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Environment and Communications References Committee
31/03/2014
Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area

BAYLEY, Mr Vica, Tasmanian Campaign Manager, The Wilderness Society

LAW, Mr Geoffrey Michael, AM, Expert Consultant, The Wilderness Society

Committee met at 08:58.

CHAIR ( Senator Thorp ): Welcome. I declare open this inquiry of the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee into the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. This is a public hearing and a Hansard of proceedings is being made. The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public, but under the Senate's resolutions witnesses have the right to request to be heard in private session. It is important that witnesses give the committee notice if they intend to ask to give evidence in camera. If the committee has reason to believe that evidence about to be given may reflect adversely on a person, the committee may also direct that the evidence be heard in private session. The committee reminds witnesses to keep their evidence strictly to the inquiry's terms of reference. While the committee understands that witnesses are deeply concerned about issues raised as part of the inquiry, the committee is primarily focused on ascertaining the facts. Where a witness gives evidence reflecting adversely on a person or a committee member and the committee is not satisfied that the evidence is relevant to the inquiry, the committee may consider expunging that evidence from the transcript and forbidding the publication of that evidence. Alternatively, the committee may provide reasonable opportunity for the adversely affected person to have access to the evidence and respond to it in a written submission or appearance before the committee.

Finally, on behalf of the committee I thank all of those who have made submissions and sent representatives here today for their cooperation in this inquiry. We have at the table representatives from the Wilderness Society, the Australian Conservation Foundation, and Environment Tasmania. Welcome, gentlemen. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you, I understand.

Mr Bayley : Yes.

CHAIR: Is there anything you would like to add about the capacity in which you appear?

Mr Bayley : I would just add that the Wilderness Society and the other NGOs acquired Geoff's consultancy services because of his expertise in this area. He is a member of the Order of Australia for his services to conservation and has completed a Churchill Fellowship in World Heritage temperate forests around the world, which took him to Europe and to North America—to the redwoods—and to places like Japan, so he has significant experience.

CHAIR: I now invite you to make a short opening statement, and at the conclusion of your remarks I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you.

Mr Bayley : I will first offer the apologies of Environment Tasmania and ACF, who could not be here in person. We represent them, and we thank you on their behalf also for the opportunity to make a submission and to appear.

We are calling on the government to release the data that underpins their application to UNESCO and ultimately to withdraw this application, because we do not feel that it is founded in science or in World Heritage principles. The NGOs welcomed the 2013 nomination to the World Heritage Committee to list a minor extension to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. It was detailed, it addressed World Heritage criteria and values and it had data to substantiate its claims. It ultimately resolved 30 years worth of community, scientific and indeed committee conflict over the placement of the eastern and the northern boundary of the World heritage area. It was greatly enhanced by this 2013 minor modification—the giant hardwood trees of the Styx Valley; other extensive tracts of a connected band of tall eucalypt forests up the eastern boundary of the World Heritage Area; intricate and spectacular cave systems, such as in the Florentine and Mole Creek; rainforests in Dove River; and the forested slopes of the Great Western Tiers. It absolutely added to the integrity of the property.

In addition, Aboriginal cultural heritage aspects—which I understand the committee will hear about later on in the day—are evidenced in places such as the Middle Huon and the Upper Florentine, and these absolutely add to the outstanding universal values of the property. As I mentioned, we believe that this resolves a decades-long conflict over the placement of this boundary, and that includes repeated requests from the World Heritage Committee for the state party—for Australia—to make such a nomination as this to address these outstanding issues.

By contrast, in our view the 2014 application by the current federal government lacks credibility. It has absolutely no data or maps to back up its assertions around degradation. It does not address World Heritage criteria or outstanding universal values. In our view it is deeply political and ideological in its motivations and is explicitly driven by a policy to open up this area for logging. It appears to have absolutely no appreciation for World Heritage criteria or processes and certainly shows a deep lack of respect for the World Heritage Convention. I will pass over to Geoff so he can detail some of the specifics around the statistics in terms of the claims of the federal government's application.

