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

KIERNAN, Dr Kevin William, Private Capacity

McCONNELL, Ms Anne, Vice President, Tasmanian National Parks Association

SAWYER, Mr Nicholas Antony, Secretary, Tasmanian National Parks Association

[11:53]

CHAIR: Welcome. I understand that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. The committee has your submissions. I invite you all 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. Is there anything you would like to add to the capacity in which you appear today?

Dr Kiernan : I am a geomorphologist.

CHAIR: Who would like to make an opening statement?

Mr Sawyer : We have arranged that I go first and then Anne and Kevin. The Tasmanian National Parks Association is a non-profit, non-government organisation. Our main interest is issues that affect the management of Tasmania's national parks and other conservation reserves. We had no role in the negotiation of the Tasmanian Forests Agreement, which had a role in leading to these boundary extensions, but we had a keen interest in that process and the outcomes of it. The fundamental point of our submission is that the TNPA considers that the arguments put forward by the Australian government to revoke 74,000 hectares of the recent extensions to the World Heritage area are severely flawed. I will run through a number of points relating to this. Most of the areas that were added to the World Heritage area in the 2013 nomination had previously been identified as being worthy of World Heritage status and many of them had been on the books for a long time as potential additional areas. For example, the World Heritage area boundaries report produced by the parks service in 1990 and submissions to the reactive monitoring mission in 2008 all referred to the desirability of extensions, not exactly the same but in the same general areas as these. So there is actually a long history of these areas being proposed as appropriate for World Heritage status.

The World Heritage Committee was well aware of the existence of coupes and plantations in the area of the 2013 extension at the time it was evaluated. It is apparent that they constitute 10 per cent give or take a bit of the area proposed for revocation. So I find it extraordinary that they should now use the existence of these as an argument for reversing that nomination. The UNESCO World Heritage convention article 5 part 4 requires rehabilitation of this heritage. The Australian government of the time was presumably well aware of this in 2013 when it made the nomination. The rehabilitation requirement is also reflected in the overall management objective for the Tasmanian wilderness World Heritage area in the 1999 management plan. I appreciate that the management plan covers only the old World Heritage area boundary not the extensions, but I think it is a clear statement of intent which was endorsed by both the Tasmanian and the Commonwealth governments. There is a clear obligation to rehabilitate areas where values have been diminished and there are plenty of small-scale examples within the existing World Heritage area where this has occurred.

On the question of process, there are some matters that are not clear to the TNPA and I expect particularly interesting to the committee as well, particularly what criteria was used and who applied them to determine the areas proposed for revocation. Very briefly, the 2013 boundary extension was 172,000 hectares in round figures. That contained 50,000 hectares of existing reserves none of which are proposed for revocation and 122,000 hectares of areas that were the result of the Tasmanian Forests Agreement negotiations, primarily previously state forest. The proposal is to revoke some 74,000 hectares of the TFA areas, which is about 60 per cent of those areas. We would be really interested to know what criteria was used to select which 60 per cent. Was it the areas that were the most degraded or had the most commercially valuable big trees on them, or something else?

My other point is possibly a bit peripheral to your inquiry but it would be very interesting to know what agency is legally responsible for the rehabilitation of the degraded areas within the World Heritage area. If it is the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, this is potentially a huge impost on their budget, which no provision has been made for.

Moving on to the values of the area proposed for revocation, I am sure that the values of the tall eucalypt forests have been discussed in great depth by other witnesses, so I will not bother dealing with those. I will deal with a few others that may have been missed—first of all, the question of boundary integrity and wilderness values. These are not outstanding universal values but boundary integrity is a practical consideration for drawing boundaries. I think it is included in the operational guidelines for the World Heritage area. The boundary of the World Heritage area, ever since it was first proclaimed, has always been something of a political compromise rather than being based on sound ecological parameters. The 2013 extensions may not have been perfect but they were a major step towards giving us a more ecologically sound boundary.

