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Senator Whish-Wilson's Assessment of the Tarkine National Coalition's Meeting with Paul Howes of the Australian Workers' Union

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Peter Whish-Wilson 26 Oct 2012

As you may be aware, I recently organised a meeting between Scott Jordan from the Tarkine National Coalition (TNC), and Paul Howes, National Secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU).

Scott, along with other members of the TNC, has been working tirelessly for years to implement a plan to protect this fragile area on Tasmania’s west coast.

The TNC has also tried – unsuccessfully – to meet with many supporters of the proposed new mines for the Tarkine region, in order to discuss their differences.

Acting in my capacity as a Greens Senator for Tasmania, I was happy to facilitate a meeting between the TNC and Mr Howes, who champions a future of mining in the proposed Tarkine world heritage area.

The TNC has consistently been of the view that a negotiated outcome represents the best way for achieving protection of the Tarkine, and I thank Mr Howes for meeting with us to hear the TNC’s views on this.

A view I also share.

Unfortunately, the AWU – although making repeated public statements that parts of the Tarkine need to be protected – was not prepared to agree to explore even the possibility of further negotiation, unless the TNC and Australian Greens ceased their present campaigns against Venture Minerals’ three proposed open-cut mines in the rainforest and button-grass plains near Tullah.

The AWU also seemed unwilling to nominate which particular parts of the region they believe should be protected.

Given that Venture’s proposals represent the most significant and immediate threat to the Tarkine’s wilderness values, the TNC was unable to entertain such a request from the AWU. Despite this fundamental difference, there was a surprising degree of common ground between the parties, which included:

• Supporting the continued operation of the Savage River and Rosebery mines. • Recognition of the Tarkine’s wilderness values and the need to protect it.

• The value of existing mining operations to the Tasmanian economy.

• An understanding that neither the TNC nor the Greens were advocating the closure of existing mines, and were not ‘anti-mining’.

• The belief that certain mining proposals – such as the recovery of tailings from Luina – were conflict-free developments and could provide beneficial environmental and economic outcomes for the region.

The Tarkine is a special place and simply too precious to lose – especially if the sole reason put forward for strip mining is the equivalent of an economic ‘sugar hit’ for the west coast.

Pursuing such a short-sighted agenda threatens to not only destroy the region’s wilderness values but also severely limit the region’s future economic prosperity, which is largely dependent on Tasmania’s clean and green image.

For these reasons, the Greens will continue to support community groups, such as the TNC, and provide a political voice for our wild places.

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