Image of Premier Giddings: J

Tarkine Falls picture by Nicole Anderson

Politicians love issues.

Ordinary people like me want a quiet life, where we are appreciated and respected, and where everyone is a part of a community. Where there is a natural progress, and good work is recognised.

That doesn’t suit politicians though, for without issues to stand on, they can’t carve out an electoral niche and get elected.  If no issue exists, then they like to create one.

At the time of the Beaconsfield mine disaster in 2006, Steve Kons was the Minister responsible for mine safety. I was the Adviser responsible for Workplace Standards, and thus for mine safety. In that role I was sent down to Beaconsfield to look at the situation and report back. With a mining background myself, I had already prevented Steve from making an erroneous public statement about the collapse being caused by a natural “seismic event”. It was not natural. Mining is often associated with seismicity.

I only stayed for the day. It appeared to me that the Secretary of the AWU Bill Shorten was already making the most of the disaster to build a national profile, and I reported back to Steve that he was best advised to stay out of it, or risk being seen the same way. Steve noted that Shorten was the endorsed Labor candidate for the federal seat of Maribyrnong and agreed with my advice. I remember he said at the time: “Greenie is the Mines Minister – let him handle it”, or words to that effect. Now that I live in Beaconsfield, I know that many local people saw Bill Shorten the same way as Steve and I did.

That was the same year that the TCC scandal caught up with Bryan Green, and saw him prosecuted twice, and eventually brought down Paul Lennon. Green survived though, and while he can no longer look forward to becoming Premier, he is back in his old role as Deputy – where is he serving Lara Giddings in like manner as his service to Lennon. And I expect that the outcome will be the same.

The issue today is mining in the Tarkine, and to a considerable extent it is an issue that has been manufactured by Bryan Green, and which has now provided Paul Howes with a bandwagon to jump on to, and he is pedalling it along vigorously. Howes says that it is an issue that must be decided by Tasmanians, but he isn’t Tasmanian of course, and he comes down from Sydney and stridently tells Tasmanians what they should decide. He is the National Secretary of the AWU – Bill Shorten’s old job.

Over the past few years there has always been the opportunity for discussion about the future of the Tarkine. Some of the mining companies wanted discussion. The Tarkine National Coalition certainly did. But all the time Bryan Green was encouraging miners to take up leases in the area, and discouraging discussion.  Somehow he persuaded Lara Giddings to take the same obdurate approach. No discussion – just total, uncritical support for all mining companies.

This alarmed everyone with an interest in native forest wellbeing. At the same time as negotiations were going on in respect of preserving native forests from logging, Bryan Green was signing off on mining exploration leases over those same forests. And the leases were multiplying rapidly to cover vast areas.

It guaranteed that a divisive and passionate issue would be created, and Green must have convinced the Premier that they could then ride the issue into winning the next election, by expressing total support for the industry. But this was never going to work, and perhaps after the rally in Burnie on Sunday, Lara Giddings has realised it. In any polarisation and inflammation of the Tarkine mining issue, Labor will lose. Voters who support the mining industry will not trust Labor, they will simply vote Liberal. Those who support natural forests will vote Green.

In reality it was always in Labor’s interest to settle the issue amicably. To be seen as the government that could deliver progress, results, and a quiet and prosperous life. And this was possible. The Tarkine National Coalition had made it clear that it wanted a negotiated outcome rather than a fight. But with Bryan Green in the Mines portfolio, this turned out not to be possible.

And all the time the NW public will be led into supporting those who benefit by conflict. For example, Paul Howes builds his profile through what is becoming a national issue. Is he intending to follow his old boss Shorten into politics? The Advocate sells newspapers with splashy headlines. Steve Kons cements his place as Burnie Mayor – posturing as someone who supports progress and industry for the NW, when his record shows otherwise. Remember that this was the guy who opposed a major hotel development for Burnie just because he thought it would interfere with the view from his mansion.

And as someone who has a background in mining companies, I am sure that Lara Giddings and the public will also be tricked into supporting companies that are not really interested in mining in Tasmania. It is an old scam in the mining industry, to raise money from the public on a project that can never proceed. I’ve seen it many times, and there was once an Examiner editorial demanding that the government take action about it. When the fake project falls over, you just have to find someone to blame in order to cover your tracks. The environmental movement is an easy target. “It was the greenies – they stopped our great project and caused your financial loss.” That scam has been going on in Tasmania for 150 years. But it still works if you let it.

All about Nigel Burch: During the period 2005-2008 I was an adviser to Deputy Premier Steve Kons and also his electorate officer.  Immediately prior to that I had been a director of the Tasmanian Farmers & Graziers.  In the 1990s I was Managing Director of a listed gold mining company and later assisted the Bosnian government with problems in their state steel industry at the end of the war.  I was honoured by the Australian Shareholders Assocation in1991 with a medal for services to small shareholders and assisted ABC 4-Corners with an award-winning documentary “Other People’s Money”.  Recently I was a national director of the RSPCA.

• Groundswell Highlights Tarkine Values
12 of Tasmania’s regional mayors have gathered in Devonport today to call on the Government to reject the approval of a Tarkine National Park. Grassroots environmental group Groundswell remain staunch on their position that there should be no new mines constructed in the proposed Tarkine World Heritage Area. 

