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Christine Milne: Abbott must withdraw Tasmanian Heritage delisting

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Christine Milne 14 May 2014

The Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne, addresses the parliament as the Senate inquiry report into Tasmanian World Heritage cuts is handed down. The Senate inquiry has called on the Abbott government to withdraw its proposal to reduce the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area by 74,000 hectares.

Senator MILNE (Tasmania-Leader of the Australian Greens) (12:31): I rise today to support the recommendations that the environment committee of the Australian Senate has made-namely, that the government withdraw its proposal to excise 74,000 hectares from the Tasmanian World Heritage Wilderness Area and withdraw that submission from consideration by the World Heritage Committee; and, secondly, that the Australian government act in accordance with what the World Heritage Committee has previously asked, and that is that the money and the work be undertaken to assess the cultural values of the area that was extended in 2013.

I wholeheartedly endorse those and I thank the 114 people who made submissions to the inquiry and the 9,000 people who sent emails in support of a position that said they supported the World Heritage Committee's decision to expand the boundary in 2013 and rejected any idea that it would be excised. I stand here today to also thank the chair of the committee, Senator Lin Thorp, and also the secretariat, who did an outstanding job in assessing the submissions and working on the report.

What came out of this report was what we already knew, and that is that after many years of the World Heritage Committee asking the Australian government as a state party to the World Heritage Convention to include the forests of Tasmania-the outstanding universal values provided by those forests, the glacial history of Tasmania, the cultural history of Tasmania, the karst systems-in the World Heritage area. The reason they were never put in in the first place was purely because the logging industry wanted to log those high-conservation-value forests. I can tell you that, Acting Deputy President Bernardi, because I was in the Tasmanian parliament at the time. It was 1989 when the expanded World Heritage area was being negotiated. It was the then Labor Premier, Michael Field, and the then member for Lyons, David Llewellyn, who intervened to prevent the forests being included. The then federal minister, Graham Richardson, would have included them at the time, but the state Labor Party refused. What they did was draw the most ridiculous boundary, the eastern boundary, that looked like dogs teeth. They drew the boundary to make sure that they excluded the brilliant and beautiful forested valleys of the rivers as they went along the eastern boundary and across the Great Western Tiers. That is why the forests were excluded in the first place-not because of any doubt about their World Heritage values but because the logging industry wanted to log them.

So this has been a campaign to have these forests listed as World Heritage for more than the last 25 years. I can tell you that there was widespread celebration when the World Heritage Committee in 2013 accepted the boundary extension that included the forests, the karst systems but also actually made the boundary a sensible, rational boundary for management of the World Heritage area. The World Heritage Committee new when it accepted the boundary that there was some areas of degraded forest within it, but a very small area, and asked that the Australian government restore those areas, as is the obligation of a state party under the World Heritage Convention.

The point is that the extended area did not just include outstanding forests but indeed the values of those forests. As Dr Peter Hitchcock explained to the committee, the tall eucalypt forests in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area should not be seen as simply patches of different pieces of forest disjunct; they are in fact part of a continuum up the eastern boundary which takes in the full altitudinal range from near sea level at the bay to more than 1,000 metres in the Upper Derwent. It is a corridor of forest and you simply cannot take out pieces without having a serious impact on the integrity of those values. And that is what was being proposed by the Abbott government.

Furthermore, the submissions also indicated-and one in particular from Dr Kevin Kiernan-that the areas proposed for delisting contained numerous important attributes and values that make important contributions to the integrity of the outstanding universal values which make up the World Heritage area. It is not just the very important tall important eucalypt forests, because they have been front and centre of the whole exercise, but a range of other important features such as karst, caves, glacial features, threatened species and threatened communities.

So what the committee established is that the evidence is overwhelming. There was an independent verification group who recommended to the Australian government areas to be included-that was peer-reviewed. Compare that with the decision of the Australian government to excise the 74,000 hectares. And what I can tell you about that was that the area to be excised is based on no consultation outside the department and no peer review. It is based on saying that the degraded areas actually detract from the outstanding universal values. The World Heritage Committee knew that they were there. In fact, taking out these areas will compromise some of the outstanding universal values of the area-not just forested but also karst systems, for example.

As to the objections from the adjoining landholders and communities, that is ridiculous. For the overwhelmingly large area of boundary, the neighbour is Forestry Tasmania, and it supported the expanded boundary. On several occasions, the department was asked to identify these adjoining owners, and it has been unable to do so to date. So the objections from adjoining landholders seem to be an interesting assertion without evidence.

On social and economic reasons, you do not destroy areas of outstanding universal value because you want to log the areas. That is now the blatant and obvious conclusion to make. The department gave evidence to say that following the election, they got a directive from cabinet to deliver a political outcome, a political promise in an election campaign. It has nothing to do with the World Heritage values of the area. It was a total con that was put forward by the federal government. The reason for doing so was to try to win seats in the federal election and the Tasmanian state election. It was all about domestic politics and nothing to do with outstanding universal values, as was concluded by this report. There was virtually no evidence provided. Most of the protagonists did not appear before the Senate committee, because they do not have the evidence. The department actually gave that evidence itself by saying that the assertion that the 74,000 hectares was degraded is wrong. In fact, only four per cent of the 74,000 hectares would come into that category. The department gave that evidence and what it shows is that the whole proposition is highly political.

My final point in regard to this is to urge the World Heritage Committee to understand that the Senate committee charged with investigating this has found that the government has no case for excision and has asked the government to withdraw it, recognising that what the government has done is purely political, came from political operatives and has no support in terms of science or World Heritage.

Finally, this cannot be allowed to proceed because it will set a precedent globally at the World Heritage Committee level. This precedent would suggest that any country, at a change of government, can seek to destroy a World Heritage area in order to log it, mine it, put a resort on it or do whatever they want to do-and that is unacceptable. I urge the World Heritage Committee to see this for what it is. As we have demonstrated with this report, it is political and it should be thrown out and not even given further consideration.


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