dalmeny. This was paid in two installments, the second being $165,400 in March 2005. This grant was the subject of the April Fools Day letter.
It may be of interest to the Committee that although the two grants to Bruce Mathie and Sons were explicitly for the purpose of buying a mechanical harvester, the company does not appear to own one.
Similarly, at least one other FISAP grant recipient, Barrtanjill Pty Ltd was given cash to buy a truck which it subsequently sold. You may wish to take this up with the relevant Minister.
SEPARATION OF POWERS
It is a fundamental aspect of our system of government that the legislature and the judiciary remain separate and independent from each other. For a Committee of the House of Representatives, the legislature to sit in judgment and potentially impose a penalty of imprisonment or a substantial fine appears to be in clear conflict with the doctrine of the separation of powers.
I believe that Mr Nairn has overreacted and by having this matter referred to the Privileges Committee looks very silly indeed.
My advice would be to drop the inquiry forthwith to avoid looking even sillier than Mr Nairn.
More information is available on the website: http://chipstop.forests.org.au/april_fools_day.htm and I ask that the Committee considers this material in the course of its investigation.