Mr Law : As Vica said, the Tasmanian wilderness is one of the world's great wild areas. It may be that here in Tasmania we take the existence of primeval forests for granted. That is certainly not the case in other parts of the world, where forests of the stature or the ecological integrity of the Tasmania forests are extremely rare and are generally appreciated, certainly at least in the developed countries. To have an area of the stature of Tasmania's south-west and the tall eucalypt forests, the giant trees, the rainforests, the associated caves and Aboriginal heritage, that are riddled throughout those ecosystems, is a great credit to Australia and to Tasmania, and something we should be proud of.

The current government is seeking an amendment to the World Heritage area that would take out 74,039 hectares of that magnificent country. The government claims to be motivated by wanting to remove so-called degraded areas in order to enhance the credibility of the world heritage list. This is a very presumptuous and downright patronising assertion by the government. For one thing, the basic premise that World Heritage area cannot contain some areas that have previously been degraded and which are being subject to rehabilitation is fatally flawed and there are many World Heritage areas around the world which contain forests that were damaged prior to their inscription.

The most obvious and striking example of this is the Californian redwoods. They are some of the world's most spectacular forests, indeed the world's tallest forests, in a World Heritage area of some 57,000 hectares of which about 15,000 hectares were logged prior to inscription, and heavily logged, and which have been subject to rehabilitation since their listing in 1980. That is an example of a magnificent World Heritage area where over 25 per cent of the area of that property had been logged prior to its inscription. The inclusion of those areas was accepted because they were essential for proper catchment management, and the rehabilitation of those areas means that the forest downstream are not being destroyed by siltation, sedimentation et cetera as logged areas and the associated roads collapse and then start to sediment the valleys downstream. That is one example of one World Heritage area in the rest of the world which has significant logged areas.

The World Heritage convention itself says that it is incumbent upon member states to rehabilitate degraded parts of any property. The conditions that relate to integrity of a World Heritage area say that you need to incorporate whole systems wherever possible. For the case of forests, that usually means a catchment. For proper catchment management it is often necessary to include some areas that have suffered some previous logging but which are ongoing restoration for the future. Similarly, when it comes to glacial landscapes, where you have a landscape fashioned by ancient ice ages and the reminders of those ice ages are there in the landscape, and the fact that there has been some logging in some of the forests on the landscape, is neither here nor there to the actual value that is being protected, other than to say it is necessary to rehabilitate them for the future integrity of the area. The same goes for karst landscapes, landscapes that contain intricate and spectacular cave systems, where again you are protecting a catchment. Sometimes that catchment will capture an area that has previously been logged and must therefore be rehabilitated for the purpose of the ongoing management of that ecosystem.

I think that the most misleading part of the government's case is its oft-repeated claim—the claim used ad nauseam in its submission to the World Heritage Committee—that the areas concerned have been degraded by logging. Various statements suggest that the entire 74,000 hectares have been so degraded. But, in fact, numerous analyses using publicly available datasets show that the area of plantation within the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area that is proposed for excision—within that that 74,000-odd hectares—is, according to our figures, eight hectares and according to some other figures it is 10 hectares. Either way it is negligible. It is a tiny, tiny proportion. It was identified to the World Heritage Committee by the former government last year in their submission, and it said that it would be subject to rehabilitation. So for the government to claim that large areas have been degraded by exotic plantations is simply a gross misrepresentation.

Similar studies show that the area that was logged prior to the inscription of these forests as World Heritage comes to something like 7,600 hectares. This has been worked out using a disturbance data layer that was produced for the verification process done for the Tasmanian Forest Agreements process. So 7,600 hectares is roughly 10 per cent of the area proposed for excision, and the area of ecologically intact forest within the area proposed for excision is overwhelmingly greater than that. In fact our figures show that it is about 90 per cent; other figures have shown that it is around 86 per cent. Whether it is 85 or 90 per cent, clearly the overwhelming majority of the area proposed for excision by the current government is ecologically intact natural vegetation, whether it is old growth forest, which is in the order of 30,000 hectares, whether it is other forms of unlogged forest—i.e., forest that has not had logging operations in it—or whether it is button grass or other forms of natural vegetation, these areas are primarily ecologically intact. I think it is very revealing that the Australian government's submission to the World Heritage Committee says that one of the reasons it is putting forward this proposal is because it made a commitment in the last election that some of these areas would be taken out of the World Heritage Area for logging. That clearly is not something which is going to enhance the credibility of the World Heritage List, if countries start taking out World Heritage listed areas for logging.

