The Tarkine Forest under threat – Again

This article on the Tarkine Forest and related issues formed the basis of a March newsletter to all members of Doctors for the Environment Australia.

The Tarkine , DEA and get-Up

Dr Dimity Williams, DEA Victorian Secretary and National Committee member has been chosen (with 10 others) to go on a tour of the Tarkine rainforest in Tasmania to raise awareness of the threat of mining to the region. There are 3 open cut mines planned for the Tarkine in the next 18mths alone.

The trip is part of a campaign by Getup! on this issue.

Dimity was chosen for her work with DEA and also as co-founder and Health Advisor to the Victorian Child & Nature Connection which is a cross-sectoral network aiming to promote the benefits of time in nature for children.

Dimity hopes to use the trip to generate a positive message about the importance of forests like the Tarkine for our health, both directly through personal experience and indirectly through climate change mitigation, water and air purification and biodiversity protection.

This trip and associated campaign is timely given our current focus on updating our Forests policy.

We have decided to take this opportunity to update our members on the current situation in Tasmania and also to indulge in some reminiscing of campaigns past!

Please take the time to read David Shearman’s recollections of the Tarkine campaign of the 1990s and a fast paced and entertaining update on the recent shenanigans by one of our Tasmanian members (name withheld for obvious reasons)

David Shearman’s thoughts on the Tarkine

The Tarkine Barricades
It is recognised by environmentalists that no battle is ever won, for at sometime in the future it will have to be fought again.

My family was on the Tarkine barricades in the early 1990s and I was involved. The battle is being fought again. The omens are not good. Approvals of national resource development and misjudgement of the threats to the Great Barrier Reef indicate that the Department of the Environment does not have the full interests of the environment as a priority. Further evidence of this is provided by the rejection of the Allan Hawke recommendations to strengthen the EPBC Act and the Government’s likely alliance with the Coalition to strip back the existing meagre safeguards in the Act.

The Federal chicanery over the Tarkine is well described in the following three articles in Crikey from the Australian Centre for Environmental Law at ANU

http://www.crikey.com.au/2011/11/15/ministers-delay-on-heritage-listing-puts-tarkine-at-risk-with-mining/

http://www.crikey.com.au/2011/11/21/minister-has-two-options-to-ensure-tarkines-pristine-future/

http://www.crikey.com.au/2011/12/08/minister-gives-thumbs-down-to-tarkine-on-national-heritage-list/

I suspect that it is back to the barricades if mining in the Tarkine is to be prevented.

Excerpt from my speech to launch the book “The Tarkine” in 1995
The Tarkine must be preserved. It is 350,000 hectares of unique, untouched rainforest and wilderness of immense importance. It is a Franklin-like issue, indeed it is being approached in the same way as the Franklin was. The Franklin River under threat from an ignorant government was called a “leach-ridden ditch” by the Premier of the time. The Tarkine Tigers, and I am proud to know some of them, have been called animals, ferals and dirty by the present Tasmanian government and by Mr Roger Groom, the Minister of Health in particular. The government passed a Bill prohibiting demonstration by camping outside parliament house on this issue, $5,000 fine or jail. It is a crime to defend the environment in Tasmania. The government, with $4 million of Federal money has slashed and bulldozed a road through the middle of the Tarkine. The contractor who bulldozed the road was given an environmental award. The road will be used to log the Tarkine. If the public walks on the road they are arrested. When I flew over the area a few months ago the logging had started. As Bob Brown says in the introduction to his book, “If the Tarkine Wilderness was in Europe it would be celebrated and guarded as an astonishing remnant of Earth’s wild heritage.” But Europe has no forested wilderness, and in Australia the Tarkine faces piecemeal destruction….

A Local’s Perspective on Forest Issues in Tasmania
By a Tasmanian member of DEA

I am not surprised that DEA members express confusion about what’s going on down here in Tasmania. That’s normal. I’m confused too! This is a “Land of Confusion” and yes, I love the song, its brilliant to run to, to get the angry hormones going! Good luck if your head is not in a spin at the end- but this is how I see things at the moment:

Essentially at the moment there are shonky deals being revealed by the likes of Tasmanian Times online news (tasmaniantimes.com.au) of an ‘independant’ MLC receiving gifts from corrupt families in Borneo; Tasmanian Hydro being involved in dam building causing human rights abuses, deforestation, etc in Sarawak; the politicians have taken it upon themselves to go to Asia to spruik Tasmanian native forest products, all sustainably managed of course; and now Gunns have had a major blow in their endless efforts to afford the Pulp Mill with the withdrawal of the Richard Chandler Corporation due to their ‘due diligence’ investigations apparently finding them not a good investment.

Of course, our print and TV media are unanimous in their view that
Pulp Mill = jobs and wealth creation and essential for the recovery of the Tasmanian economy; that mining = essential input into Tasmanian economy to make the state stand on its own 2 feet and not leech off the rest of the nations’ GST; that forestry = holy cow and not to be in any way shape or form blamed for contributing to the states economic woes, despite it sucking in taxpayer dollars for many years now and operating at a loss.

Now that the Gunn’s deal is off, the greenies are to blame. Essentially those mean Green politicians seem to have been more convincing in their case against the pulp mill to the latest Gunns’ potential investor, than the Liberal and Labor leaders, and the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce all put together. This is all happening in the context of the “Intergovernmental Agreement” (an agreement between certain logging groups and certain environmental groups which excluded quite a few other stakeholders who are now not overly happy with the process, or the outcome) which sees Federal funds being funneled into Forestry Tasmania, Gunns, logging contractors wanting to exit the industry, and regional non-forestry industry development. The latter surprisingly exists as sort of a ‘deposit’ in good faith that there will be some forest protection.

