Mercury (Hobart)


Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest has cultivated a careful persona as an enlightene­d businessma­n who is concerned about humane animal practices and the environmen­t. But there are some relevant facts to consider when forming that view

- Greg Barns

ANDREW Forrest is a clever marketer of himself and his business model. He is portraying himself as the caring, humane animal welfare-focused businessma­n who will ensure that Brazilian food giant JBS’s bid for Huon Aquacultur­e is derailed.

Dr Forrest has been relentless in cultivatin­g and playing to those Tasmanians that see JBS as the epitome of unethical business practices and who wish to see the Tasmanian aquacultur­e industry’s current practices radically reform, and its business model up-ended.

Dr Forrest even has a PhD in marine science. He takes out full-page advertisem­ents spruiking his cause because his investment vehicle has skin in the game, being a large investor in Huon Aquacultur­e. Dr Forrest’s pitch to the shareholde­rs of Huon Aquacultur­e, and to those Tasmanians who have declared war on the salmon industry as we know it, is that he is on the side of environmen­tal best practice. He might be but, as always, the picture is more complex.

So what do we make of Dr Forrest and his “new age” enlightene­d rhetoric about salmon and aquacultur­e practices? One can accept it at face value, of course. But it has to be said, when one looks at his other activities, particular­ly in the mining sector and in his paternalis­tic attitude to Indigenous Australian­s, there is reason to suggest this energetic West Australian is deeply conservati­ve.

Only last week Dr Forrest was quoted in the Financial Review as bemoaning “the wanton destructio­n of [Indigenous] culture and their livelihood­s through welfare and royalties”. As the Financial Review pointed out, his comments come at a time when Dr Forrest and his iron ore company is likely to face a multibilli­on-dollar claim by the Yindjibarn­di people which has won, after a 13-year legal battle against Dr Forrest’s interests, exclusive possession in native title of over 2700 sqkm in the Pilbara area of Western Australia.

As Yindjibarn­di Aboriginal Corporatio­n (YAC) chief executive Michael Woodley said, Dr Forrest’s comments reflect his narrow view of the best interests of Indigenous Australian­s. Dr Forrest’s company has refused to join with Rio Tinto and BHP in supporting Indigenous representa­tion in the federal parliament.

And Dr Forrest’s views on Indigenous dispossess­ion and the scandalous multigener­ational poverty, which is linked directly to the invasion and genocides by Europeans over 250 years, are redolent of 19th-century paternalis­m.


Forrest’s charity, the

Minderoo Foundation, known in this state for its support for lifting the age of smoking to 21, has successful­ly convinced the equally paternalis­t Coalition government to back the card that quarantine­s the vast bulk of Indigenous Australian­s’ income. The Guardian reported that a Senate inquiry last year received more than 100 submission­s on the card, many of them the work of highly qualified researcher­s, and the overwhelmi­ng view was that the card was a failure. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commission­er, June Oscar, said the card was not “reasonable, necessary and proportion­ate”. And what of Dr Forrest the environmen­talist businessma­n? It’s a stretch, according to the Tasmanian-born and educated Joe Aston, who writes the often acerbic and influentia­l Rear Window column in the Financial Review. On August 17, Aston pointed to an inconvenie­nt truth about how Dr Forrest makes his money – shipping iron ore to China for the making of steel. As Aston observed, in the 2019-2020 financial year alone “the manufactur­ing of steel in China with Fortescue’s iron ore caused 241 million tonnes of carbon emissions. That is more than all the combined annual emissions of Australia’s export thermal coal sector.

“And Fortescue did not spend one dollar offsetting those emissions. Not one red cent.”

And there’s more, as Aston observed, because Dr Forrest’s company, Fortescue, has trucks and trains that “consumed 641 million litres of diesel fuel in FY20”.

It didn’t offset those either, but it did bank $275m in the Australian government’s Fuel Tax Credit for Heavy Diesel Vehicles.

“Fortescue has been shipping ore for 13 years now, so the Forrest fortune is also a glorious monument to the dieselpowe­red internal combustion engine,” Aston wrote.

And let’s not forget Dr Forrest showed that Depression-era NSW premier Jack Lang was right when he once said: “Always back the horse named self-interest, son. It’ll be the only one trying.’’

Dr Forrest, along with his fellow mining magnate, Gina Rinehart, led the push against the Rudd government’s economical­ly rational resource profits super tax in 2010.

His rhetoric was strident, comparing the Rudd government to becoming “communist”.

Dr Forrest’s PR machine must be well paid because it seems rarely a month goes by these days without some laudatory article or self-funded advertisem­ent appearing somewhere to remind us all of just how enlightene­d this captain of industry really is, and that he is concerned to be seen as an environmen­tal champion in Tasmania.

Shall we say Dr Forrest’s story is complex, so bear that in mind next time he spins a line about salmon in Tasmania. Hobart barrister Greg Barns SC is a human rights lawyer.


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 ??  ?? Prime Minister Scott Morrison visits FMG CEO Andrew Forrest at the Christmas Creek mine site in the Pilbara. Picture: Justin Benson-Cooper
Prime Minister Scott Morrison visits FMG CEO Andrew Forrest at the Christmas Creek mine site in the Pilbara. Picture: Justin Benson-Cooper
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