Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes referred to the curious incident of the dog that did not bark. This week witnessed another odd circumstance; namely, the unwillingness of certain media outlets to report former Greens leader Bob Brown’s cry about wind farms in northwest Tasmania.
On July 8, the Hobart Mercury published an article by Brown expressing opposition to the proposal by UPC Renewables to construct a wind farm comprising 200 towers on Robbins Island, which is close to Smithton.
The height of each tower is 270m, not much smaller than Sydney Tower or Melbourne’s Eureka Tower. As Brown put it, this is a wind farm too far. He objects to the proposal on several grounds.
In short, Brown opposes the Robbins Island proposal because it is ugly and a bird killer. He is not opposed to all wind farms. However, this development is in a part of Tasmania of which he is particularly fond.
Currently president of the influential Bob Brown Foundation, Brown is one of the best known Australians. Not only in Tasmania, where he has been based for decades, but nationally. He first came to attention as an environmental activist, then as a politician in the Tasmanian House of Assembly and then as a Greens senator.
In view of his resume, it is not surprising that Brown has a particular following among many ABC viewers and listeners along with many readers of Nine’s newspapers. Yet both important media outlets have all but ignored his comments on Robbins Island.
The Australian’s Graham Lloyd gave the story page-one coverage on Monday and Tuesday. This was warranted since it was important news that so prominent an environmental activist as Brown is opposed to the construction of the biggest wind farm in Australia.
The GuardianAustralia has reported the matter but not so The Sydney Morning Herald or The Age. The ABC has joined in the boycott — with one exception. On July 15, the issue was discussed in the “newspapers” segment on the ABC TV News Breakfast program. The co-presenters were Paul Kennedy and Virginia Trioli and the guest commentator was media trainer Steve Carey.
Carey presented Lloyd’s story as “a dig at Dr Brown”. Trioli then opined that the tactic did not land because “it would make sense for an ecologist like him to actually look at certain pristine areas and go ‘Yeah wind farms, but not just there’.” Carey agreed and Trioli declared “that makes total sense”.
But does it? Brown’s critique of wind farms was not site specific. He cited the impact on scenery of such constructions — which is a common criticism.
And then there is the issue of wildlife. Here Kennedy commented: “And what about the old chestnut that you’re killing the birds?” Here Carey said he “didn’t see the quotes about specifically killing birds” but added that there were “concerns about high-tension wires”.
In fact, in his Mercury article Brown listed 25 species of international migratory and endangered shorebirds that would be adversely affected by the Robbins Island proposal. That doesn’t sound like “a chestnut”, does it?
Carey concluded by agreeing with Trioli that this issue was not necessarily “going to land” on Brown. But the point is not whether Brown has changed his mind on the appropriateness of wind energy but on whether his critique of the proposed Robbins Island development is plausible.
The point is that many a journalist and commentator has criticised opponents of wind farms on economic and/or environmental grounds. For example, in May 2014, Coalition treasurer Joe Hockey told broadcaster Alan Jones that he found wind farms “totally offensive”. He was referring to the turbines he saw around Lake George when driving from Sydney to Canberra.
Hockey said the Bungendore wind farm near Lake George was “a blight on the landscape”. Which is not dissimilar to Brown’s assessment of the proposed Robbins Island wind farms as impacting adversely on scenery.
At the time, Greens NSW parliamentarian John Kaye described Hockey as “pandering to the flat-earth, anti-wind brigade”. He added that this was “yet another sign that the renewable energy target is likely to be decimated, with Australia losing opportunities for investment in rural communities, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and thousands of new jobs”.
A mere five years later, among the green-left, it is a matter of “don’t talk about Bob Brown”.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale has been quiet on this issue and the Australian Conservation Foundation claims it does not know enough about Brown’s views to make an informed comment. In one sense you can appreciate the problem faced by the Greens and the ACF. Their favourite news sources, the ABC and Nine newspapers, have not covered Brown’s apparent conversion about wind farms on the road from Hobart to Smithton. It’s a form of media denial.
The only leftist or left-of-centre mainstream publication to cover the issue is The Guardian Australia. Last Monday, Adam Morton reported Brown’s comments on the impact of the proposal on migratory birds and his acknowledgment that “wind farms are very diverting to people who have an eye to the natural beauty of Tasmania and its landscape”. Morton said the Bob Brown Foundation would not be campaigning against the Robbins Island wind farm. However, Brown himself will be involved in the public debate.
No doubt Brown’s words and deeds will be reported in the Tasmanian media. However, other Australians are entitled to have ready and easy access to this debate. Here the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster has a special responsibility to cover all sides of the issue.
This will not come about if the media declines to report what has become a rather loud barking dog in this renewable energy fight in what Sherlock Holmes probably once knew as Van Diemen’s Land.