Wednesday, June 25, 2014

UN Rejects Tony Abbott's Bid To Strip Tasmanian Forest Protection

Unesco world heritage committee discards Abbott administration's request to open 74,000 hectares to logging

World heritage forest in Mt Field national park, Tasmania. The Australian government is trying to revoke the Unesco listing of 74,000 hectares of forest to allow logging

Unesco has unanimously rejected a “feeble” Australian government bid to reopen 74,000 hectares of Tasmania’s world heritage area to logging.

At its annual meeting in Doha, the Unesco World Heritage Committee said the Australian government had failed to provide compelling evidence that areas added to the site only last year were detracting from the overall value of the area.

No committee members defended the Australian cause as the proposal was discarded in less than ten minutes. Portugal’s delegate said accepting Australia’s request would undermine Unesco’s ability to protect natural and cultural icons.

"The justifications presented [for] the reduction are, to say the least, feeble. Accepting this delisting today would be setting an unacceptable precedent, impossible to deny in similar circumstances in the future. If this committee cares for conservation according to responsible engagement of state parties to the convention when they submit their nominations, we cannot accept this requested delisting,” she said.

It is the second time in a week Unesco has issued a withering rejection of Australian attempts to open world heritage sites to development. On Wednesday, the committee warned that the Great Barrier Reef could be placed on a list of threatened sites because of Queensland’s approval of plans to dump material dredged from coal ports inside the park.

Australia told Unesco that some of the 172,500 hectares added under the previous Labor government were forests degraded by logging or contained plantations and that “the assessment work that included such areas in the property did not sufficiently take this in to account”. The new boundary would annex 43% of the original extension.

A representative of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which advises Unesco, rebuffed this assertion, saying: “The current proposal is extremely sparse in the material that has been provided and it doesn't compare in quality to the clearly argued position in the proposal for additions that were made last year."

World heritage expert Alec Marr, who was part of a delegation of green groups in Doha, said: “The World Heritage Committee saw through the deception of the Australian government’s efforts here, and the high quality science and professionalism of the advisory bodies was exemplary.”

The areas in question were granted world heritage protection in 2013 after a protracted conflict between Tasmanian forestry and environmentalists ended in a ‘peace deal’ brokered by the Labor-Green state government. As part of this agreement, the Australian government asked Unesco to expand the world heritage area. The modification included tall eucalyptus forests in the Styx, Florentine and Weld valleys.

The Liberals pledged during their 2013 election campaign to ask Unesco to roll back the extension, which it said “was put in place against the will of the Tasmanian people”. This would reopen these forests to logging. Although major timber user Ta Ann has said it would refuse to take logs from former world heritage forests.
Russell Falls, a waterfall deep in Mt Field national park

Tasmanian Liberal senator Richard Colbeck has been involved in a running war of words with environmentalists about the relative level of degradation in the landscape. He has used his media page to post dozens of photographs of logging affected areas, which he says make a “mockery” of the rest of the world heritage area. Colbeck has argued that massive electoral swings to the federal and state Liberals in Tasmania have provided a clear mandate for the move to strip the world heritage status.

But former Greens leader Bob Brown said the attempt to annex the region was a ideological redrawing of old environmental battlelines. “The decision was driven by the Tasmanian Liberals who have run a vendetta against the Greens and environmentalists since they lost their battle to flood the Franklin in 1983,” said Brown.

Phill Pullinger from Environment Tasmania said the focus in Tasmania would now return to other forests to be protected under the peace deal. “This decision sends a clear message to the Tasmanian Government that the international community holds Tasmania’s forests in the highest regard, and it is a message that we hope the Tasmanian government listens to, by delivering on the remaining 400,000 hectares of agreed forest reserves.”

The International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos), which also advises Unesco, said the extension in 2013 “appeared to contain significant cultural attributes”. Unesco requested Australia to assess the Aboriginal heritage of the area. Icomos said today that the government’s justification for delisting the areas had not considered the risk to cultural sites and urged Australia to finish assessing the area.

Pakana man and Aboriginal community elder Rocky Sainty said: “We can return home in celebration and assure our elders that Tasmanian Aboriginal Heritage and culture is important to the world. As custodians, we have felt the weight of responsibility to protect the burial places of our ancestors, some of the oldest rock art in the world and our magnificent forests, from the Australian government’s irresponsible proposal.”


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