Tarkine Picture: Nicole Anderson
Peter Whish-Wilson picutre by Chris Crerar
Although not found on maps, mention of the name evokes images of wilderness and primordial rainforest. It is hard to overstate how rare such places are in our global society – special enough for the Tasmanian Government to spend a considerable sum promoting the Tarkine brand.
Equally, many Tasmanians want, and deserve, the area to add to our collective economic prosperity. The present debate revolves around conflicting visions for achieving that prosperity.
On the one hand, some – such as Paul Howes, and the Liberal and Labor parties – argue this can only occur through industrial-scale forestry and open-slather mining.
On the other hand, rests the Greens’ vision for building economic activity through protecting much of the Tarkine and achieving a heritage listing. Protection doesn’t have to occur at the expense of the economy, the existing mining jobs, or even some new ones.
We, the Greens, support the continuing operation of Savage River and Rosebery mines – and this is reflected through their excision from the present National Heritage Listing application.
We also support conflict-free mining proposals such as at Luina – which would create about 200 jobs through the re-working of tailings that presently leach into the White River – which is also excised from the listing proposal. The Luina proposal is consistent with World Heritage obligations that provide for certain remediation activities of degraded areas.
We also support the continued expansion of Tarkine-based tourism, already growing rapidly, and linking it with other experiences including Cradle Mountain and Strahan.
Although not the only important sector in the economy, no-one can deny the value of the tourism industry to Tasmania, much of which is underpinned by an attraction to the spirit of our rare and wild places. These places only exist today because of significant, hard fought and won conservation outcomes – from Cradle Mountain, through to the campaign to protect the Franklin River and how it transformed Strahan into a tourism hub.
Someone needs to stand up for the environment, and be mindful that actions and policy should be of benefit to not only us, but also our grandchildren.
Today, the ongoing value of our special places to Tasmania’s economy – places in existence thanks to the actions of Christine Milne and many others – is all the evidence you need that a long-term approach is the key to sustainable prosperity.
We can get the balance right with a proposed heritage listing for the Tarkine, a view that independent polling has shown 72 per cent of the voters in Braddon support.
What the Greens do not support are highly divisive and environmentally questionable short-term projects, such as Venture Minerals’ three proposed mines in the Meredith Ranges. Venture’s mines would employ a similar number of people to the conflict-free Luina tailings proposal, yet would leave a significant negative environmental legacy and further fracture already divided local communities.
Apart from the obvious environmental impacts associated with open-cut mines in the Tarkine rainforest, proposals such as Venture’s are short-sighted and would destroy the area’s future economic potential. Herein lies the fatal flaw with a 1950s economic approach to the Tarkine.
Venture’s three proposals have a life-span of between two-to-ten years, potentially making their Western Australian directors wealthy men, along with the institutional shareholders.
And, while Venture’s proposals would employ people – directly and indirectly – in an area with high unemployment, low literacy and numeracy rates (along with many other socio-economic problems), let’s be honest about how many… and how long for
It was recently reported in the Advocate that a Tasmanian Treasury report estimated the North West of Tasmania loses, on average, 50 jobs per week.
Based on this, Venture’s mines would stem the flow of job losses for one month.
But then what?
What happens when the commodity price inevitably falls and a mine closes in, say, three years – or possibly less?
The region isn’t even back to square one: it will have another environmental legacy to deal with and the same socio-economic problems as it had before the ‘Tinman’ came to town offering to cure the region’s ills.
If the West and North West of Tasmania are to prosper – and we all want that – then a more forward-thinking, long-term approach is required.
True – mining and industry has its place; but without economic diversification and better education outcomes, the region will continue to suffer in the wake of the demise of old industries such as the Burnie pulp mill and Tioxide.
Someone better placed than most to comment on this issue with authority is Mr Scott Jordan from the Tarkine National Coalition (TNC). Scott has been working ceaselessly for years, liaising with community, environmental, tourism and industrial stakeholders in the Tarkine in an attempt to find some common ground, of which he states there’s a great deal.
