Back to All News

Government plan endangers Tasmanian Wilderness

Christine Milne 15 Jan 2015

Press conference transcript: Draft management plan for Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and Abbott's attack on Medicare - Hobart 15 January 2015.

Speakers: Senator Christine Milne and Tasmanian MP Nick McKim

CM: Right around Australia we are seeing the Abbott government make a huge assault on our natural environment and now we learn here in Tasmania that Tony Abbott and Will Hodgman intend to completely undermine the wilderness values of the Tasmanian World Heritage Area. It is actually the only World Heritage Area in the world which has Wilderness in its title. There are about 1000 properties on the World Heritage List. Tasmania's Wilderness world Heritage Area is the only one to which that value is so pronounced that it is in the title.

Keeping Wilderness in the title but then undermining it in the management of the area is killing the goose that laid the golden egg. The fact is, Tasmania's Wilderness is of outstanding universal value to humankind. To now want to destroy wilderness values in order to run in there with any tourist development that Tony Abbott and Will Hodgman thinks are appropriate will destroy Tasmania's reputation internationally. It will undermine the wilderness values.

We are living on an increasingly crowded planet. Tourism to Tasmania increases, our brand increases, because people get the sense that they can leave it all behind and go to a place which is wild and remote: that is the whole point. The white shoe brigade should not be allowed to destroy it.

The World Heritage operational guidelines and the convention itself say quite clearly the obligation of the manager of the property is to keep it in as good if not better condition than the property was at the time it was listed. What Tony Abbott and Will Hodgman intend to do is to actually undermine those values, they want to take out the words "to pass on to future generations in the same condition" because they know they are undermining the values.

This is vandalism. What we are seeing is vandalism of world heritage from one end of the country to the other. We've got Campbell Newman in Queensland, backed by Tony Abbott to the hilt, wanting the biggest coal port on the Great Barrier Reef, and it is already risking an in danger listing for the Great Barrier Reef. And now we've got here in Tasmania, again, another assault not only undermining wilderness values but actually considering selective logging in the World Heritage Area.

I will be doing everything in my power as leader of the Australian Greens to alert the World Heritage Committee to the assault on the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area that is being undertaken by Tony Abbott and Will Hodgman, and here in the Tasmanian Parliament Nick McKim will be making that point as well.

NM: Thank you Christine. Well, this draft plan is a disaster, not only for our World Heritage Area but for the wilderness that actually attracts hundreds of thousands of people to Tasmania every year and generates countless regional jobs and regional prosperity in Tasmania. What we have is a government that is prepared to auction off our World Heritage Area, our treasure, for an absolute pittance and trinkets. That is the issue here.

I have heard the weasel words from Matthew Groom and Will Hodgman on this issue. They say that these supposed developments will be sustainable, well I have got this to say back to them: they think that the Tasmanian logging regime that's currently underway is sustainable, they thought the Gunns Ltd proposal for a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley was sustainable. They do not know the meaning of the word sustainable and they cannot be trusted as the stewards of our wilderness or World Heritage Area.

CM: Just on another matter. The Prime Minister is not only intent on undermining the environment he is now trying to raise money from the sick and vulnerable around Australia by undermining universal healthcare and attacking Medicare. His latest effort to try to now pass on the dirty work to GPs around the country is completely unacceptable and the Greens will be moving to disallow the regulations that the government is trying to bring in to place.

The fact of the matter is we should be raising money from those who can afford to pay, not the sick and vulnerable. Just before Christmas Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey in the midyear economic forecast dropped, dropped, going after multinational corporations with their tax avoidance. Now that was estimated it would raise $600 million for a start, by just going after multinational tax avoidance. And what did they say? Well after consultation with stakeholders they decided not to proceed. Well, what a surprise. The big end of town, the one percent, have advised that they do not want the government going after tax avoidance so what does the government do? Say, fine, you keep your tax, and we will go after the sick.

Make no mistake, if the government tries to force GPs to do their dirty work costs will rise, there is no doubt about that. How are GPs going to recoup the costs associated with their practices? We are going to see less and less bulk billing and more additional costs. The Greens are going to stand with the community against the Abbott government's assault on the sick.

Here we are in the midst of the Queensland election. Every time Campbell Newman stands up, every time Tony Abbott joins him, everywhere they go in Queensland, be aware next time you go to the doctor you are going to suffer because of Tony Abbott. And the people who are not going to suffer are Tony Abbott's mates at the big end of town.

I want a direct answer from the Prime Minister. Why wouldn't you go after multinational tax avoidance? Why wouldn't you do that? Why are you insisting on going after the sick? The Greens are not going to stand for it.

The Prime Minister has said come up with some alternatives. Well there's one, $600 million for you, right up there, change your mind again and go after the tax avoiders. The other one is the big banks, the Greens have been saying for a long time we need a levy on the big banks. They are doing that in the United Kingdom, they are doing it in several countries around the world. The Parliamentary Budget Office says that will make $11 billion over the forward estimates. So yes Prime Minister, there are plenty of alternatives, yes the Greens are ready to work with you on raising the money from the people who can afford to pay. Answer the question, why are you going after the sick and why won't you go after the big banks and multinational tax avoidance? Quite straightforward really.

How confident are you that the Senate will block these measures?

