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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2441

Senator MURPHY —My question is addressed to the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories, Senator Faulkner. The minister would be aware that forestry in Tasmania is somewhat of a hot issue. Tasmania's forests have probably been studied more than any other forests in Australia. We also have the largest amount of reserved or protected forests of any state in Australia. In the minister's most recent speech on environmental matters, he made reference to two issues that are causing a significant degree of concern in my state. The first relates to continued logging of old growth forests, and the second relates to the further nomination of world heritage areas, particularly an area known as the Tarkine. Can the minister advise the Senate and the people of Tasmania in what context his statement should be taken, given the substantial amount of assessment work that has already been done on the forests in Tasmania? Secondly, will the agreed process of negotiation continue with regard to nominations of world heritage areas?

Senator FAULKNER —I have told relevant state governments that I will be pursuing the assessment of areas which have been referred for my attention. I will do this in accordance with the national forest policy statement and the intergovernmental agreement on the environment, and in consultation with interested parties. The Commonwealth does not intend to revisit existing information that it believes can be fed into the assessment processes. Previous studies will need to be examined on a case by case basis to identify how closely they can satisfy Commonwealth requirements. Wherever possible, assessments will be based on existing data with additional information being sought only where necessary to enable the Commonwealth to meet its obligations.

  In relation to the second part of Senator Murphy's question on the handling of World Heritage nominations, I can assure him that with respect to the Tarkine, as with any other World Heritage proposal, I will act in accordance with the procedures that have been set down by the government. I think it would be worth while my setting out the processes involved.

  In the case of the Tarkine, the Wilderness Society has prepared and forwarded to the Commonwealth a document that claims the region is of World Heritage significance. Receipt of that particular proposal has triggered a process that the Commonwealth has set in place. In accordance with the IGAE, I forwarded the draft nomination to the Tasmanian government for comment. I have not yet received a response from it.

  Should the Tasmanian government respond positively, the Commonwealth will enter into joint discussions to begin a comprehensive assessment of the World Heritage values of the area. If the Tasmanian government does not want to cooperate in the assessment of the Tarkine, the Commonwealth will need to consider seeking an independent assessment of World Heritage values of the Tarkine area. Such an assessment would need to match up the values of the Tarkine with the very strict criteria that apply to World Heritage listings.  The Tarkine would be evaluated against other World Heritage rain forests within Australia and also on other continents. Any such assessment would take into account all the information that is currently available. It would also be undertaken in consultation with other interested parties.

  The information that I have before me suggests that within the Tarkine there are some areas of exceptionally high conservation value. Equally, as I think honourable senators know, it has been asserted that other parts of the area covered by the proposed nomination may not match up to the World Heritage criteria. I can say to Senator Murphy that I do not know—and I will not prejudge the issue—whether the Tarkine, in whole or in part, is worthy of World Heritage listing. That is why we propose to undertake the assessment.