DEA - Doctors for the environment

Fight for the Tarkine

Despite the Australian Heritage Council’s (AHC) recommendations, Tony Burke last week ruled out heritage listing for Tasmania’s Tarkine region – the only untouched temperate rainforest left standing in the southern hemisphere.  The AHC, chaired by former Australian Labor Party President Carmen Lawrence, had spent seven years seeking independent advice and had recommended an area of 447,000 hectares of North-Western Tasmanian rainforest, moors and coast be added to the National Heritage List.  Instead of heeding the expert opinion of those whose job it is to make such assessments, Minister Burke listed just 21,000, or just 4%, of the recommended area, taking in only the coastal perimeter of the region.

Tasmanian DEA members are concerned to hear of this given concerns about threats to biodiversity, loss of untouched rainforest and now the increasing likelihood that we will see our state tarnished with the sorts of open-cut mines normally associated with the Australian desert.

Minister Burke’s decision is expected to further threaten some Tasmanian native species including our very own icon the Tasmanian Devil.  The Tarkine is believed to hold one of the last populations that are free of the devastating facial tumour disease.

There are strong and well-documented links between human health and the need for global biodiversity.  Furthermore, DEA is concerned the future mine’s acid drainage may have significant impact on waterways and aquatic life, further contributing to degrading this area from a great wilderness and tourist attraction to an industrial wasteland. We only need to look at nearby Queenstown to see the devastation mining can cause to our natural environment.

Some of the quotes appearing in the press have been telling, in particular the following from Minister Burke:

“From purely environmental terms, it would have been something that would have been a wonderful thing to be able to do but you have to take into account the impact on people and taking that impact into account I simply couldn’t go with the Heritage Council’s recommendations.”

This seems to demonstrate Minister Burke’s eagerness to take a short term view of our natural environment and could easily be rephrased to include the need to take into account the possible small loss of votes the ALP might have experienced in North-West Tasmania had the Heritage Listing been approved in an election year.

Rather than ongoing short-termism and the view that Tasmania’s natural beauties are a single use product, there are huge opportunities for an environmentally and economically sustainable future for the region through eco-tourism and selective primary industries such as the proposals to re-work old mine sites.  The Cradle Coast Authority, a body formed and supported by various local governments, in 2008 reported that a sustained income of almost $60 million per year with 1100 ongoing jobs could be generated through the establishment of a Tarkine National Park.  This is more jobs than Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings believes will be generated by an expanded mining industry in the region.

Unfortunately, it now looks as though North-West Tasmania will play host to Pilbara-style open-cut mines which will damage the local environment, contribute to local and global health problems, and ultimately only bring a small short term jobs benefit to the region. Whereas jobs in eco-tourism are healthy and long term and contribute to the fabric of local communities, mining jobs tend to be short term and unhealthy in that workers are exposed to diesel fuel exhaust which is now noted to be a carcinogen similar to passive smoking. Mining jobs throughout Australia are often fly-in fly-out with the majority of the workforce coming from outside the region and adversely impact local communities with their associated social problems.

DEA members might well agree with Christine Milne’s summation:

“This is further proof that Labor is in the back pockets of the big miners…they have not only sold out the Great Barrier Reef to the mining industry, James Price Point to the gas industry, some of Australia’s best farmland to the coal seam gas industry, but now they have also given over the Tarkine to the mining industry.”

Further reading and a digest of other comment on the issue can be found from this great summary article from the Tarkine National Coalition’s Scott Jordan on the Tasmanian Times website.

DEA members in Tasmania hope to pursue the issue further in coming weeks and ask for your support where possible.  There is already a significant groundswell of revulsion to this decision and we believe there is still opportunity to see the area protected.  We are aware that while national organisations like GetUp! are already active on the issue, many local environmental groups are gearing up for direct action.  Clearly this issue has some way to run yet and we will aim to keep members informed of developments. Input from members on the mainland is also valuable and we welcome your contribution wherever you live, as we are aware that the Tarkine is a place special to many who travel there for a much-needed holiday when life in the city overwhelms us.

If you are interested in becoming more involved in DEA’s campaign on the Tarkine or in our forests/biodiversity work please contact Dr Dimity Williams at dimitywilliams@bigpond.com or Dr Rohan Church at rohanchurch@gmail.com

Go Back | Posted in: Opinion & Commentary | 17 February 2013 - Dr Rohan Church & Dr Dimity Williams
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