If the government is successful in achieving this excision, we will see significant impacts on World Heritage values: loss of ancient forests, loss of ancient Aboriginal heritage, impacts on cave systems, loss of wilderness values, the creation of a much more complex boundary of the property—which will complicate management—so overall the integrity of the World Heritage Area will be reduced if that excision goes ahead. By putting forward this proposal, the Australian government is in breach of its international obligations under the World Heritage Convention already and has been grossly misleading and deceitful towards the Australian public in its use of the term 'logging in degraded areas'.

CHAIR: Are you happy for us to move to questions now?

Mr Law : Yes.

CHAIR: We do have the ABC here. Is everyone comfortable with being filmed?

Mr Bayley : Could I make one more very simple point around degradation from an environment group perspective and from a World Heritage perspective. Including some of those degraded areas, irrespective of the statistics, is a very deliberate and very conscious decision in order to deliver boundary integrity, sensible reserve design, long-term reserve design and sensible long-term reserve management. The critical thing here is that those forest areas are taken out of the commercial logging cycle. Their values absolutely have been degraded by logging but, in the broader landscape scale context, they should be included and taken out of the commercial logging cycle where they are logged every, 80, 100, 120 to 150 years. If they are permanently protected, over time, over centuries, those values will recover and they will become an important part of that area, but they are deliberately, consciously and very specifically included to deliver long-term reserve design and integrity perspectives.

CHAIR: Thank you. One would be forgiven reading a lot of the media coverage on this issue to think that the first time it was ever considered that these 70,000-plus hectares be included was an off-the-cuff decision that became part of the Tas forestry discussions here over the last couple of years. My understanding is that there has been some history of interest from the World Heritage group to have these areas included. Is that your understanding?

Mr Bayley : That is absolutely the case coming to the World Heritage Committee but, preceding that, there has been an interest from a Tasmanian community perspective for many, many decades. Our organisations have worked, campaigned and advocated for an outcome exactly like this, and that is why we say this resolves a conflict over the placement of the boundary. We have worked for that for decades. There is a solid body of scientific and expert evidence that repeatedly articulates the World Heritage values in these forests and the case for their protection, going back many, many decades. And, yes, absolutely, the World Heritage committee has repeatedly requested in its very diplomatic terms that the state party, Australia, consider nominating the tall wet eucalypts along this boundary, which ultimately occurred in 2013. That is why the submission that we put to you is very clear in saying that this does resolve a number of conflicts and debates about this boundary—both community, scientific and indeed in terms of the aspirations of the World Heritage Committee to have this issue resolved and off its table.

In that context, we find this application by Australia not only because of the misleading terms upon which it is founded to be incredibly insulting to the World Heritage Committee but indeed snubbing the work that they have done over decades and the unanimous decision that they made last year to list this property on all four natural values criteria. The property only need meet one natural values criteria to be listed, and this minor modification, this extension, met all four criteria and it was unanimously accepted.

Mr Law : If I could elaborate on the history of World Heritage Committee concern about these areas: the concern over the eastern boundary in the tall eucalypt forests has been an issue at World Heritage Committee meetings in 1989; 1995 in Berlin; in 2006 in Vilnius, Lithuania; in 2007 in Christchurch; in 2008 in Quebec; in 2010 in Brasilia; and in 2012 in St Petersburg. Certainly, in those last three, there were repeated requests for the Australian government to consider putting forward the minor modification along the lines that it eventually did in 2013. Just one example is Quebec 2008: the World Heritage Committee reiterates its request to the state party to consider at its own discretion extension of the property to include appropriate areas of tall eucalypt forest, having regard to the advice of IUCN. IUCN itself has had numerous resolutions, pertaining to the Tasmanian forests and the World Heritage qualities along the eastern boundary of the World Heritage area.

