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Christine Milne: We must stand against Abbott's World Heritage attacks

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Christine Milne 18 Jun 2014

The Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne, discusses the failures of the Abbott government to protect our precious World Heritage areas.


Senator MILNE (Tasmania-Leader of the Australian Greens) (16:16): I rise today to support the notion that the Abbott government is failing to protect Australia's World Heritage areas, and there is ample evidence of that when you look at the World Heritage areas around the country and the fact that, as we stand here today, in Doha the World Heritage Committee is meeting and on its agenda are two matters concerning World Heritage sites in Australia.

The first matter is with regard to the Great Barrier Reef. Australia's failure to stop the expansion of coalmines and coal ports and the dredging of coal ports and the dumping of that spoil into the waters off the Queensland coast is actually jeopardising that World Heritage area-jeopardising the outstanding universal value inherent in our Great Barrier Reef. It is an area recognised around the world. It is one of the major features of Australia of which we as a nation are proud and with which we connect. It is also one of the iconic sites that define Australia in a global context. Yet we have a government prepared to risk the Great Barrier Reef being listed as 'World Heritage in danger'. Let me tell you, Mr Deputy President: if an 'in danger' listing was put on the Great Barrier Reef, it would smash the tourism industry straightaway. It would bring global attention to the fact that the state party with responsibility for looking after that World Heritage area was derelict in its duty and that the world has had to act. What sort of shame would that be for Australia?

The World Heritage Committee has already sent a group of people here on a mission to look at the Great Barrier Reef. Australia has been warned more than once to stop this port development up and down the Queensland coast. Then, yesterday, we had Minister Hunt defer a decision until after the meeting in Doha, hoping that nobody would find out that he was not going to make his decision until after the meeting, in a way that would probably push the issue right over the edge. But I am going to allow my colleague Senator Waters to discuss the Great Barrier Reef more fully.

The Australian Greens have been big supporters of the World Heritage Convention for a long time. It recognises areas around the world for their outstanding universal value as natural areas or as cultural areas or both, and the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area has been listed as a site which has both natural and cultural values. It is outstanding.

Of the list of World Heritage properties globally, natural sites are a small percentage. There are many, many cathedrals; there are many, many cultural sites from around the world. But natural areas are very special. People recognise that because the areas are of outstanding universal value they need to be protected forever more, and that is the responsibility of a state party. I can tell you, having been to many of those meetings, that country state parties do everything in their power to get one of their sites listed, because, once a site is listed, it gives such prestige to that country, in all kinds of ways but particularly with regard to their global reputation and their tourism industry. Yet here we have Australia trying to undermine the outstanding universal values of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area by trying to excise 74,000 hectares of an area that was included last year.

The history of the eastern boundary of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area is a very long and difficult one. The values of the area were listed right back in the late eighties, and the only reason those areas-those magnificent forests-were not included in the World Heritage area back then was a political one. David Llewellyn and Michael Field blocked those areas going into World Heritage, drawing what can only be described as a dog's-teeth boundary up the eastern boundary to exclude all of the forests, so that they could be kept out for logging. Finally, after years of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the World Heritage Committee and UNESCO asking for those forest to be included, they were, last year. There was universal celebration in Tasmania when the World Heritage area was expanded.

Now we are seeing the Abbott government trying to tear down the integrity of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, and I am hoping that the World Heritage Committee will throw it out-absolutely just reject it-as an appalling precedent that a developed, rich country like Australia should attempt to destroy outstanding universal values in order to log a site. The only reason that you would reduce a boundary of a World Heritage area would have to be in terms of what it does to your outstanding universal values. As Peter Hitchcock, an expert in this field, has said quite clearly, taking out this area would destroy outstanding universal values.

Those outstanding universal values are there for all to be able to see. You have got tall eucalypt forests which are famous for their ecological diversity, their outstanding natural beauty, their connectivity and the ecological processes over time that they represent. There are rainforests recognised for their ecological diversity, threatened species and communities of plant and animal. There are habitats of threatened animal species. You have got magnificent cast and cave systems, the geodiversity that that provides and the hydrological integrity that is given to particularly the Florentine Valley by this particular listing. You have got scenic landscapes, areas of outstanding natural beauty, wild river conditions, geological sites, fossil sites, geomorphological sites, glacial features, moraines, gouged valleys, lateral gouging in evidence and, finally, Aboriginal cultural heritage sites.

So it is absolutely essential that we keep this area intact and that the Abbott government's proposal is seen for what it is. There is every reason to keep this area intact, and for the coalition to be suggesting that the area is degraded has been proved to be wrong. No evidence has been brought forward to substantiate the claims that were made by the minister, and even the department has come out and said they were told to do this, they did not consult outside the department, and they say that the government's claims in terms of degraded areas are wrong. In fact, the World Heritage Committee itself and its expert body, IUCN, have come out and said that when they made the listing last year they knew full well there were some degraded areas there but they included them for connectivity and for integrity in the boundaries, and Australia was given the job of rehabilitating those areas. That is what we should be doing.

Instead of that, in order to try and engage in a crass debate to free up forests for logging which will destroy cast systems particularly in the Florentine, we are seeing the government going ahead and humiliating Australia in a global forum. What is more, the precedent if this were allowed is to give a wink wink, nudge nudge to other countries around the world to excise areas for mines, excise them for resort development, for logging, for whatever you like, and have it both ways-have World Heritage and smash other parts of it. It would be like the Egyptians saying, 'Oh well, so long as we keep one of the pyramids we can smash the rest to fix up the roads.' That is how ridiculous this proposition is and how it will be seen as vandalism.

I am very pleased to say that in my conversations with other governments who are on the World Heritage Committee they are instructing their delegations in Doha to reject the Australian position out of hand. I am hoping that the World Heritage Committee rejects the Abbott government's proposal. All it will do is further humiliate and isolate Australia. Far from being a conservationist, as the Prime Minister claims to be, he is an environmental vandal who is on the record saying that there are too many forests 'locked up', that there are too many national parks. That is not where somebody facing climate change and habitat loss and species extinction would be going. We need to protect our World Heritage areas and the Australian Greens will be doing everything we can supporting those in Doha, actually arguing for and working with responsible countries who like global treaties, who want to see areas around the world of outstanding universal value protected. This will be a very black mark against the Abbott government in international environmental circles.


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