The revocations are basically reversing this. They are giving us a boundary with as many teeth marks in it as we had before—just in different places, effectively. The new extensions potentially enhance the wilderness quality of the World Heritage area if they lead to roads which are no longer required for forestry activity being closed, thereby increasing the remoteness of parts of the World Heritage area. I note that the IUCN is currently working on the potential for World Heritage to contribute to wilderness conservation worldwide. So this may, in the near future, become a bigger concern than it currently is.

Other values that are likely to be lost in the revocation include Aboriginal and geo-heritage values. I will pass the ball to Anne McConnell to explain those further.

Ms McConnell : Just for clarification of the committee, I am here to talk mostly about the values aspect of our submission. Nick will talk about the other aspects of our submission. I have a background in cultural heritage. I have also served on the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Consultative Committee as a cultural heritage representative. I have also served on the National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council in Tasmania, for the parks here.

I would just like to add a couple of minor comments to Nick's, and enlarge slightly upon our original submission. And I would like to focus on the terms of reference particularly. I think it is fair to say that the TNPA's key concerns are probably with the inquiry's terms of reference (b) and (e). Given the values that occur within the 2013 area—including values that we would regard as of outstanding universal value in the areas that are to be revoked—it is of concern to us that the proposal for withdrawing some of those areas does not seem to have gone into a lot of detail on what the existing values in those areas are and what will be lost and what will not be lost.

There are other submissions that have gone into quite a lot of detail about this. I would like to table here, if I may, the Tasmanian National Parks Association's submission to the World Heritage mission in 2008. I have one hard copy and one digital copy. In that, we detailed a number of values of areas that were not, before 2013, in the World Heritage area. Most of those were taken up in the 2013 nomination. Unfortunately a number of those—some very critical ones in our view—will be withdrawn from the World Heritage area if the proposed revocation goes ahead.

Just briefly, in our view they would be: the Recherche Bay area for its Aboriginal values and associative cultural landscape values; the Florentine Valley for geo-heritage and Aboriginal heritage values, again including some particularly significant Aboriginal sites; and the Navarre Plains, which again has geo-heritage value and Aboriginal heritage values. It has been very hard to work out exactly what the implications are of the areas to be revoked on the north edge of the area on the western tiers, but we are aware there are Aboriginal sites there that are of significance and contribute to the World Heritage values of the whole area. We are not sure whether they are in or out. I have just given the details of the maps, but the three areas I have mentioned are the ones that are of concern. So, in our view, a process for proposing revocations really should look at that material in detail.

The other thing that a proposal to look at revocations should include is the risk to those values through forestry activities, if they are in those areas, if forestry operations continue. Again, our 2008 submission dealt with that, but I would like to say that the experience of working in forestry is that, while some values are protected, there are examples of where processes fail and some of those values would be put at risk.

That leads me to term of reference e. for the inquiry, which is:

implications for the World Heritage status of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area of the Government’s request to withdraw the 74,000 hectares for logging;

Firstly, there are a number of important, highly significant and outstanding universal values that will be lost if that goes ahead, particularly in the Navarre Plains area, the Florentine Valley and the Recherche Bay area. They will be put at risk. The Australian government would be failing in its commitment to the World Heritage convention, specifically article 4. I believe that would be embarrassing to the Australian government. The other comment that I would like to make in relation to that—and there was an earlier question on this—is that we believe there are some areas that could be added to the 2013 boundaries to help protect some of those values we have just mentioned briefly.

Dr Kiernan : I do not have a huge amount of preliminary comment because I am basically appearing at your request, I gather, in response to my submission, but I make the point that I want to focus primarily on geomorphology. I will leave the politics and everything else aside. I want to emphasise that, although nature conservation these days tends to focus a lot on biodiversity, biodiversity is only one part of overall environmental diversity. Geodiversity and various other things also add up to the total nature conservation agenda.

