Award-winning novelist and environmentalist Richard Flanagan gave the speech below at a March 19 rally north of Launceston against the forest giant Gunns’ proposal to build a pulp mill in the nearby Tamar valley.
* * *
Seven long years ago [then Tasmanian Premier] Paul Lennon and [former Gunns chairperson] John Gay decided they would build their pulp mill. The people did not agree.
They tried to silence us, to intimidate us, to threaten us, to break us and destroy us. Lately they’ve even tried to flatter us and to divide us.
And after seven long years I am here today to say Gunns has still not won. And I am here today to say if it takes another seven years, Gunns will never win.
For seven long years we have had arrayed against us on all sides the immense power of great parties, of governments, of unions, of paid up cronies in media and front groups.
And all that combined power was in craven servitude to the wealth of one company. That wealth was stolen from our forests and our taxes, and it was made from the selling of our soul.
To get their mill in the face of the people’s opposition, they perverted parliament, they cowed the public service, they sued some, assassinated the characters of others, they spat on our laws and even had their lawyers write new ones that placed their mill beyond the law, they stacked every sphere of public life, every board and department, with their despicable bullying cronies.
Yet the paradox is that this battle destroyed not us, but them. It destroyed Paul Lennon. It destroyed [ex-Gunns director] Robin Gray. It destroyed John Gay. It will destroy [Gunns managing director] Greg L’Estrange.
But we are still here. And, after seven long years, we are stronger than ever. Gunns did not win then, they will not win now, and they will never win.
To agree to this mill is to say to everyone in Tasmania — every man, woman and child — that in the end might is right, greed is good, that the only law is the dollar, and that the corruption of our public life is not just acceptable but the only way to get anything done in Tasmania.
We find ourselves then in a great struggle, the path through which is far from clear, the horizon of defeat constantly in view.
The power of Gunns remains considerable, and its motive for mischief, for deceit, for unscrupulous action is enhanced and not diminished by the perilous state they find themselves in.
But we have discovered within ourselves a power greater than their money. It is the power of the powerless. And it is a simple thing of terrible beauty. It is the power to say, “No; I do not agree”.
It is the power manifested by a welder in a Gdansk shipyard in 1980. It is the power shown by an imprisoned playwright in Prague in 1989.
It is the power of a fruit seller in Tunisia three months ago, of the crowds who kept returning to a Cairo square two months ago, and it is the power this very day of those patriots in Benghazi standing up to a murderous dictator.
It is the power against which nothing can ultimately prevail, the moment a people withdraw their consent. It is the power against which armies, states, and tyrannies ultimately crumble.
It is the power that again and again and again changes history.
And it is this power of the powerless, of the many who say, “no, I do not agree,” that will ensure that John Gay’s dream and Greg L’Estrange’s million-dollar bonus all end up as ash.
It is the power that has already reduced Gunns, once so powerful, to its knees. Their share price is terrible, they cannot even pay their millions of dollars of debt to Forestry Tasmania. The clock is ticking against them.
The one chance Gunns has is getting another company to sign up as a joint venture partner and invest hundreds of millions of dollars in this folly of a mill.
This is our message today to any prospective financier. If it takes Tasmanians going to jail to stop this mill, then, if we must, we will go to jail.
We will go to jail in our tens, we will go to jail in our hundreds, and we will go to jail in our thousands, and we will keep going to jail until this mill is stopped.
So in the weeks and months to come, when you feel despair arise again — as inevitably it will — when you see their money and deceit once more being trumpeted in the media, do not fear. Remember what you share with so many others, that act of not agreeing with what you know to be wrong.
And know that is our power, that is our strength, that is the rock they cannot and will not break and because of it, because we do not agree, this mill will never ever be built.
This is a battle for the soul of our island and we will endure. We have stayed the course for seven years, and if it takes another seven long years we will prevail because it is our island and not theirs, because it is our air and our water and our future and we will back our island home with the strength of our love and the example of our lives.
[Reprinted from www.tasmaniantimes.com.au .]