I am writing to share my personal beliefs on the current debate surrounding Tasmania’s World Heritage Area, and to ask those who agree with my thoughts for their support.
If you are not yet aware, a proposal has been made to delist 74,000 hectares of World Heritage-Listed forests in Tasmania for logging.
Please be clear, I am not against logging or mining if done correctly and in a way that minimises damage to the environment. I am a long way from being an extremist but I do believe some particularly important areas should not be touched and believe strongly in sustainability being of utmost importance to the planet. Tasmania may not be your back yard, but wherever you are, this area and decisions made about it are of international significance.
I will state right off the bat that this debate is about so much more than the 74,000 hectares in question. It is about all the areas that are currently under World Heritage listing, not just in Tasmania or Australia, but indeed around the world.
The very application itself sets a terrible precedent for all of these areas, and should the excision proceed, a far worse outlook looms for the credibility of World Heritage status around the globe. World Heritage protection was designed to be permanent, so this application makes a complete and utter joke of the word “protection” if it can simply then just be lifted and made unprotected at the whim of whoever is in power.
We would be the first country in the western world to have such an area that is exceptional for its natural and cultural heritage made “unprotected”. What an appalling claim to fame, and how damaging for Tasmania and our renowned so-called clean green image.
One of the arguments presented over and over again is about jobs, jobs, jobs. Of course the issue of unemployment needs to be tackled in Tasmania. Surely it is obvious, however, that based on our very recent history, the claim that this decision will ease some of Tasmania’s employment woes is a short term and very expensive solution, that nowhere near maximises the employment opportunities these dollars could bring either.
This was well reported in 2008 by Dr Graeme Wells. Here is an extract of his report.
A new report by Dr Graeme Wells of Wells Economic Analysis, about subsidies received by the Tasmanian forest industry, shows that over the past eleven years (to 2008) the industry has received more than $630 million in direct and indirect subsidies. These subsidies cost Tasmania the equivalent of 856 nurses for eleven years, or more than 40% of a brand new Royal Hobart Hospital.
Dr Wells found that despite this taxpayer-funded financial support there has been little economic benefit to Tasmania. There have been steady job losses in the industry over the past eleven years, making a mockery of the assertion that government financial support of the industry is designed to protect jobs.
If this $630 million had instead been allocated to other areas in the state, rather than the logging industry, it could have dramatically improved the health system, or have provided increased employment in the tourism sector.
For $630 million, Tasmania could have had any one of the following:
• over fourteen years of funding for the Tasmanian Ambulance Service
• over thirteen years of funding for the Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife service
• more than forty years of current budget expenditure by the Tasmanian Government on tourism marketing
• 1364 Park Rangers for eleven years
• 386 top-level specialist doctors at current levels for eleven years
Government subsidies to the logging industry have failed to stop jobs being lost in the industry, and have failed to protect the environment – meaning that taxpayers have lost out.
Following the same path therefore, is clearly not the answer. How is it that we are not learning from our previous mistakes? We bang our head against the wall once. It hurts. Do we then walk up to the next wall we see and bang our heads again hoping this time will be different? What a ridiculous approach to take Mr. Abbott.
The estimated $780 million of tax-payers’ dollars wasted so far to prop up the dying forest industry would have gone a very long way to retraining workers for another more secure industry, as well as to helping establish eco-tourism in a number of areas currently earmarked by some as only having logging potential.
We are turning people away from Cradle Mountain and Freycinet during the tourism season, while on our doorstep the South-West and Tarkine are largely kept hidden from the world. They could be managed to accommodate tourism in an environmentally-friendly manner, bringing in much-needed dollars to our economy, and long-term jobs for Tasmanians.
The Cradle Coast authority reported in a media release all the way back in 2008, “Independent consultants’ reports commissioned by the Cradle Coast Authority indicate the Tarkine region has the potential to be Tasmania’s next nature-based tourism icon, supporting 1100 jobs and bringing over $58 million a year into the State’s tourism economy within the next decade.”
Yet here we are a long way down the track and this is still being largely ignored. I suspect similar studies done into the “profit” that can be made from the World Heritage Area in question remaining standing rather than being flattened by logging would be very similar.
In Tasmania we promote ourselves as a clean and green state. Tourism relies so very heavily on this image. Imagine the negative press that will hit newspapers and televisions all over the world, when those tall trees start falling.
As we have seen happen in our very recent history, this will be closely followed by potential purchasers not wanting to buy this wood. In order to protect their own company image, they simply cannot afford to have their names associated with this wood, knowing it has come from recently World Heritage listed forest.
If people think that tourists will be quite happy supporting a place that is logging old growth forests, and even worse forests that were World Heritage listed, they are wrong. In the quest to be ethically correct, informed people nowadays question what they eat, what their houses are built from, and even what their clothes are made of.
Tasmania will be subject to the same scrutiny. This could lead to hundreds of tourism operators and their employees suffering a decline in business, leading to job losses. So I fail to see Mr. Abbott why you insist on trying to prop up this parasitic industry yet again through lifting this protection, even though it has been proven over and over to be of so little benefit to our employment opportunities.
Furthermore, when talking about tourism jobs in Tasmania, let us not forget that in 2004, an animal ethics group from the UK some 800,000 people strong, boycotted travelling to Tasmania over our use of 1080 poison and old-growth logging. That is just one group from one place. Many more were outraged and our poor decisions were broadcast as nothing short of barbaric all over the world. Yet here we go again. Look at what is in the news. Old-growth logging and 1080 poison.
