Tasmanian government utility wrote a pro-Marinus newspaper column for industry lobby group

Sections of Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry column were taken word-for-word from text supplied by Marinus Link
 September 11, 2023
Published:  September 11, 2023
The internal Marinus Link document revealing it drafted an opinion column for the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Image: Tasmanian Inquirer.

A large part of a pro-Marinus Link opinion column published in The Mercury and attributed to the head of an industry lobby group was drafted by a government-owned utility proposing the controversial transmission project.

A document released to Tasmanian Inquirer under Right to Information laws revealed that staff at Marinus Link, the TasNetworks subsidiary proposing a controversial new transmission cable between Tasmania and Victoria, wrote part of a column by Michael Bailey, the chief executive of the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TCCI).

More than half the 564 words in the November 2022 column were either word-for-word from text supplied by Marinus Link or only slightly modified.

The word-for-word section included: “Marinus Link will deliver 2800 direct and indirect jobs in Tasmania and Victoria, both during construction and ongoing, and will generate $7bn worth of additional economic activity and billions more in investment.”

“Better respond and put something out there to counter this article.”

TasNetworks CEO, Sean Mc Goldrick

The column followed The Mercury publishing an opinion piece by independent Legislative Council MP Ruth Forrest challenging the suggestion that increasing electricity exports via Marinus Link would significantly benefit the Tasmanian economy, and warning it would likely lead to higher power prices.

The origin story

The impetus for Marinus Link drafting an opinion column occurred more than a month earlier, when TasNetworks chief executive Sean Mc Goldrick wanted a response to a September 16 column in The Mercury by John Short, the Tasmanian state secretary of the Australian Manufacturers Workers Union. Short’s piece argued Marinus Link would “end up as a white elephant” and create “next to no ongoing jobs”.

“Better respond and put something out there to counter this article,” Mc Goldrick wrote in an email to Bess Clark, the then-chief executive of Marinus Link.

An internal communications plan aimed at “addressing the negative media attention” noted that, in response to Short’s column, an opinion piece was drafted for Michael Bailey, CEO of Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and that it had been “drafted by Marinus Link for authorship of TCCI”.

Marinus Link’s work did not appear in The Mercury on that occasion, most likely because of the publication of a pro-Marinus column by Mervin Reed from Tasmanian Private Wealth Advisers and another promoting hydro and other renewables projects by the Institute of Engineers.

But much of the text from the September column drafted by Marinus Link found its way into Bailey’s November opinion piece.

Forrest expressed concern about the apparent close ties between TasNetworks and the TCCI. “If the TCCI is going to act as a lobbyist and promoter of and for the government they need to be transparent about that,” she said.

“There is clearly communication going on and possibly collaboration between them that suggests the TCCI is doing the bidding of TasNetworks to try and change the narrative in the face of negative publicity or genuine questions being asked.”

Marinus Link did not respond to questions on the columns, including whether there were other occasions where it supplied material to the TCCI or other groups to submit to media outlets.

Bailey did not respond to questions, including whether other government businesses, agencies or ministers’ offices have prepared columns for use by the TCCI.

Bob Burton is a Hobart-based author, researcher, editor and freelance journalist. He is the Editor of CoalWire, a weekly bulletin on global coal industry developments for the US-based non-profit group Global Energy Monitor. His freelance journalism has been published in a wide range of news outlets from the British Medical Journal to the US-based PR Watch.

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