“Venture Minerals’ 3 current mining proposals in the Tarkine are offering jobs for only 2-10 years” said Groundswell spokesperson Dr Lisa Searle.

“Tasmania’s leaders really need to consider that the continued degradation of natural areas such as the Tarkine will have detrimental effects on our economy and our communities for generations yet to come.

The Tarkine is one of the world’s largest remaining cool temperate rainforests and the last stronghold for healthy Tasmanian devils. If we destroy this incredible place now, it is gone forever and there will be no more mining, no tourism potential and no jobs for our grandchildren. These mayors need to consider sustainability within their community when taking a stand like this.” She said. 

Groundswell are committed to permanent protection of the Tarkine in the form of emergency National Heritage Listing, and are urging Tony Bourke to stop stalling and approve this Heritage Listing before it’s too late.

• Scott Jordan, Campaign Coordinator, Tarkine National Coalition: Five Tony Burke myths about the Tarkine, and the facts he doesn’t want the public to know.

With Minister Tony Burke addressing the National Press Club tomorrow, Tarkine National Coalition wanted to provide the facts on a number of Tony Burke myths regarding the Tarkine.

1. “I am waiting on the assessment from the Australian Heritage Council before making a decision on National Heritage Listing”

The Australian Heritage Council has already completed a report in September 2010
Confirming the National Heritage Values of the Tarkine, and recommending a 433,000 hectare National heritage Listing. This echoes an earlier 2003 recommendation.

2. “The 2010 Australia Heritage Council recommendation was report was relating to an emergency listing, now they have to complete a report on the permanent listing”

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act regulates National Heritage matters. This act has no provision for reports or recommendations regarding creating emergency listings (which are a Ministerial discretion),  but in fact require an emergency listed area to be assessed and reported on the suitability for a permanent listing. This is the only report the Australian Heritage Council can make. The September 2010 report (recommending a 433,000 hectare listing) is the report on whether the area should be National Heritage listed.

3. “The Tarkine already has mines and a blanket heritage listing is inappropriate”

The nomination for the Tarkine was never for a blanket listing. It excludes existing mines, towns, degraded areas, and previous logging sites.

4. “The current assessments of new mine developments in the Tarkine will adequately assess the environmental impacts of these proposals”

Since Minister Burke allowed the emergency national Heritage Listing to lapse in December 2010 (two months after the Australian Heritage Council recommended a permanent listing), the Commonwealth is prevented by law from assessing matters related to National Heritage values. The current assessments are restricted to impacts on threatened species and threatened vegetation communities. Also, by allowing the listing to lapse, exploration activity such as clearing sites for drilling, costeaning and roading can proceed without assessment by the Commonwealth as exploration activity is exempt from the EPBC Act unless it occurs in a National Heritage Listed area. 

5. “I won’t be rushed into a decision”

The original AHC recommendation was made in 2003 to shift the Tarkine National Estate to the new replacement National Heritage List. The formal nomination of the Tarkine for National Heritage listing was made in 2004. The Senate unanimously backed a motion calling on the Tarkine to be placed on the priority assessment list in 2007. The assessment of the Tarkine was due for completion in September 2009, but Minister Garrett granted a further 12 month extension to September 2010. As a consequence of this extension an Emergency National Heritage Listing was announced in December 2009 to allow interim protection while the AHC to competed it’s assessment. This also allowed the now withdrawn Tarkine Road Project to be assessed against impacts on National Heritage Values. In September 2010 the AHC recommended a 433,000 hectare National Heritage Listing (Minister Burke refused to release this report which was later leaked). December 2010 Minister Burke allowed the Emergency National Heritage Listing to lapse and requested the AHC commence a new assessment of the Tarkine. The Tarkine is the longest running assessment in the history of the National Heritage List.

Eight years after the nomination and nine years after the original AHC recommendation, the Minister has the gall to refer to rushing an assessment.

Paul O’Halloran MP
Greens Member for Braddon
Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Tasmanian Greens today urged all political and community leaders to unite to promote investment in conflict-free industries that rely on the Tarkine’s natural values, promote diversification of the economy and have the support of the whole community.

Greens Member for Braddon Paul O’Halloran MP said the “big is best” approach to development in the Tarkine was not the answer to create a robust economy capable of withstanding the highs and troughs of global market swings.

“It’s disappointing to see some political and community leaders naively try to turn back the clock to a time when the Tarkine was regarded as just a big quarry and logging coupe,” Mr O’Halloran.

“Respected economic commentators including Saul Eslake have made it clear that Tasmania’s future economic success lies in the production of highly differentiated goods and services for which customers will pay premium prices.”

“It’s the many small, clever job creating enterprises that will set Tasmania up to withstand the inevitable highs and lows of global markets, not an environmental catastrophe in the Tarkine.”

“It is a sad and lazy approach which just seeks to exploit natural resources with much of the benefit being sucked out of the state and into the pockets of large off-shore businesses, leaving local communities struggling to clean up the mess.”

“Rather than take the effort to build diversified economies to address legitimate concerns over long term viability for regional communities, some people are taking the lazy option of dividing the community.”

“What we need is fresh thinking and an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to secure long term jobs and wealth into the future.”