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Will forest lock ups affect the Tasmanian election?

By Max Rheese - posted Friday, 14 March 2014

As Tasmanians vote in the election on Saturday it seems one of the issues that is going to influence a change of vote for many electors is how forestry and environmental issues have been managed in recent years, if managed is the right word.

Further large extensions to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area were proposed by the Gillard government last year to add to the already highest proportion of World Heritage Area (WHA) in any jurisdiction globally. 

Is it just a coincidence that employment in the forest sector continues to decline in a state desperate for job creation while a further 172,000 hectares of forest is proposed to be permanently reserved?


The Tasmanian Labor Government did not propose the WHA listing, as that is the purview of the federal government, but they fully supported the nomination.

Some curious facets have emerged from the hasty nomination process by then environment minister Tony Burke ahead of the 2013 federal election faced by the beleaguered Gillard government:

  • The so-called ‘minor boundary’ extension of 172,000 hectares to the existing WHA exceeds the World Heritage Convention’s own guidelines for minor extensions by tens of thousands of hectares
  • Incredibly many areas in the ‘minor boundary’ extension have been recently logged, are regrowth from previous logging or consist of native and non-native plantations and therefore do not meet World Heritage Convention criteria for “outstanding universal value.”
  • By classifying the nomination as a ‘minor boundary’ extension the Gillard government avoided the lengthy independent scientific assessment of the many disturbed areas which would not have been completed before the 2013 election.  In short, as a ‘minor boundary’ extension the nomination would be rubber-stamped.
  • These same areas were rejected for inclusion in the WHA in 2008 after an investigation by the World Heritage Committee (WHC) that followed complaints by environment groups citing timber harvesting in these areas as compromising WHA values.

These issues and others have been put forward by the Abbott government and the Tasmanian Liberal opposition as providing the rationale for proposing a 74,000 excision of these disturbed areas from the Gillard government nomination to the World Heritage Convention.

It should be made clear the proposal is to excise only 74,000 of the 172,000 hectares in the original nomination.  A case in fact could be made, given that 20 per cent of Tasmania is already WHA, that any further nomination at all is unwarranted.

The federal government’s rationale to excise 74,000 hectares accords with both the World Heritage Convention guidelines and the principles of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a key participant in the formation and operation of the World Heritage Convention.


These IUCN principles state in part “Both consumptive and non-consumptive use of biological diversity are fundamental to the economies, cultures, and well-being of all nations and peoples” and “Use, if sustainable, can serve human needs on an ongoing basis while contributing to the conservation of biological diversity”.

Article 2 of the World Heritage Convention states in part “For the purposes of this Convention, the following shall be considered as "natural heritage": natural sitesor precisely delineated natural areas of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science, conservation or natural beauty”.

The Convention further defines this central criterion as:  “Outstanding Universal Value means cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity. As such, the permanent protection of this heritage is of the highest importance to the international community as a whole. The Committee defines the criteria for the inscription of properties on the World Heritage List.”

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About the Author

Max Rheese is the Executive Director of the Australian Environment Foundation.

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All articles by Max Rheese

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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