When the first national park was set up, Yellowstone in the US, it was about physical features, not bio. When the first Canadian park, Banff, was set up, it was about a hot spring and a cave. When the first national park type reserve was set up in Australia, it was about Jenolan Caves. We have sort of drifted to this biological preoccupation, but the physical landscape still means a lot to many people and drives a lot of the agenda. As a geomorphologist, I suppose I have some slight relevance under World Heritage criterion (vii):

to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;

That is aesthetic and I do not really want to get into it; I just claim a stake in it, so to speak. However, criterion (viii) is:

to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;

These are totally legitimate things to have in the conservation estate and they are explicitly stated within the criteria. To me, a useful thing about the additions that were made to the World Heritage area is that they increase the integrity of the geomorphic features. Going to operational guideline 12, properties proposed under criterion (viii):

should contain all or most of the key interrelated and interdependent elements in their natural relationships;

For example, an 'ice age' area would meet the conditions of integrity if it includes the snowfield, the glacier itself and samples of cutting patterns, deposition and colonisation—that is, striations, moraines, pioneer stages of plant succession et cetera.

Clearly we do not have contemporary icefields in Tasmania or contemporary glaciers, but what the intention of this is, I suggest, is to actually look at sets of stuff, not just little isolated things. When it comes to many geomorphic features, what produces the scenery that grabs people is in the highlands, it is the eroded mountains, but the scientific information is whether the sediments go. It is down the bottom in the valleys, it is those moraines and things that are referred to in those integrity provisions. If you take something like the Navarre Plains, there was this obvious hole, that we had this very significant glacial system, the only piedmont glacial system in Australia, flowing down through Lake St Clair and the boundary was chopped off just beyond the ranger station. It is an absolute nonsense from the point of view of integrity. So it is a very worthwhile addition. Perhaps it is not a big addition in terms of percentage if you want to talk in percentage terms. Probably my heart is not a very big percentage of me but I would be a bit lost without it. The integrity has been improved by this sort of stuff and I am pretty concerned to see that that sort of thing is safeguarded.

CHAIR: I will go to you first, Dr Kiernan. To expand a little further on what you were saying then, it sounds from what you are saying that this most recent extension has meant that the whole glacial journey, if you like, right to the very end has now been put within the boundaries when previously it was chopped off.

Dr Kiernan : Not entirely but much improved. The very tail of it has been chopped off by a hydro-electric storage.

CHAIR: Is that coincidence or was it deliberate?

Dr Kiernan : No. Lake King William is an artificial storage which has flooded the tail end. But we have hugely improved the situation. There have been many glaciations that are responsible for Tasmania's landscape and the last one was a fiddly little affair barely worth thinking about. The real impact has come from earlier ones, particularly the middle set. We are actually getting the middle set and we are getting a particularly distinctive suite of moraines that are quite unlike anything else that is available in Australia. It is not a huge area but it is an important addition.

CHAIR: If you were to describe looking at the whole World Heritage area now, what variety and range of geomorphic features are represented? It sounds simple but—

Dr Kiernan : The plants at the bottom of the gardens. It is a pretty big question.

CHAIR: It does not get aired very often. I want to give you the opportunity.

Dr Kiernan : Okay. There are a number of geological features that I do not want to buy into. I am not a geologist, I am a geomorphologist. Geologists tend to deal with the building materials, I deal with the architecture. There are a number of really significant geomorphological things. One of the most outstanding is the geological record of climate change through the Quaternary Period, the last couple of million years, which is uniquely good in Tasmania.

I do not want to go over ground that is in my submission but in the submission I pointed out that the two hemispheres are very different. If you go to the latitude of London in the northern hemisphere you have a jolly nice time. If you go to latitude of London in the southern Indian Ocean and you have glaciers down to the sea on Herd Island. There is a lot of difference. Most of the southern hemisphere is oceanic, most of the northern hemisphere is terrestrial. The climate is totally different. The only places we can pick up terrestrial evidence of those past climates in the southern hemisphere in southern temperate latitudes is Tasmania, New Zealand and Patagonia. In both Patagonia and New Zealand you got very active mountain building, so as climate does its thing these mountains are going up and down, which is really complicating getting any record of climate off them because the baseline is changing. Tasmania is like dead flat and boring, so we just have this nice climate record and get an outrageously long record of glacial events here which is unrepeatable anywhere else in the world. That really increases the worth of geomorphic features in relation to glaciation but it does not just relate to glaciation. There are many other things that are important from the point of view of geomorphology but also climate record, other fields of geomorphology, alluvial rivers and cold climate processes on the slopes. There are cast limestone landscapes, a very long record of those. We have also got features like the Darwin meteorite crater. Many of these things integrate quite closely with other aspects of both natural heritage and cultural heritage. The carriage of Darwin glass and impactite from a meteor crater on the west coast around archaeological sites elsewhere in the south-west tells an interesting story about the geological capacities of Aboriginal people. There is a lot there. That is too big a question, I am sorry.