The area was studied intensively. It was done as part of the verification process for the Tasmanian Forests Agreement. That was the foundation for the 2013 minor modification that resulted in the current extent of the World Heritage area, and of course this was welcomed by the IUCN which backed the proposal. They were aware at every stage that the proposal contained areas that in some small cases had been logged but which were necessary for boundary integrity and were going to undergo either passive or active restoration.

CHAIR: What is your understanding of the delisting process? What happens?

Mr Law : The delisting process is something which is very rare. There have been a couple of cases of it—largely when the values have been documented as having been destroyed. There was a sanctuary in one of the Middle Eastern countries for one of the species there, the Arabian onyx. When that was eventually discovered to be basically locally extinct within the area listed for that purpose, the area was delisted. But there was a lot of discussion and a lot of studies for that to occur. A similar process occurred with the city of Dresden in Germany when a certain bridge was constructed across the Elbe. The World Heritage Committee does not take lightly delisting areas. I think a proposal as threadbare and as lacking in factual information and as oblivious to World Heritage values as the proposal before it this time will bring Australia into disrepute at that international level.

Mr Bayley : Just to reiterate there, this is embarrassing for Australia. This is deeply disturbing for a Western economy, an economy that can support itself, to be taking this step and Australia should withdraw this nomination. It should not put the World Heritage Committee through the trials of having to consider such a nomination and it should not put Australia through the embarrassment of this. It really does call into question Australia's commitment to World Heritage sites around the country.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: We hear a lot about lock-ups in Tasmania and the media are around on this. Is it fair to say that in this instance a World Heritage listing means that these forests and these areas are essentially going to be internationally owned? Is it different to national parks and other things that we discuss?

Mr Law : It is a higher layer of responsibility on the Australian government. A national park puts the responsibility on the state government, in this case the Tasmanian government, to manage an area according to the values and management precepts for a national park. When an area is listed as World Heritage, it puts an obligation upon the nation, on the country as a whole and on the Australian government to protect the World Heritage values within it and also to rehabilitate those areas which have been damaged.

Australia is a voluntary signatory to the World Heritage Convention and it has willingly taken on these responsibilities and obligations. There are already discussions about the responsibility of the Australian government and whether or not it is fulfilling its obligations with respect to treatment of the Great Barrier Reef. I think this Tasmanian proposal by the current government is just another black mark against the Australian government when it comes to fulfilling its international obligations under the convention.

CHAIR: I know that you worked very hard as a signatory to the forest peace deal. What do you understand to be the potential implications of this delisting on that process?

Mr Bayley : This strikes at the heart of the conservation deliverables from the Tasmanian Forest Agreement. The Tasmanian Forest Agreement provides for legislative protection of over 500,000 hectares of high conservation value forest scattered across the state. Some 120,000 hectares of last year's 170,000-hectare extension were new reserves that were agreed to be protected as part of the Tasmanian Forest Agreement. It strikes at the heart of that agreement. It shatters confidence in conservation outside of that agreement that there is indeed government commitment to deliver on that outcome.

But the perversity of the government taking this kind of action and making the kind of statements that they have over the years is that this has the most impact, certainly in the very short-term, on the industry itself, the very people the government are claiming they believe they are representing and acting in the interests of. This has the very real impact of throwing a blanket of uncertainty over any semblance of confidence that is returning to the industry—confidence in the marketplace, confidence in the investor community—and it really does jeopardise a whole range of outcomes that are on offer for Tasmania by the Tasmanian Forests Agreement.

This was a core part of the agreement and that helped to remove some of the political blockages to get this application before the World Heritage Committee last year. But really when it comes to Australia's responsibilities under the World Heritage convention and the way the World Heritage Committee will look at this, it should be along the lines that it has outstanding universal values, it contributes to the integrity of the existing Tasmanian wilderness World Heritage area property and, effectively, that is all. That was the basis upon which the committee unanimously approved this, because they agreed that it met all four natural values criteria. That is why this current application to delist the area to allow logging not only lacks credibility because of its lack of data and its lack of evidence and maps and so forth but also deeply embarrassing to Australia and is an insult to the World Heritage Committee and those World Heritage processes.