The complete multimillion dollar package was to be realised with a couple more points to satisfy. The Intergovernmental Agreement, by the way, was also meant to protect around 500,000 hectares of disputed forest areas which were to not be logged whilst investigations were being carried out to see if they were worth giving interim protection from logging – of course the logging continued, and Forestry argued it needed to log the ‘interim protected’ areas in order to fulfill contracts, perhaps they were hoping no one would notice?!

Now we have some poor activist sitting up a tree for nearly 100 days making the world aware of this (the observertree.org). One of the contracts was a Malaysian company Ta Ann which then lost a lucrative market for the Olympic flooring. Their customer was under the impression the product was from sustainably managed forests and was an ‘eco’ product, until advised otherwise by “Markets for Change” another sneaky greenie mob. As it is the Ta Ann Company is owned by a family in Borneo whose financial practices have been questioned.

The catch with such momentous forest ‘protection’ (which included the Tarkine) was that the environmentalists had to agree to a Pulp Mill, which apparently they did but are not exactly owning up to it.

Just to confuse things further, one of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Communities has decided to approach Forestry Tasmania and ask if they can have the 500,000 or so hectares, and the Federal funding that goes with it, for creating Aboriginal jobs, and better land management than Parks and Wildlife already have with National Parks, and essentially ‘protect’ any of the 500,000 hectares from becoming National Parks!

The Liberal Opposition wants to shred the Intergovernmental Agreement
The problem with this approach is that Federal funds of millions of dollars have already changed hands despite the Intergovernmental Agreement not yet passing legislation in this State. This money cannot be retrieved.

Now onto the Tarkine:

I love it! It is beautiful! Now I’m fully aware that a lot of locals hate greenies, and consider the name Tarkine to be an anathema to the area they know and supposedly love. Really, I don’t care what we call the place, its simply a beautiful remote part of the island, it has a tremendous range of habitats – mountains, forests (including the largest temperate rainforest in the southern hemisphere), heathlands, river gorges, button grass plains and coast. A fairly important bioregion if you ask me!

Much of it has very little human disturbance, which has mainly been from cattle roaming/droving, smaller scale mining (scars still left) and logging in bygone years. There are numerous threatened and endangered flora and fauna, and until recently was the last area where the Tasmanian Devils were not affected by the DFTD. Unfortunately a potentially diseased devil was found on camera. Nonetheless, the area has had numerous Heritage Assessments undertaken, and the results have been staggering – the area is truly deserving of World Heritage listing on its natural, archaeological, geological and aesthetic qualities, and more. In fact, back in the 1960’s the Circular Head Council lobbied the then Eric Reece Government to declare the area a National Park! You wouldn’t hear of it today!

The area captures the freshest air in the world and given the prevailing winds and storms, also collects the freshest rainwater in the world. To be honest, it is almost a no brainer in as far as conservation and protection and genuinely celebrating the global uniqueness of such a magnificent area in a WHA level of recognition that it deserves.

There are really only 2 problems with this area that I can identify:
Firstly, it has lots of trees, therefore is a target for forestry exploitation. Secondly, it apparently contains one of the richest deposits of underground minerals in Australia that can be extracted by massive open cut mining. This is tragically realised at a time when Tasmania has been forced to face its own economic slackness, and is now under immense pressure to develop and maximise its money making resources. Also, the locals are very much in panic mode over jobs, jobs, jobs, so anything that creates jobs is given the automatic support from local councils under pressure from their constituents. They have eyes on the mining boom but no plan for the bust.

The current federal government in my understanding is purposefully delaying yet another Heritage assessment, which has caused the mining companies to flood in after the Emergency Heritage Listing put in place by Peter Garrett had lapsed. This delay means that whatever restrictions are placed on mining, or forestry for that matter, in the name of Heritage protection, will not apply to those staking their claim now. This means much less environmental care or concern will apply, and in a sense, the mines will have a greater chance of going ahead. The risks of large scale contamination of waterways and coastal areas are considerable.

Also, this region is probably the most anti green, anti conservationist area in Tasmania. This makes life very difficult for some, and has staunched any local conservation involvement in trying to foster momentum to protect the Tarkine’s natural values. People are genuinely afraid to speak as a minority on such an emotive issue.

So the Tarkine whilst deserving of full WHA protection, will probably not get it in the current situation with the Tasmanian economy, a mining boom, lack of political will, and public pressure for a short term jobs injection. If the area is to become protected, it will probably come from outsiders, not locals, given the dangers involved in challenging the force of opinion in relation to forestry, and perhaps the dangers of challenging mining interests given the power these companies can wield, especially in gullible communities mesmerised by the smell of money.

What’re my ideas for an alternative vision for Tasmania? I think the area would be much better, and sustainably served, if the focus was on developing the local agricultural and aqua-cultural assets, even wide scale organic farming for both boutique/gourmet and more mainstream foodstuffs, as well as crop based textiles and perhaps even a bush foods industry. At least this could capitalise on the value of being in proximity of a WHA, emphasising the marketing and nutritional elements being close to a clean wilderness area entails, as well as being land which is infinitely useful, unlike open cut mines! The area already has an attractive farming atmosphere, it would be a social and demographical nightmare should it become entrenched in the mining culture, and would lose its rural soul.

We cannot afford to industrialise these rare wild lands for the sake of appeasing an economy not designed with long term conservation in mind.

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