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Tarkine value in its ancient, natural state

The argument between economics and conservation is a false dichotomy, writes Christine Milne

TASMANIAN Minerals and Energy Council chairman Wayne Bould's Talking Point article (Mercury, December 18) about the Tarkine could not have been more timely.

It came the day after the Supreme Court found the Environment Protection Authority had not followed the law in allowing a mine to store more hazardous waste than its permit specified.

This was the mine that owners claimed would employ 120 people over three years.

Instead, it lasted eight months and shut up shop as soon as the iron ore price dipped.

Two months later another mine in the region, claiming it would employ 60 people over two years, once again closed due to the falling iron ore price.

These were marginal operations that governments rushed through on the promise of jobs.

What jobs?

What we now know is that there were very few, shortterm jobs and of those, most did not go to locals.

In contrast, the damage mines do to long-term, local job prospects based on the Tarkine's values is permanent.

Yet the trumpeting of a few short-term jobs prompted one of the worst decisions from a federal environment minister in decades.

The Australian Heritage Council undertook a thorough investigation of the cultural and natural values of the Tarkine and strongly recommended listing it as national heritage.

Instead, former environment minister Tony Burke chose the prospect of mining jobs over his duty to protect natural and cultural heritage.

In the case of the Tarkine, globally significant heritage of "outstanding" value.

This was a blatant political decision egged on by union boss Paul Howes and the Labor electioneering machine, that in the end was futile as Braddon fell to the Liberals at the following election.

What did get protected was a coastal strip of extraordinary Aboriginal heritage.

I have visited it myself and seen the rock carvings, evidence of hut villages and seal and fishing traps, not to mention the awesome shell middens.

And now our current Environment Minister is refusing to protect this small area by stopping the reopening of 4WD tracks that cut through this heritage.

These tracks were closed because of the extensive damage caused by vehicles.

Nothing the State Government is saying about re-routing is calming fears that the destruction will happen again.

It doesn't have to be one or the other with the Tarkine.

As heritage council chairwoman Carmen Lawrence said when the listing was recommended, the argument between economics and conservation is a false dichotomy.

We know that conservation of our precious places leads to economic rewards.

It is the basis for our Tasmanian brand.

Ask anyone in Australia, and increasingly around the world, and they will tell you that Tasmania is a wild, beautiful island with clean air, water, and forests.

This brand is what is helping to sell our premium food, wine, wool, tourism, and other services.

It is where our future lies.

It doesn't lie in fly-by-night mines that leave toxic legacies that last for much longer than their operation.

The Tarkine deserves to have a national heritage and World Heritage listing.

It is one of the few places in the world with strong links to the ancient supercontinent of Gondwanaland which has not been protected in some way.

We should be celebrating our unique plants, animals and landscapes and protecting them for future generations.

The Abbott Government has clearly shown it does not care about the environment.

The next federal government should be prepared to revisit the national heritage listing of this extraordinary place and start work on a proposal for World Heritage listing.

Senator Christine Milne is the Leader of the Australian Greens.

Published in The Mercury on 23 December 2014

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