CM: I'm very confident the Senate will block the regulations when they come through because the community can see it for what it is. It is just that Tony Abbott is so keen to protect the big end of town. He wants to protect the big banks by not putting on a levy. He wants to protect the multinational tax avoidance, he wants to protect the people who donate and elect the Liberal party. We saw just recently again funnelled donations through the New Enterprise foundation, I think it was this time, to the Liberal party that were undeclared. Let us get to the bottom of who is funding the Liberal party and who are they governing for, because they are not governing for ordinary people and they are certainly not governing for those who are sick and find themselves at the doctor.

How do you think the World Heritage plan has been handled by the State government? It is obvious these documents have been leaked by the State government, would we have known about the plans if they had not been?

CM: We have been waiting for the release of the management plans for some time. There's been all this secrecy going on behind-the-scenes. It is pretty clear that whenever you have a Liberal government in Canberra, or in Tasmania, when they talk about consultation with stakeholders they do not mean the community, they do not mean environment groups, they do not mean the bushwalking clubs. What they mean is their mates at the big end of town who are intent on picking the eyes out of the World Heritage Wilderness area in order to build their resorts. The fact that they are going through this convoluted process: number one, change the name of wilderness zones to natural areas, number two, allow tourism development in natural areas. Look it is pretty obvious that there would have been half a dozen people who would have sat around with the government and said these are the places we want to build our resorts and we are going to go for them. That is what it has been. Big end of town, mates of the Liberal party, donors to the Liberal party, getting the eyes of the Wilderness world Heritage area. That is why it is actually a great thing that there is oversight of Australia in this process because Tony Abbott is up to his neck in it as well. This is why having an international committee overseeing the convention and the guidelines means the questions will now be asked, and we will certainly be taking this matter up with UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee to make sure the guidelines are upheld.

From what we know of this plan do you think they are in breach of the World Heritage guidelines?

CM: There is no doubt they are in breach of the World Heritage guidelines and the convention. Article 4 of the convention says they must protect the area at the same, or enhance it, as it was at the time it was listed. The 1999 plan has very clearly that as its objective. The fact that they are also trying to change the people who make the decisions about developments away from Parks and Wildlife, away from the traditional structures, to tourism mates just tells you the way it is going to go. It is no doubt they are in breach of the guidelines as they currently stand and we will be drawing that to the attention of UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee.

Mr McKim would you support any form of development in our natural areas?

NM: A couple of things, firstly, of course we support things like bushwalking tracks and interpretation materials and there are some very good economic opportunities that are currently being taken advantage of by companies such as Tarkine Tails and others, bushwalking companies, who work in our world Heritage area. The issue here is the attack on the wilderness values and natural values that are inherent in this plan. As Christine said, it is clearly in breach of Australia's World Heritage obligations, and remember, Will Hodgman and Mathew Groom tried to shrink our World Heritage Area and having failed embarrassingly in that attempt they are now determined to destroy the very values it was listed for.

Are you confident given the fact that, the past, the history of that not getting up. Is this likely to be the same outcome, is there scope for international bodies to step in?

NM: There is certainly scope for this issue to be raised with the World Heritage Committee and as Christine said that is what the Greens will be doing. I would never pre-empt anything the world Heritage Committee might do but I think there is no doubt that this will cause at least very significant concern among the World Heritage Committee members, and through UNESCO, because there is no doubt that this plan is actually a blueprint for attacking the wilderness values and the natural values and ultimately the unique globally significant values that this area was listed for.

CM: The World Heritage Committee will already be alarmed about what Australia is doing. The fact that the Great Barrier Reef is at risk of being listed as in danger because the mission from UNESCO showed quite clearly the damage to the Reef. We've got a situation in Queensland right now where they are still going to allow dumping of dredged spoil as maintenance of the ports, at the very least, into the reef, that is a real concern. Just before Christmas the World Heritage Committee pointed out it had real concerns with approving a second Sydney airport because of the implications for the World Heritage Area in the Blue Mountains. And now have got, following last year, where Tony Abbott was dismissed out of hand in the World Heritage Committee - seven minutes it took for them to go, no, how can logging, how can destroying these tall forests be in any way consistent with World Heritage? They will be seeing Australia come back, this time, if you cannot dig it up, if you cannot cut it down, let us destroy it by undermining the values. What you think the rest of the world is going to think about us?

What are the areas in particular that you are concerned about, have you got that detail as yet?

NM: No, and the problem that we have here is that this is a secretive process. We've got an expressions of interest process that according to the government has resulted in dozens of possible expressions of interest for possible developments and yet the government will not release the list. Again, this is typical of the Liberals. They know that when this information is made public Tasmanians will be outraged by it, so they are keeping it secret for as long as possible in order to fulfil their own political agendas and hide the fact that they are mounting an unprecedented attack on the natural and wilderness values of our world Heritage area.

Is there a possibility that this is also an opportunity for logging to occur in a roundabout way?

CM: They are certainly saying they would be open to selective logging in the World Heritage area and the answer to that is no. Absolutely not. These are magnificent forests. These are forests that the whole world has now said they want to see protected. It is outrageous that the government would even be suggesting, having failed last year to remove the area to have them logged, to now try to change the management plan to enable the logging to proceed. Logging in the World Heritage Area is unacceptable, full stop.


Back to All News