In January 2014 the Mercury newspaper reported “TICT figures show one in eight Tasmanians rely on tourism for employment, with 35,000 people employed either directly or indirectly.” It is our one reliable and potentially booming market that provides so many opportunities for growth and employment. Yet we see the funding for Tourism Tasmania cut and the logging industry propped up. It makes no sense to me whatsoever.
The application to delist the World Heritage forests is being made under the premise that this area is already “degraded” and therefore not worthy of such protection. Even more dumbfounding is the suggestion that “excising this area will strengthen the credibility of World Heritage listing.” It is beyond belief that this is actually a serious claim – that logging an area previously identified as having universally important cultural and environmental values could be removed from protection and be logged, as this would improve the credibility of World Heritage areas in the world… It is nothing short of laughable…
This is supported by the ICOMOS evaluation which stated “ICOMOS considers that this proposal for a reduction in the area of the property fails to make a case that excluding areas of significant cultural attributes will strengthen the credibility of the World Heritage List, as suggested by the State Party.”
It’s inconceivable that Mr. Abbott is not aware of these facts or that he hasn’t been advised of them, but it seems he is choosing to ignore the experts.
I urge you all not to take for granted that everything you are told is accurate. For example, it is not widely explained that only 10% of the 74,000 hectares has any form of “degradation”. Nonetheless, the application for World Heritage delisting applies not only to this 10%, but to a vast amount more as well! Importantly, what is also often not mentioned is that included in the area proposed for logging stands 30,000 hectares of old growth forest. The Wilderness Society reports that “forests containing the tallest hardwood trees on Earth occur along the eastern fringe of the Tasmanian Wilderness. Many of these trees are over 600 years old, up to 96 metres tall, and have diameters in excess of six metres. They tower over Gondwanan rainforest species. In the last 200 years forests of this type in other areas of Tasmania have been extensively cleared or subjected to industrial logging, leaving those contained in the Tasmanian Wilderness as important remnants of outstanding universal value.”
This area can hardly be regarded as degraded forest Mr. Abbott.
Then of course, it is terribly important to mention the vast array of native species that live in this area. Some of these are already endangered, often through this very type of destruction of their natural habitat. Is it not logical then to conclude that if we continue to systematically destroy their habitat, even the most common species will become endangered and those that are endangered now may well become extinct. Need I mention the importance of something as simple as tree hollows which provide irreplaceable housing for native species? It takes 140 years for the smallest hollows to form, a process unable to take shape when forests are regularly logged.
What would we be left with should this protection listing be lifted?
It would leave us with our proud new title as the first country in the western world to unlock a World Heritage region for logging. This in turn would leave Tasmania with a large stain on its image which would result in problems for tourism and therefore tourism jobs, both crucially important for Tasmania’s economy.
It would give a small number of jobs to forest employees but this will only be temporary until that area is cleared and they once again find themselves unemployed. Surely it’s obvious that this is just not sustainable – a little like trying to fix a broken leg with a band aid. I truly feel for all of these employees who are constantly left without job security, and think it is unacceptable that long term solutions to their employment issues haven’t been found.
Most importantly, it leaves us with a flattened, disgraceful wasteland where magnificent forests with incredibly important cultural significance once stood; forests that will not return to their original state for many hundreds of years, if ever.
Karl Mathiesen, A Tasmanian and environmental journalist for The Guardian in the UK, says it beautifully in his quote.
“We know the economic arguments don’t add up. But in the end, this is about so much more than money. This is about who we are as Tasmanians and what kind of a place we want to live. Even with expanded tourism, tracts of this forest will (rightly) remain inaccessible and unadulterated. Many of us may never visit them. But I know I will be forever grateful for its unobserved existence and proud to live in a state that values its natural heritage.”
Please get behind this cause. I know a number of you reading this care and would not have read this far if you didn’t.
You can help in a number of ways.
1. Write to Mr. Abbott and express your disgust at the very thought of this proposal. Don’t think letters and petitions go unnoticed – not correct! They all have to be recorded, and I guarantee if enough letters are received, the government has no option but to act.
2. Come along to the Wilderness Society Rally on the 14th of June at 12pm on Parliament Lawns. This is the day before the World Heritage Council meet to discuss the proposal. These rallies are peaceful and are a great opportunity to form a large group all putting their hands up for what is right. The larger the group, the less their opinion can be ignored by the decision makers. I will be talking at this rally alongside other speakers. Stand up and be counted. Please show you care by spreading the rally details to as many people as possible. FOR MORE DETAILS CLICK THIS LINK http://www.wilderness.org.au/events/rally-our-world-heritage
3. Go to this website, www.globalvoicesforworldheritage.org– fill out the details, and join me and many others in directly contacting the board that will make the final decision. If this board receives thousands of notes expressing peoples’ concerns, it makes a huge difference.
4. Spread the word about this issue to as many people as possible. Knowledge is power. The facts are well hidden and the more people that know, the more they care, the more they act. So make it easy for others to become motivated and educate them. Ask your friends and family to get along to this rally and to write a letter. Your power to create change gets much stronger the more people you involve.It is one thing to care but that care achieves ABSOLUTELY NOTHING if you simply sit back on the couch, shake your head in disgust, but DO nothing. Are you one of those people that care but can’t be bothered, or are you someone willing to put your hand up to produce change?
If everyone who cared stood up and had a say we would live in a much fairer, happier and sustainable world.
Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary and Tarkine Trails
Young Tasmanian of the Year 2012
Southern Cross Young Achiever Environment Award 2011
Pride of Australia Environment Award (Tas) 2011
Employer of Choice Award 2013