Senator RUSTON: I do not want to go to the ins and outs of what should be listed and what should not be listed on the basis of its integrity; I just want to look at the process to see if you can clear up some issues I found from reading some submissions. In your opinion, do you believe that the consultation and the independent review into the 2013 application were sufficient and significant enough given the amount of land that was contained in the application?

Mr Bayley : Yes, I do, for two reasons. Firstly, I think the federal government's dossier from 2013 is very comprehensive. It addresses all the various values and the issues. We do know there was a range of conversations across the community in that regard. But the most important point to make here is the fact that Tasmania's state parliament overwhelmingly endorsed this World Heritage listing as part of the Tasmanian Forests Agreement Act. The Tasmanian parliament passed the formal consent of 100,000 hectares that underlie this World Heritage listing to be protected as new national parks and reserves. That was gazetted in 2013. They did that specifically recognising that these underlie the World Heritage area.

One area that they did not approve to be gazetted was the Great Western Tiers—20,000 or 30,000-odd hectares. That has not yet been gazetted as a new national park and reserve, but the parliament explicitly set World Heritage listing as a precondition before it would go to be protected under the Nature Conservation Act.

Senator RUSTON: The area that we are talking about for the 2013 successful application was greater than 10 per cent. In reading the requirements of the approving body, one would suggest that it was more than a 10 per cent increase in the land area and it would have to be a whole new listing and cannot be put through as the minor use of approval. How do we reconcile that?

Mr Law : 10 per cent was only ever a rough guide. The increase in the extent of the property in 2013 was 12 per cent. That is in the order of 10 per cent and—

Senator RUSTON: So you just throw out the 10 per cent.

Mr Bayley : You also have to remember that this is in the context of repeated requests from the World Heritage Committee to have this issue addressed. When it is addressed and it comes out a per cent or two over and above the rule of thumb, clearly both the IUCN and the World Heritage Committee itself deduce that that rule of thumb is just that; it is a rule of thumb and that this meets the values and the criteria, and it adds to the integrity of the property and should be approved. And it was approved.

Senator RUSTON: I will take your point on that, but rules are put down for a reason. We have heard from people in the community who were not necessarily in support of the additional land being annexed to the area and they argue that that is something that has been overlooked. It conveniently suits what you desire as the outcome but it does not conveniently desire what they would desire as an outcome. So I do not think you can have it both ways.

Mr Law : I suggest that the people who are opposed to this extension would have been opposed to it whether it was 12 per cent, nine per cent, 10 per cent or five per cent.

Senator RUSTON: Be that as it may, that is not the question before us at the moment.

Mr Bayley : You may recall that the Tasmanian Forests Agreement Act went through a very lengthy upper house committee process. That was claimed by the proponents of that committee to be the ultimate voice of the people. This was the community consultation that never happened before. Following that process, following that committee, the parliament, including the upper house, still approved the reserves that underlie this World Heritage area and set World Heritage as a specific precondition. I believe that those issues you raise have been utterly addressed in that committee process, and the parliament continued to endorse this process and the World Heritage listing.

Senator RUSTON: Do you think there is more area in Tasmania that should be added to this heritage area?

Mr Bayley : There are absolutely areas that meet World Heritage criteria and should be added to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, be they areas that are currently excluded on the west coast of Tasmania or additional areas of cultural heritage in the south-east of Tasmania.

Senator RUSTON: So how much comfort can the people who currently derive their income from activities that require the use of some of this wood have when they have been told on numerous occasions there was no proposal to extend the boundary? In 2010 there was a comment by the state party report on the state of conservation saying that there was no proposal to extend the boundary of the TWWHA and in the papers we have received there are numerous comments saying there is no intention to expand the area. Now sitting here you have just told me that, despite the fact we are supposed to have some comfort that this is the end of the argument about this, there are actually other areas you think would like to be added. How much comfort can I give the Special Timbers Alliance, for instance, that the little tiny bit of land that is left to them under the current situation they are able to get wood from is not going to be the next thing you are going to have a go at?

