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Monday, 19 November 2012
Page: 8984

Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (15:36): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (Senator Conroy) to a question without notice asked by Senator Milne today relating to the Tarkine and the national heritage listing.

I find it extraordinary that the Business Council of Australia put a proposition to the Prime Minister before the COAG meeting in March this year saying that they wanted to streamline environmental protection. By that they mean get rid of it and devolve it to the states so that the states can go with business as usual and fast-track major developments to the detriment of the environment. The Prime Minister went along with it. At that meeting what she announced was what the Business Council of Australia asked for. Now we are going to the COAG meeting on 7 December this year and the Commonwealth is going to devolve environmental protection responsibilities to the states. The Prime Minister is turning her back on the Hawke government legacy.

This is unbelievable. This is taking us back to the pre-seventies. This is back to before the Hawke era when the Commonwealth used its powers to come in over states like Tasmania which were completely abandoning any kind of decent environmental protection in favour of development. No-one will forget Robin Gray standing in Queenstown with boxing gloves on saying that he was going to build that Franklin Dam; it was a case of the Commonwealth coming in over the top, using its external affairs powers and taking charge. Does anyone think we would not have had oil wells in the Great Barrier Reef if it had not been for Commonwealth powers? If it had been up to the Queensland government that would have happened. Now we have a situation where Premier Giddings in Tasmania has said she does not want National Heritage listing for the Tarkine—no, she wants it mined! In Queensland we have Premier Newman pushing half a dozen new coal ports, dumping waste into World Heritage areas so that we have UNESCO sending out a mission to Australia saying we risk the Great Barrier Reef—our World Heritage in danger. Oh, no! Let us hand over protection of the environment in Queensland to the state. I keep calling it Queenstown; it is the same mentality, I have to say. Who would give Premier Barnett, over there in Western Australia, responsibility for James Price Point when we have seen the appalling assessments already done on James Price Point—where the majority of people on the environmental protection assessment panel had to resign; they had to stand aside from the assessment because they all had conflicts of interest. This is what Prime Minister Gillard is now going to do. That means that the future of the Tarkine is that of yet another one of those places.

It is extraordinary. I think people around the country will be shocked to know that the Tarkine has had well-identified wilderness values—not just outstanding National Heritage values but World Heritage values. In the 1990s, an inquiry found that it should be World Heritage listed. In 2010, the Australian Heritage Council concluded that 433,000 hectares of the area met the criteria for inclusion on the National Heritage list, Australia's pre-eminent heritage list; and, earlier this year, an independent assessment carried out for the purposes of the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement process found it should be put forward for inclusion on the World Heritage list.

There are places around Australia which would give their eye teeth to have their state or municipality on the World Heritage list, because everybody knows that that is where people now go for their tourism experiences. The north-west of Tasmania does not have a tourism icon. It is why people get off the Spirit and turn left to go to Hobart or down the south-west and everywhere else but not to the north-west—because it does not have a tourism icon. The Tarkine could be that tourism icon for north-west Tasmania. But, no; they would prefer to have two mines with a two-year life which are needed to facilitate a bigger mine right in the heart of the Tarkine—a big open-cut mine. If it goes ahead it will produce very few jobs and hardly any return to Tasmania. Once the Tarkine is destroyed it will be gone forever. It is the same mentality as that of the OTD—the Organisation for Tasmanian Development—at the time of the Franklin. It is the same 'dig it up, cut it down, ship it away' mentality, and it is going to undermine the potential for north-west Tasmania to join the rest of the state in getting the benefits of having World Heritage listing—not to mention the loss of the last disease-free habitat for the Tasmanian devil. They are prepared to jeopardise even that.

It is disgraceful. Prime Minister Gillard and Minister Burke are prepared to hand it over to Tasmania for assessment just like all those other areas around the country. Shame on them.

Question agreed to.