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Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Page: 4658

Senator MILNE (TasmaniaDeputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (13:43): I rise today to discuss the issue of the protection of the Tarkine in north-west Tasmania. The Tarkine is a magnificent natural area, which is home to many threatened and endangered species and is the largest tract of temperate rainforest in the Southern Hemisphere. It is the last bastion of the Tasmanian devil in the wild. It is an area where, fortunately, the Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease has not yet made an impact on the Tasmanian devil population. This area of Tasmania, renowned for its natural beauty, for its wilderness and for its magnificent forests, has been under threat for many years. It has been the subject of discussion time and time again in this Senate. But, tragically, both Liberal and Labor parties have retreated from their stated objective of protecting the values of the Tarkine. I note that in September 2007 Senator Bartlett—the then Democrats senator—put to the Senate a motion which was unanimously supported. This was prior to the election; it was under the Howard government. The motion was:

That the Senate

(a) acknowledges the World Heritage significance of the Tarkine wilderness in the north-west of Tasmania;

(b) notes that a nomination for the Tarkine to be listed on Australia's National Heritage list was submitted in 2004;

(c) notes the Government has:

   (i) placed the Tarkine National Heritage nomination on the Australian Heritage Council's 2007-08 priority assessment program,

   (ii) indicated it will thoroughly and carefully assess this complex nomination, including the public consultation required by the provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and

   (iii) asked the Australian Heritage Council also to examine, identify and advise the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (Mr Turnbull) of any World Heritage values contained in the areas proposed; and

(d) supports:

   (i) subject to listing, the development of strategic and conservation management plans for any listed areas, and

   (ii) the development of sensitive and appropriate eco-tourism infrastructure only after thorough assessment of potential impacts on any National Heritage-listed areas under the Act.

That was passed unanimously under the Howard government in 2007 and says specifically that the Tarkine national heritage nomination had been put on the Australian Heritage Council's 2007-08 priority assessment program.

We have discovered in recent years that no such thing occurred. That was a deliberate misleading of the Senate by the government of the day. The minister at the time was Malcolm Turnbull, a current member in the House. That motion was agreed in this house and it was assumed by all the people working on the Tarkine campaign that that reference had been made by the minister of the day onto the Australian Heritage Council's priority assessment program. Now we have discovered, through work that has been done at the ANU and extensive searching of the files and so on, that that was never done. In all those years, people assumed this was a process that was going on and it did not occur.

In the meantime the threats to the area have considerably increased, to the point where we now have a situation where the Bartlett government in Tasmania—the previous Labor Premier of Tasmania—was going to build a road through the Tarkine. That road provided a great threat to the area and led to its emergency listing on the National Heritage List while that threat was assessed. That emergency listing came to an end at the end of last year. Minister Burke was asked to extend the period of the emergency listing because not only was the road issue unresolved at that point but also, in particular, the mining industry had moved into the area big time with an expectation that up to 12 mines could enter development in the Tarkine.

We have proposals from Shree Minerals for iron; from Venture Minerals; from Tasmania Magnesite; from Bass Metals; from Minerals and Metals Group; from Bluestone Mines; and from Grange Resources. Additionally, there are 56 explor­ation licences covering the Tarkine by 27 holders, including two retention leases and six exploration release areas. We have a situation now where the mining industry is moving in big time. Minister Burke was asked to extend that emergency listing and in March this year he let it lapse. The Tarkine coalition—the environment groups who are running a campaign and have been for many years to have the area protected—called for emergency listing of the Tarkine particularly because of the Shree Minerals proposal, but also other mining proposals. The coalition asked Minister Burke to reimpose the emergency listing because of the established values, which had been acknowledged and agreed in this Senate some years before, but Minister Burke refused to make an emergency listing, saying instead that he would go through the process under the EPBC Act of a consultation period, knowing full well that while that consultation period was going on, and for however long it took, the values of the Tarkine were under attack and under threat from the mining industry—in particular some of those substantial projects that I have just mentioned. Some of those mining companies have gone to the stock market and said that there are world class resources in scale, size of area, and the quality of the resource. They were out there saying that would be essentially where they are going on the Tarkine.