Mr Bayley : There are a couple of issues there. There is no relevance in a logging context of some of those areas that should be added to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area on the west coast or in the south-east because they do not have trees or those trees are already protected in private land or public land conservation areas.

Mr Law : The vast majority of the other areas proposed for extension to the Tasmanian wilderness are west of the current property and are already within some form of state reserve that protects the areas there from logging.

Senator RUSTON: Answer this question yes or no: is there going to be a further attempt by organisations such as yours to increase the area from what it is at the moment? If the application for it to be reduced in size is unsuccessful or does not go ahead, can you categorically deny that you are going to ask for a further increase in the size of this heritage area?

Mr Bayley : No. We have just said to you that there are areas that absolutely have outstanding universal values, that have World Heritage values, and should be included. Clearly we are not saying that we will not do that. We are saying that they do not have any relevance to the logging debate. From our perspective the Tasmanian Forest Agreement has resolved issues around logging, including World Heritage and protection. The specialty timber sector we believe can be accommodated within the areas that have been very specifically and very deliberately set aside for specialty timber harvest.

Senator RUSTON: If it could be demonstrated that the 2013 process for the boundary changes had not gone through a proper process, that the process in relation to the 10 per cent had not been met and it should have gone through a full assessment, or that there was something that suggests that the process was flawed, would you be open for the whole area to be totally reassessed transparently?

Mr Bayley : Given the fact that the federal government has an application to revoke this listing, or part of this listing, which, to my knowledge, has not been through any consultation process whatsoever—in fact, the Liberal Party here, recently elected, is explicitly refusing to meet with those sections of the community it appears not have any level of agreement with—I find that question a little bit curious in relation to exactly what process the Liberal coalition has gone through in terms of articulating and constructing this revocation. As we say, there is no data, there are no maps, and we believe there has been no consultation either.

Senator RUSTON: That was not the question. I accept your opinion on that. The question was: are you confident enough that if it went through a rigorous and transparent process—and the concerns of the people who have expressed concern saying that they were not heard or consulted and that the process should have been more rigorous than it was—under that more rigorous process you can still achieve the same result on the—

Mr Bayley : I am saying to you that it has been through a rigorous process. It has been through a Tasmanian parliamentary process, it has been through independent verification, it has been through the IUCN, the expert advisory process to the World Heritage Committee, and it was unanimously listed by the World Heritage Committee itself based on all four natural-values criteria. I do not think it can be any more rigorous than that. Yes, of course, there are some disaffected people out there, because there are people who do not support conservation whatsoever and do not support delivering conservation outcomes for Tasmania. They will always oppose this, no matter what process you go through. I believe this process has been rigorous and it will stand up on those merits.

Senator RUSTON: I will put some questions on notice regarding the independence of the advice. Thank you.

Senator MILNE: I just want to go back to one of the claims in your submission. You say that the Australian government's claims about logged areas and plantations are blatantly misleading if not downright dishonest and that they appear to be motivated by politics and ideology. Are you saying that what the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment, Mr Hunt, are saying about the fact that 74,000 hectares has been logged and degraded and therefore has been taken out, is blatantly wrong and misleading, if not in fact a lie?

Mr Law : The Australian government's claim that large areas of this proposed excision are degraded is grossly misleading. We believe that the government is being deceitful in pushing that argument out to the public. The figures show that it is only about 10 per cent of the area proposed for excision that has previously been logged, and the area of plantations is negligible. It is something like eight to 10 hectares or about 0.01 per cent of the area sought for excision. Clearly, on the basis of those figures, which the government—with some of them, at least—appears to agree with in its figures that it put to the ABC's Fact Check program, the government has been absolutely deceitful in its submissions both to the public and to the World Heritage Committee.

Senator MILNE: On the basis of that, only a small amount, a tiny amount, of the 74,000 hectares is degraded. But you say that old-growth forests within the excision or proposed excision comprises 40 per cent of the area. Is that one of the reasons you say that the government is, in fact, deceitful?