CHAIR: Thank you for attempting it.

Senator MILNE: In particular I want to go to the impacts. In the event that the Florentine is taken out, what is the likely impact on the karst? How significant is the karst in the Florentine? I will come to you, Ms McConnell, in relation to Aboriginal culture. I want to know about the physical realities of the karst system and the impact of logging if that is taken out, particularly on Nanwoon Cave.

Dr Kiernan : The karst—that is, limestone landscapes and various solution processes that give rise to caves and various drainage features—is very much reliant on natural conditions of water chemistry and water flow. The natural vegetation cover is very important to that. When you disturb the vegetation cover, you potentially change the flow regime into the caves and change the chemistry of the water. You have the potential to do things like redissolve stalactites rather than producing them. It would take too long to go into why now, but that is a significant issue.

Also, if you have erosion, then you can have soil disappearing into stream sinks and fouling up the underground plumbing. You also have very interesting problems of soil erosion because you are not restricted to eroding steep slopes in limestone country because limestone soils are like a mat over an upturned colander. The steepest of all hydrological gradients is directly downwards so you can erode away from the base of the soil, slowly lowering the soil profile until it all goes down the plug hole.

We see evidence of many of those things in that part of the Florentine karst that revoked from Mount Field National Park back in the late 1940s, early 1950s or whenever it was. That has been particularly damaging to some important pieces of karst. It has been doubly damaging for the fact that it has been at the very upstream end of the main drainage system through to the Junee Resurgence, the big spring. If you do something at the bottom of the river, then at least the top is intact. In this case it has been the top that has been attacked first so adverse influences get transferred right through.

A very large proportion of the Florentine has now been logged. That area in the upper Florentine is just that: it is in the upper. It can retain a degree of integrity that other parts of the Florentine could not and that includes the Nanwoon area. If you go in there and log then you basically take away one of the last bits of the intact Florentine karst, which is a very significant karst. It is significant for the size of its caves, for its subfossil record of giant extinct marsupials in some of the caves, for its archaeological sites et cetera. So the upper Florentine is a very intact little bit. It is the last opportunity to protect something of it. It is at the upstream end of the Florentine drainage, not the Junee drainage, which has otherwise been pretty compromised, so it has some integrity.

Senator MILNE: So you would say it is critical to protect that karst system since it is the last we have got and it is relatively intact because it is at the upper end?

Dr Kiernan : It is relatively intact, it is distinctive and it has some important features in it.

Senator MILNE: So were you asked—or do you know if anyone you know was asked—about removing it and its impact on geoheritage?

Dr Kiernan : No, I have not been asked anything in relation to the revocation. I just decided to buy in because I had my nose out of joint.

Senator MILNE: Well I am glad you have. I want to go now to Exit Cave, something I remember from some time ago. This goes to the issue of rehabilitation. Under the World Heritage Convention state parties are required to rehabilitate degraded areas. Would you like to comment on why that is important and what success has been achieved at Exit Cave?

Dr Kiernan : Geomorphology is basically defined by the surface contours on the ground—it is the shape of the land—so if you artificially derange those contours on any scale then, by definition, you have damaged the natural geomorphology. But the real question is: does it matter?

There is damage to the natural geopmorphology if you go into an Upper Florentine and start building roads or disturbing the soil. At the far end of the extremes is the sort of damage that occurred at Exit Cave where half the hillside that contained part of the cave system was quarried away for limestone over a period of many years.