The minister knows full well that those mining leases and the mining industry's assault with drilling and exploration is going on as we speak. Now there is a consultation going on to consider the listing of the Tarkine on the National Heritage List and, consequently and hopefully, the World Heritage List. Now we have a situation where that consultation is taking place but the community has lost any kind of confidence that the government is serious about protecting the Tarkine. If the govern­ment was serious about protecting the Tarkine it would have moved a very long time ago. We still do not have an explanation from former Minister Turnbull as to why he said at the time that he had referred this for consideration and never, ever did so.

The community in Tasmania deserves an explanation, not only from Mr Turnbull as to why he never did so but also from Minister Burke as to why he has stood back and not placed it on an emergency listing. What has been done is a virtual wink-wink, nod-nod to the mining industry to say: 'Get your resources going, get your exploration and drilling underway. Under this consultation process we're looking at the natural heritage values of the Tarkine and if you've already got your stake in there and become established by the time we get around to doing anything, it's going to make for a conflict of interest and a big question mark as to what eventually is protected.' At the same time, the situation with the forest agreement in Tasmania is that, yes, there is an agreement to not log but there is no agreement to not mine. As long as an area in Tasmania is not a national park, it can be subject to mining. We know that the heart of the Tarkine that conservation groups want to be made a national park is the area that the mining companies want to access to develop a major mine, which will destroy not only many of the natural values of the forest but also the magnificent caste system. The Tarkine has a globally renowned caste system, not to mention the threatened species there.

I am calling on the government today to get serious about protecting the Tarkine. The people of Tasmania are watching very carefully what Minister Burke is doing. When the Labor Party were in opposition, they supported this in the Senate in 2007. So the people of Tasmania are asking why the Liberal and Labor parties in Tasmania voted down a motion that I moved earlier this year that was virtually the same. They voted against a motion in this Senate that I moved only a couple of months ago to do exactly the same as the Senate had agreed to do several years before. One can only assume that that is because the values held by the Liberal and Labor parties have changed when it comes to the conflict of interest between resource extraction by the mining industry and the protection of threatened and endangered species and national environ­mental heritage. The conclusion that the environment loses in favour of mining can very easily be drawn based on the experience in the Tarkine.

Today, I am calling on my fellow senators to look at this process very carefully, to recognise there is community consultation in Tasmania in relation to the Tarkine and to support what is the logical conclusion here—that is, a National Heritage listing and a national park for the Tarkine in north-west Tasmania. The current area of the national park in the Tarkine is very small. Less than five per cent of the 447,000 hectares, which is the reserve proposal by the Tarkine Coalition, is in a secure protected area. The rest of the Tarkine is in some sort of reserve or not reserved at all—and the reserves are such that they would not preclude the mining industry.

Minister Burke has a credibility issue as far as people in Tasmania are concerned regarding the Tarkine. We do not accept the fact that he failed to renew the emergency listing knowing full well the threat from the mining industry was there. We will watch extremely closely what the minister does in relation to this consultation process from the Heritage Council as to what happens in the Tarkine. It is also critically important for regional development. The north-west coast of Tasmania, as we are all aware, has issues with ongoing employment. We have lost several processing industries there in recent times, including McCain's at Smithton, a vegetable processing facility.

We desperately need to not only protect areas of outstanding natural value in north-west Tasmania but build the infrastructure that will support a tourism industry in the long term. Of course the Tarkine is central to that and it is central to the reputational value of the north-west as a place where people go to stay an extra couple of days. At the moment, the tendency is to get off the Spirit of Tasmania at Devonport and head to Hobart, to the east coast or to the west coast and cut across to Cradle Mountain and then back to the boat, and miss the north-west of Tasmania. It has a population base that deserves this support. There is no doubt that if it is made a World Heritage area, it would add to the reputational value by bringing more visitors and highlighting the products produced in the area.

The north-west coast has the cleanest air in the world, as measured by the clean air station at Cape Grim. It has the largest tract of temperate wilderness forest. It has a world-class caste system. It is the home of the last vestige of the Tasmanian devil in the wild. This needs to be protected not only as part of Australia's national heritage but also as part of a regional development strategy for north-west Tasmania. Mines that go into the area may last a short time and when they are gone the community will have no long-term strategy on which to base future develop­ment. Protection of the Tarkine is a critical component of where we need to go. Coming out of this forest process in Tasmania, I am aware that the federal government is putting money on the table for regional develop­ment. Protection of the Tarkine in associa­tion with some of that spending to build interpretation centres is critical for the future of north-west Tasmania. I would urge all senators to think very carefully about the long-term future of the Tarkine and to get behind its permanent protection.