Mr Law : There is far, far more old-growth forest in those areas than there is logging—areas previously logged and that are now undergoing rehabilitation. There is far more ecologically-intact natural vegetation. Overwhelmingly, about 85 to 90 per cent of the area proposed for excision has never been logged and is ecologically intact, and that is why the government's public arguments are so dishonest.

Senator MILNE: So what we are going to see is a proposition to the World Heritage Committee based on completely misleading data in order to secure more areas of old-growth forest, never been logged forest, to be available for the logging industry.

Mr Law : That certainly appears to me the case, that the government is seeking to delist World Heritage forests for the sake of logging. Indeed, they have said that in their submission to the World Heritage Committee, that one of the reasons why they are putting it forward is because they support increased access to forests by the logging industry. So this proposal is at least partially motivated by a desire for increased logging and a political commitment to the logging industry rather than any form of obligation towards upholding World Heritage values.

Senator MILNE: We have just heard a few minutes ago an inference that Australia put forward information to the World Heritage Committee for the minor boundary adjustment which supposedly was wrong or failed to point out that areas had been degraded. It implies that countries can just go along to the World Heritage Committee and tell them anything and it is never checked. Can you tell me what role IUCN has to play when countries put forward their nominations? What is the check and balance in the system to make sure that it is verified?

Mr Law : The IUCN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, is one of the advisory bodies to the World Heritage Committee and it was its job to vet the proposal put to it by the Australian government. The proposal by the Australian government had numerous references to the fact that there were small parts of the proposed minor modification that had undergone some form of logging and which were now undergoing restoration. So the IUCN was completely aware of that evidence when it made its recommendation to the World Heritage Committee that the minor modification should be adopted and that the areas in question should be added to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Senator MILNE: UNESCO's expert advice from the International Union for Conservation of Nature looked at the nomination and recommended that the World Heritage Committee accept and support the minor boundary modification.

Mr Law : Yes, and they did so with their eyes wide open, knowing full well that certain small areas which had had some minor degradation were included in the boundaries and that that was absolutely necessary for the sake of proper catchment management and for the integrity of the landscapes being protected, whether it was a forested landscape or a glacial landscape or a karst cave landscape.

Senator MILNE: That is what I wanted to come to next, the karst landscapes as well. Is it true that even in some of the areas that may have been degraded by logging there are other values which need to be protected and that is why protecting those and rehabilitating those areas is so critical?

Mr Law : Rehabilitating those small logged areas within those ancient landscapes is absolutely critical to protecting the integrity of landscapes that have been created by the action of glaciers or which have been created by the action of water making its way through soluble rocks such as dolomite and limestone. The protection of those catchments is absolutely critical to the integrity and establishment of long-term viable boundaries for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Senator MILNE: Can you explain to me why Forestry Tasmania's definition of what old-growth forests are adds a layer of confusion in this debate?

Mr Law : Forestry Tasmania has in some cases adopted a definition of regrowth forest which for the average member of the public is very misleading. When the average member of the public hears the word 'regrowth' they imagine an area that has been logged by the logging industry and then grown back again. In fact, the term 'regrowth' as defined by Forestry Tasmania includes two types. The first is what they call aged regrowth, which is forest that has been logged and then regenerated, and indeed this is their definition of aged regrowth—"forest that has been logged and regenerated generally since 1960 using deliberate site preparation and seeding techniques. The year of sowing is documented and the age of the trees may be determined, also referred to silvicultural regeneration." That is, post-logging regeneration is referred to as 'aged regrowth'.

They have another category of so-called regrowth which is 'unaged regrowth', which they describe as:

Forest regenerated after wildfire or other disturbances, and containing a majority of trees less than 110 years old, where there is no deliberate site preparation or seed sowing. Unaged regrowth forest may contain scattered individuals or stands of ecologically mature trees.

I will paraphrase that: this is so-called regrowth that, for all intents and purposes, is old-growth forest that has never been logged before. It might have had a bushfire through it and it still has big old trees in it, but Forestry Tasmania calls 'regrowth. The figures that have been produced by the Australian government indicate, not surprisingly, that there are some areas that fall into this category within the proposed excision. That is hardly surprising, given that bushfires are a natural phenomenon within the landscape of Tasmania and, indeed, that is one of the World Heritage values for which this area has been listed—the fact that there is a dynamic, ongoing ecological relationship between button grass, eucalypt forest, rainforest et cetera.