One of the consequences of that was that large volumes of sediments started to be injected into the cave system from the quarry area. There were problems of acid mine draining into it that were corroding away formations within the cave. The aquatic fauna within the cave was suffering, and something needed to be done or it was making a bit of a mockery of Exit Cave being part of the World Heritage area. The Commonwealth government of the day did: that quarry was closed down, and a very substantial rehabilitation exercise was embarked upon.

You cannot put back the side of a hill—that is a bit of a nonsense—but you can improve things significantly. In fact I photocopied this morning to bring along to table today a description of that rehabilitation work and I can provide it later but I have left it at my office. A very well-planned, well-thought out rehabilitation exercise was done on the quarry floor to restore a closer-to-natural water flow to get rid of some of the bad chemistry associated with the acid mine drainage and so on. The outcome of that has been really positive. There has been significant recovery of the cave fauna and so on.

You can obsess a lot about naturalness, if you want to, but having worked on places as remote as Heard Island and seen the massive amount of environmental change that is being triggered in a landscape, where people are seldom present, by impacts on the other side of the globe, I no longer delude myself by thinking anywhere is entirely wilderness. There are just scales of it, and I think one of the most important things for protective area managers in decades to come isn't going to be saving what is intact now; it is going to be trying to restore things. There are learning opportunities out there, and small-scale things like putting a few trees back on an area that has been logged—there is just nothing by way of comparison. You will not restore things back to perfect—perhaps from a geomorphic point of view, if there have been big road cuts—but you will make a substantial improvement.

Senator MILNE: So would you say that by giving integrity to the boundaries, by including some small areas that have been degraded in order to enable rehabilitation to give resilience to the rest, is actually a really good thing to have done?

Dr Kiernan : I think that would be a good thing.

Senator MILNE: I want to turn to Mr Sawyer—

CHAIR: Before you do, we want to stay with Dr Kiernan just at the moment.

Senator RUSTON: I was just interested in—obviously, because we haven't done a huge amount of assessment on your geomorphic inferences or significance—is there much more area in Tasmania that you think from a geo heritage perspective significant enough or of great enough value that you would be seeking to see other areas included into reservations?

Dr Kiernan : Probably. Remember that reservations are only one of the spectrum of possibilities for protecting things, so it may be that some conservation values can be safeguarded by other mechanisms. I don't think in the case of World Heritage level values, it is appropriate to use anything other than the most effective mechanisms you can think of. I spent many years working in the forestry system where I think we achieved significant protection of some areas through using things like the Forest Practices Code provisions. Now that can be done, but mistakes can also be made. I think that, despite the good that came out of that, you would really be stretching it to put World Heritage level values into that sort of more informal system.

Senator RUSTON: Would you suggest that, if you looked at the whole area of Tasmania that has various values, whether they be bio or geo value, you could use a suite of different methods to maximise the values and protect them, while at the same time, obviously, taking into account some of the other issues that have been raised this morning in terms of social, economic and community?

Dr Kiernan : Yes, there is definitely a suite of opportunities there. I think in the case of the existing World Heritage Area it deserves World Heritage, because it is world heritage in terms of the qualities it possesses.

Senator RUSTON: All of it?

Dr Kiernan : I think so, particularly when you see it in terms of the operational guidelines and so on. I am saying part of that, from the botanical point of view, on faith, because I am not a botanist. But from a geomorphic point of view, an enormous proportion of it is, and I would not think there would be too much trouble for the botanists to be arguing for other places. So, ask another specialist about the botany, perhaps. But from a geomorphic point of view, yes. There are all sorts of other values in the areas external to the existing World Heritage Area. And I suspect that not a lot of them, from a geomorphic point of view, would be of World Heritage significance.

But significance is a bit of a moving feast sometimes. It only takes some major scientific discovery to be made in the grounds of Parliament House, and perhaps the front garden would deserve World Heritage status should it suddenly produce 2,000-year-old human skeletons or something like that—you know what I mean. So there is always the thing that comes from left field. But basically, yes—there is a suite of strategies that are available, reservation and non-reservation, for those areas of Tasmania that are not yet in protected areas.

