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Tuesday, 17 June 2014
Page: 88

Mr BUTLER (Port Adelaide) (20:59): This week the Abbott government moves Australia into refined company indeed as it becomes only the third nation, after Tanzania and Oman, to ask the World Heritage Committee to delist a World Heritage property that is listed for natural values—namely, 74,000 hectares of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area is undeniably one of the jewels in Australia's environmental crown, and for this reason alone it must be protected. But making ill-thought-out attempts to talk down its value also does serious harm to our international reputation. The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area was first placed on the World Heritage List in 1982 and was extended in 1989, 2010, 2012 and, at the request of the World Heritage Committee, again by the former Labor government in 2013.

This area is just one great example of Australia's enthusiastic membership of the World Heritage system. Australia was the seventh nation to sign the World Heritage Convention 40 years ago this year. In its acceptance of Australia's case to extend the Tasmanian area by 170,000 hectares in 2013, the World Heritage Committee acknowledged that the Tasmanian Wilderness has outstanding universal environmental and cultural value. In contrast, the government has done nothing but talk down the area. In his extraordinary remarks to the forestry industry dinner on 5 March, the Prime Minister said:

It's forest which has been logged, its forest which has been degraded, in some cases, its plantation timber that was actually planted to be logged.

I came to appreciate the forest wasn't just a place of beauty, but it was a source of resources.

But why should we lock up, as some kind of world heritage sanctuary, country which has been logged, degraded or planted for timber?

We have quite enough National Parks, we have quite enough locked up forests already. In fact in an important respect, we have too much locked up forest.

In May I spent two days, along with the former minister for the environment, in the area that the government claims is 'logged, degraded' or 'unworthy', and I did not see widespread degradation. On the contrary, I saw habitat for iconic rare and endangered species such as the Tasmanian devil, the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle, the spotted-tailed quoll, the grey goshawk and the myrtle elbow orchid. I saw pristine tracts of old-growth tall eucalypt forest, rainforests, cave systems and moorlands. I saw sites and cultural landscapes of high significance to Aboriginal Tasmanians, including Nanwoon Cave. And I saw extensive tracts of spectacular old-growth forests and rainforests, including trees over 500 years old and over 80 metres tall.

But this extension is not just important for the biodiversity it protects. It is also a central component of the historic Tasmanian Forests Agreement. The Tasmanian Forests Agreement, or TFA, is the culmination of years of negotiation between unions, environmental groups and industry, and it put an end to 30 years of bitter conflict between these groups. The TFA supports both the environment, through the World Heritage extension and other reserves, and the forestry industry by guaranteeing a minimum supply of sawlogs and greater access to export markets through cooperation with environmental groups. Any changes to the World Heritage boundary will undermine the stability of the TFA and could put export markets at risk: buyers will simply no longer want to buy timber products from contentious forests.

The Abbott and Hodgman governments have been completely incapable of indicating how this loss of certification for the forestry industry in Tasmania will not impose more pain on the Tasmanian economy. In addition, it has been revealed that the government's own department disagrees with the policy to have the boundaries changed. The environment department's expert analysis shows that less than 10 per cent of the nominated area for delisting—the 74,000 hectares—is 'degraded'. This advice is completely at odds with government claims that the area is unworthy of World Heritage status. Put simply, this attempted delisting puts the government, and Australia as a country, at odds with just about everyone and will not help Tasmania's forestry industry or its economy one bit. In the face of a scathing report from the World Heritage Committee secretariat, the mature course of action, the adult course of action for the government, is to withdraw this misguided application.