A little-known fact about Scott is that he has also spent 15 years working with disadvantaged youth as part of his role as a community development worker in Burnie. It’s a position that has afforded him a first-hand view of than happens when old industries inevitably fail and how the region’s youth pay the highest price – in part because low literacy and numeracy skills leave them ill-prepared to adapt to the changing demands of a diversified economy.
As part of Scott’s desire to meet with all stakeholders, I brokered a meeting with Paul Howes from the Australian Workers’ Union, a man who represents the majority of miners on the West Coast. While Paul and Scott obviously hold divergent views on Venture Minerals, both support protection of the Tarkine.
The meeting was the first face-to-face meeting between the TNC and the AWU, and it allowed Scott to correct some misconceptions around the debate that have been spread by Howes. Misconceptions such as: the TNC wants to close existing mines; is opposed to all proposed mines; and that proposed new mines should only account for 0.8% of the area nominated for protection.
At the meeting, and again shortly afterwards, Scott was able to provide Paul with evidence to correct these misconceptions. For some reason, Mr Howes continues to promote these misconceptions. It’s yet to be seen if Mr Howes corrects the public record when he speaks in Burnie on the weekend – but I hope he will.
As was explained to Mr Howes, Venture’s initial three mines are to operate within an area of 388 square kilometres, which equates to 8.8% of the listing nomination. This fails to include the future mining proposals they are presently progressing. Venture is on record that they are working toward a total of seven mines in the vicinity of the Meredith Ranges. This figure also doesn’t include other mining and exploration companies, such as Shree Minerals at Nelson River ,or the approximately 50 other exploration licences.
The last thing Tasmania needs is more conflict. What good comes from whipping up fear and anger on the North West Coast through the use of inflammatory language and the promotion of information already proven to be incorrect?
And, all the while, Bryan Green continues to invite more exploration companies to the region while his federal Labor counterparts continue to drag their feet following the expiration of the emergency heritage listing. The federal ALP continues to make motherhood statements that it’s acting to protect the Tarkine, while its lack of action betrays its true intent.
This is why the Greens have stood up to give the Tarkine, and those who want to see it protected, a voice that is capable of drowning out the din of the drill rigs ringing in the ears of the Labor Party.
The Tarkine is too precious to lose, especially just to make a quick buck, and the Greens will continue to give a parliamentary voice who those who feel the same way.
ABOUT 3000 people have turned out in support of new Tarkine mining, delighting union organisers.
The big and enthusiastic crowd at this morning’s Our Tarkine, Our Future rally in Burnie thrilled Australian Workers Union secretary Paul Howes.
He compared the rally attendance to a reported attendance of about 10 at a recent Tarkine National Coalition event, saying it showed a vast majority of Tasmanians wanted ‘‘a sensible solution.’‘
‘‘For too long the Greens have been going to Canberra saying they would represent the majority of Tasmanians.’‘
Feeling at the rally was strongly behind the AWU’s argument that proposed new mines and environmental values could co-exist in the Tarkine.
The Gillard Government is under environmentalist pressure to national heritage list the Tarkine as approval decisions for mining projects loom.
Rosebery miner Mal Jago, who spoke at the rally said afterwards the environmentalist opposition to all new mines in the Tarkine would be the start of the end of all mining in Tasmania if it was successful, as existing mines could not last much longer.
He told the rally the Rosebery mine had not ‘‘raped and pillaged the environment.’‘
‘‘We’ve had a balance for 100 years.’‘
‘‘We’ve planted more trees,’’ he said, to loud applause.
“I wouldn’t live anywhere else.’‘
He urged the crowd to make votes count when elections came around.
AWU state secretary Ian Wakefield said the attendance was beyond his wildest dreams.
Braddon Labor MHR Sid Sidebottom said the activities deemed ‘‘old economy’’ by environmentalists had looked after the Tarkine so well for generations that it was now being pushed as ‘‘pristine and virginal and wilderness.’‘
Circular Head deputy mayor John Oldaker got one of the biggest cheers when he said if Tasmanian Greens leader Nick McKim ‘‘thinks he can lock up everything up’’ he should move a vote of no confidence in the state government and force an election.
He said the people were saying they wanted an election and majority government and most importantly for MPs to do what the public wanted.
Read more in Monday’s Advocate.