Senator RUSTON: That reminds me of another question. You made the comment that the real question is, 'Does it really matter?' The areas we are talking about obviously all have a level of value, and nobody is disputing that. But how much of these areas do you need to be able to satisfy the requirement to protect something into the future for future generations and keep their value? You could run around the world now and lock up forever anything that met anything of these requirements. How much do you need to lock up so that you actually have a good representative sample of what was once there?

Dr Kiernan : Again, I do not want to talk biological matters. But from a geo point of view I would go back to the operational guidelines, I would go back to the criteria. You say you could run around and nominate all these things, but I suspect you could not, because they would not meet the World Heritage criteria, for starters. In the case of geomorphic features, these are not something you can breed up on an island. You cannot take a couple of glacial moraines and stick them in a cage in the botanical gardens and let nature take its course and breed up a whole lot more. It does not work like that. It is a whole lot harder. You have to think much more about replicates and things in geoconservation than you do in bioconservation, I suggest. I think I am losing the thread of the question, but in broad terms you would need significant areas and, particularly, you would need them to meet some of these integrity provisions. I have forgotten some of what you asked, sorry.

Senator RUSTON: I understand that you need significant areas, but what I am asking is, if you have a number of different areas that will actually provide that, do you need to lock them all up, or is just having one—

Dr Kiernan : It depends on whether they contribute to one another or are all the same. In my field very often you need contributing areas.

Senator RUSTON: So, if they were all the same, then you would be okay with it, notwithstanding the fact that your areas are not all the same?

Dr Kiernan : You are all senators; you are all the same, aren't you? Which one do I go to!

Senator RUSTON: I can assure you, we are not all the same! Thank you; that is all I have.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I have one quick question. Dr Kiernan, you intrigued me in your submission when you talked about serious fire risk from forestry operations. But what we hear from landowners in the area who allegedly do not want the World Heritage boundaries there is that they believe that the area under protection will be a fire risk, and there are invasive species issues there as well. I know that has been commented on by all the panel. What led you to draw that conclusion?

Dr Kiernan : I was led partly by the damage that has been done to Mount Field National Park over the years as a result of escaped fires from forestry concession and the damage that has done in there. In fact, that is one document I did remember to bring along, so I will table that if I may. It is just a bit of a history of that story. But there was also the burning of the largest eucalypt, El Grande, a few years ago, which was clearly recognised as being an important feature, and I am sure the forestry authorities were keen not to burn it, but it still got burnt. Accidents happen, and I think in particular as the climate changes we are going to see a lot more problems like that.

There was an absolutely enormous fire in south-west Tasmania at the same time as the fire on the Tasman peninsula a couple of years ago. It attracted no publicity and that is probably understandable but it burnt out an area much larger than all the other Tasmanian fires combined and it has burnt it to bedrock. It has burnt through peat soils that have probably taken thousands of years to form. As the climate dries and things get more severe, we are going to face more and more problems like that.

If you do not deal with fire risk on the borders then you will have far more chance of fires invading the park. That is probably not going to be very nice for those concerned about bio conservation or aesthetics or recreation but, from my point of view, as a general geomorphologist, I do not want to see that magnitude of erosion allowing damage to the geomorphology, sediment transfer into the streams and down the cast caves and all of that sort of stuff.

Senator MILNE: I want to follow up with you Dr Kiernan on the Navarre Plains. I did notice in your submission that when you worked at forestry you had an arrangement that if something had to be logged then the Bedlam Walls would be but in exchange for the Navarre Plains being saved. Now the Bedlam Walls have been logged extensively and the Navarre Plains are going to be logged if this were allowed. Could you tell the committee what is at stake with the Navarre Plains.

Dr Kiernan : I do not know how far back to go, but the special piece of information or contribution to the information on the evolution of southern temperate latitudes that Tasmania can make, there is a very important glacial system coming down the Derwent. It was also the only place where we had a glacier of piedmont type, which is a technicality you probably do not need to deal with, but is akin to a whole family of biological species. We had one example of them here. The very distinctive moraines that glaciers of that type make are formed across the Navarre Plains between Lake St Clair and the Lyell highway. It is an excellent suite of moraines. If you superimpose both that kind of uniquity of the piedmont glacier upon the importance of Tasmania as a place for glacial record then I put it to you that it makes the Navarre Plains a very important site.