Senator MILNE: If the government were genuine about removing only the areas that were so-called 'degraded', are there any areas of plantation left within the World Heritage area? Can you explain that?

Mr Law : The government's proposal, which is supposedly all about removing areas of unacceptable plantation within the World Heritage area, actually leaves other areas of plantation within the World Heritage area, some of which are undergoing rehabilitation.

Senator MILNE: Is that because they recognise you have to have boundaries that allow connectivity, for example?

Mr Law : I do not know whether the government recognises that, but it certainly adds an element of inconsistency and ecological irrationality to the government's proposal.

Senator MILNE: So do you feel sorry for whoever is presenting for Australia at the World Heritage Committee this year, having said last year that the area was outstanding and had universal value and this year saying it has to be removed to be logged?

Mr Law : There is a massive contrast between the very exhaustive and comprehensive submission that was put to the World Heritage Committee last year that contained maps, data, tables, references and photos and the threadbare argument that has been put this time, which is devoid of such necessary information, so I would expect that anyone expected to put forward that argument would feel a bit embarrassed.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Very quickly because we are out of time, given your extensive experience with putting this proposal together, Mr Law, what is your expectation of the decision of the committee once this has been put to them by the existing government?

Mr Law : I would not want to pre-empt the decision of the committee. The committee has to look at this on its own merits. Our opinion is that the proposal is devoid of intellectual merit and we would hope that the IUCN and the World Heritage Committee would recognise that.

Mr Bayley : We should reiterate: it is so devoid of credibility, of data and of information that we do believe the onus is on the Australian government to withdraw this submission now and prevent the World Heritage Committee and the IUCN having to go through the pain of looking at this and rejecting it, should that be what they do, and avoid the pain of Australia and the embarrassment of Australia putting up such a nomination in the first place. They should withdraw this.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: You can take this on notice if you do not have time. The state government said that they are going to go ahead and log these areas regardless. What impact will that have on future assessments or the values of these areas?

Mr Bayley : If the property retains its World Heritage listing status and there is some activity that threatens the values of those areas, ultimately there is a process that leads to this property being put on the World Heritage in-danger list. That is probably the inevitability if the Australian and Tasmanian governments go down that path. But let me reiterate: it need not be. They should withdraw this. They should respect the will of the international community and protect and manage this property on behalf of all humanity because that is exactly what World Heritage means. This should not be seen as a lockup, as I think you mentioned the government referring to it as; this actually presents a unique suite of opportunities for Tasmania for a whole range of reasons that we should embrace. We should accept and take on the responsibility of managing these forests because of the spectacular global jewel that they are.

Mr Law : To conclude, this is a photograph of one of the areas which is proposed for excision. It is part of the Upper Florentine. The excision would remove the tall eucalypt forests and rainforests that are pictured here and leave the unloggable, treeless mountain tops within the World Heritage area. The loss of that forested valley, with its ancient rainforests, its tall eucalypts, its giant trees, its caves, its karst formation and its Aboriginal heritage, which goes back 12,000 years, would be an absolute tragedy and a tragedy that would be replicated along the eastern boundary of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area. It would bring Australia into disrepute internationally and be a black mark against our name, against the brand of Tasmania and against Australia's international obligations.

Senator MILNE: Mr Bayley, you said earlier that the government should release the data that underpins their submission. They would say that the data has been released. Would you provide on notice—or perhaps you can answer in a sentence—what data you want released.

Mr Bayley : It is the exact data that we have articulated around old-growth, disturbance, different statistics and maps which show where those are in the context of the proposed revocation.

CHAIR: It would be handy if you could do that on notice.

Mr Law : And the breakdown for each of the specific areas that the government lists as wanting excised.

Mr Bayley : I am happy to take it on notice.

Senator MILNE: If you would take that on notice and send the committee a note with very specific reference to what is required, that would be useful.

CHAIR: The committee now needs to go into a brief private meeting.

Proceedings suspended from 09:52 to 09:56