Senator MILNE: Mr Sawyer, you said in your remarks as an aside that it is actually quite important in light of some of the questions that have been asked so far. Can you just relate the politics and the history of the way the extreme eastern boundary of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area was drawn up in the first place and why, as you said, it had big bites taken out of it in 1989-90. Is it actually true that the 2013 boundary adjustment was the first time we had a rational boundary based on integrity as opposed to what the logging industry required?

Mr Sawyer : That is a big question. My understanding is that the World Heritage area boundaries from initiation in 1982 through to the present—to put it very bluntly—have been the areas not wanted by industry whether that industry be power generation—a big issue early on—mining or forestry. Many of the areas that would obviously fulfil World Heritage area criteria on most grounds are still omitted, for example, because the mining industry sees them as having potential mineral wealth beneath the soil.

The hydropower development issue has largely gone away of its own accord. The recent Tasmanian Forest Agreement appeared to represent a negotiated solution to some of the long-running arguments about forestry. I think it was a major step towards an ecologically rational boundary. I would not say in my understanding it quite achieved that but it certainly seems to have been a major improvement over what we had before. There are still issues, obviously, of needing to keep some areas for production forestry and, as Dr Kiernan has just been explaining, geomorphology, for example, probably was not given the consideration that it should have. But I certainly saw it as a major step towards an ecologically rational boundary.

Senator MILNE: Just out of interest, would you include the Tyndall Range as one of those places that should have gone into World Heritage but was kept out because of the mining industry?

Mr Sawyer : Isn't the Tyndall Range within the World Heritage area and has been for—

Senator MILNE: No, it has never been in there because it has high levels of prospectivity, according to the Minerals Council of Tasmania.

Mr Sawyer : My understanding it had been covered by a very thick layer of conglomerate that nobody is every going to be able to justify digging through.

Senator MILNE: Do you have a view about that being included? Ms McConnell, you were about to add something and I interrupted.

Ms McConnell : While the Tasmanian National Parks Association believe the 2013 boundary is a better boundary for the World Heritage area, we were very concerned at the time that it did not include full consideration of the geoheritage and cultural heritage values. That has been a concern of ours for a while.

Senator MILNE: Would you agree with Ms Langford that it is important that the federal government come up with the money so that the Tasmanian Aboriginal community can do a full and proper assessment of the cultural values of the Tasmanian wilderness World Heritage area within the expanded boundaries?

Ms McConnell : My understanding is that there is some federal money and a study is currently going ahead but it is within the existing boundaries. So, yes, we would certainly support further work to look at the broad range of values and the necessity to expand those values for Aboriginal heritage. We also understand it was a recommendation of the World Heritage Committee after the 2008 mission that the cultural landscape values as an Aboriginal cultural landscape also be evaluated.

Senator MILNE: How important are the caves in the upper Florentine in terms of cultural heritage notwithstanding the geoheritage?

Ms McConnell : There are three known cave sites in the Florentine Valley, only one of which is currently included in the 2013 boundaries. That is a highly significant cave for the Aboriginal community and it is unusual in terms of what we know at the moment. We would argue strongly that that should be retained in the World Heritage area. It is Nanwoon Cave and that is the one that would be left out of the World Heritage area if the proposed boundary changes are made. The other caves have an important contribution to make to the story of the Aboriginal history of Tasmania. I think that, in general, the expanded World Heritage boundaries also contribute to the integrity of the Aboriginal heritage values as they are regarded and of the outstanding universal values under criterion 3 and 5.

So it is about the ability to represent a culture which has now disappeared or has lost a lot of its elements and is unable to survive as it did traditionally, and be an outstanding example of a culture and its relationship to the environment. The new boundaries include some sites that add to that story. The Navarre Plains are one of those in particular. It has historical information that that was an important meeting site. It records hut sites in that area. The landscape is still largely as it was at the time of Aboriginal use just after European contact. The sandstone shelters in the Great Western Tiers also contribute. Although there were a few sandstone shelters, those shelters tell the story of how Aboriginal people used the central highlands and the central plateau because they are important in people's transition from the coastal areas up to the highlands. They are an integral part of that important story. Recherche Bay area also has outstanding significance and tells the last part of the Aboriginal story, that of European connection with Aboriginal cultures and the interactions. So it brings the story up to the present. If you take all of the existing world heritage areas that have rock art coastal sites and open sites and you add to that areas such as Recherche Bay, Riveaux, which will stay in there, the Upper Florentine and Navarre Plains, and keep the places in the Western Tiers, you have the ability to present the major part of the story of the Aboriginal history of Tasmania through the archaeological sites. The integrity is enhanced by including those extra areas.

Senator MILNE: Given what you have said, the proposed excision of 74,000 hectares has nothing to do with the world heritage value of the geo-history or world heritage value in terms of cultural heritage or the integrity of the boundaries. It appears to have everything to do with access to logging.

Ms McConnell : It certainly appears not to have to do with the integrity of or protection of outstanding universal values.

Dr Kiernan : It certainly has nothing to do with heritage considerations.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Could I ask you, Ms McConnell, the same question I asked Dr Kiernan, because in your submission you also talked about the potential fire risk from forestry activities. Is that something you take seriously?

Ms McConnell : In our 2008 submission we have documented our key concerns or the key sorts of risks. But generally there is a range of forestry activities that are not helpful to the outstanding universal values. There are considerations about immediate obvious impacts, like road areas, which destroy the connectivity of the potential cultural landscape values, if you like, by putting more new things in there. There is also a tendency—and I have worked in the forest industry for seven years, in the forest practices area—to focus on protecting discrete science rather than areas. In the case of, say, Nanwoon Cave, I would say that Nanwoon Cave is an entity and could be protected. But the logging, as Dr Kiernan has pointed out, may impact on the limestone and the karst nature and cause environmental impacts that reduce the ability to protect Nanwoon as it is. Again, it will destroy the connectivity and in the case of Recherche Bay it will destroy the cultural landscape values because it changes the nature of that area. Having said that, logging in itself with the trees regrowing is not such a significant impact. Then there are issues like fire management that need to be addressed.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Given all of the work you have done over the years with holding the integrity of our protected places together, how important are our protected areas to the community of Tasmania?

Ms McConnell: I believe that they protected areas are there for a reason. They are there to protect significant values. There is obviously an argument, as Senator Ruston has alluded to, about how significant the values are that you have to protect. I think in Tasmania that the debate has been fairly robust. I would believe that most of the areas that are now conservation areas, or protected areas, in the state are there because they do protect values and therefore need to be managed to continue to protect those values.

I think the debate has been heightened by the forestry conservation conflict, but I believe, through my 10 years experience with the TNPA and through my role in national parks in the Wilderness World Heritage Area Committee, that those areas are highly valued by the community. Yes, there are some issues about particular boundary things and the way in which it is managed. TNPA would be the first to say that national parks does not manage the protected areas perfectly, for a raft of reasons, including a lack of funding. But through its use of those areas and the support given for ongoing preservation the community demonstrates that they are highly valued.

Personally, one of the things I noticed after I came to Tasmania and went on the Macquarie Harbour/Gordon River cruise was how we had moved from a situation where there was huge community opposition to creating that area as a world heritage area. But within 20 years there was huge pride in that world heritage area. The people running the tourist operations were really talking up the values of the world heritage area and the fact that they met all, then, seven criteria for listing under the world heritage areas. It has obviously been extremely useful to the state for tourism. I think the federal government released a paper some time in the early 2000s that looked at the income derived from the world heritage areas, and it is quite a considerable income.

Senator MILNE: Dr Kiernan, would you please forward the information on Exit Cave. You mentioned that you had forgotten to bring it, and I would like it to be tabled. Would you be able to forward that to me?

Dr Kiernan: This afternoon. Also, there is a paper here that might be of use. It sets the management of geo-heritage into a wider context of natural heritage management. It might be useful to you.

CHAIR: Thank you for your contributions and attendance today.

Proceedings suspended from 12:46 to 13:40