Category Archives: World Heritage

Vale Peter Hitchcock AM

PeterHitchcock_John Benson_croppedInternationally recognised conservationist, Peter Hitchcock AM, died on 20 May 2019.

In 1988, Peter Hitchcock was appointed Executive Director of the interim body that later became the Wet Tropics Management Authority (WTMA). Peter had a close association with ARCS through President Aila Keto who was a member of the interim body and later the WTMA Board.

World Heritage listing of the Wet Tropics of Queensland followed years of campaigning and negotiation and was strongly opposed by the Queensland Government led by Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Peter recorded being told by the then State Environment Minister that he had no chance of success and that no-one in North Queensland wanted the World Heritage Area. “It was like walking into an ants’ nest that had been stirred up.” But Peter started talking to local landholders and found the mood to be quite different.

Peter began his career as a forester in the NSW government in the 1960s. When he became more interested in conserving forests rather than logging them, he moved to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service where he rose to the position of Deputy Director (Policy and Wildlife). Over his years in the NPWS, Peter was responsible for the establishment of numerous national parks many of which are now part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. Peter worked closely with the Wran Government and would have had a significant influence on the 1982 decision by Neville Wran to protect rainforests in northeast NSW.

In 1987, Peter was seconded by the federal government led by Bob Hawke to serve on the Commonwealth Commission of Inquiry into the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests of Tasmania to inquire into the possible World Heritage values of the areas and how they could be protected. Peter produced a dissenting report recommending protection of the forests and World Heritage nomination. Most of Peter’s recommendations were accepted by the Commonwealth and in 1989 the areas were added to the Western Tasmanian Wilderness National Parks World Heritage Area created in 1982 to become the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA).

Peter was also instrumental in achieving additions to TWWHA in 2013.

In 2014, the Australian Government led by Tony Abbott put a proposal to the World Heritage Committee to de-list 74,000 hectares of the TWWHA in order to allow logging. The Committee took less than 10 minutes in making a decision to reject the proposal. ARCS was officially represented at the meeting by a delegation headed by Alec Marr, Director of ARCS International World Heritage Programme, and including Peter Hitchcock.

When Peter left WTMA, he established a consultancy practice in Cairns with a focus on natural heritage.

Peter’s contribution to World Heritage was recognised in a tribute by IUCN: “With decades of contributions, both internationally and in his native country of Australia, Peter Hitchcock served over many years as a senior advisor on World Heritage for IUCN. During this time, he undertook numerous missions throughout the globe to monitor the state of conservation of World Heritage sites and evaluate sites nominated for the World Heritage List. He continued to contribute to the reviews of potential new sites up to this very year.”

Peter received a range of awards including Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1990, the IBM Award for Environmental Excellence in 1993 and the IUCN Packard International Parks Merit Award in 1996.

Peter will be sorely missed around the world.


Australian delegation at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha, Qatar, June 2015.
Left to right: Peter Hitchcock, Lincoln Siliakus, Alec Marr, Jenny Weber.

Keith Scott

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Vale John Sinclair AO

John SinclairLeading conservationist, John Sinclair AO, died on 3 February 2019.

John Sinclair was born in Maryborough in 1939 and educated at Maryborough Boys State High School. He left school at age 15 but obtained a Diploma of Agriculture at Queensland Agricultural College (now University of Queensland Gatton Campus) in 1959. His first job was with the Department of Education and in 1967 he took a job in the Adult Education office in Maryborough.

John was introduced to Fraser Island when his parents, who had honeymooned on the island, took him on visits to the island in his youth. He fell in love with the island and in the late 1960s he was organising safaris to the island for members of the Maryborough and Bundaberg branches of Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland (WPSQ). John was Honorary Secretary of the Maryborough Branch from its formation in 1967 until 1978. During the 1980s, he served as President and Senior Vice-President of WPSQ.

In 1969, John became aware of the campaign to save Cooloola, the mainland sandmass immediately to the south of Fraser Island, from sandmining. That campaign was led by Dr Arthur Harrold and Bill and Mavis Huxley who headed The Cooloola Committee though it was really instigated by wildflower artist Kathleen McArthur who, with her friend poet Judith Wright, had conceived the idea of a Cooloola National Park back in 1953. Judith and Kathleen had, with David Fleay and Brian Clouston, formed the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland in 1962.

As part of the Cooloola campaign, Kathleen devised the first significant conservation campaign postcard distribution with 100,000 postcards being widely distributed.

Cooloola postcard

At this time, Queensland was governed by the National Party led by Joh Blelke-Petersen. In December 1969, Bjelke-Petersen announced that areas of Cooloola would be declared national park but before that happened applications were made for sandmining leases. This led to an intense campaign to stop sandmining. Despite Bjelke-Petersen’s support, sandmining was eventually rejected by the Government essentially as a result of opposition from a “Ginger Group” of more progressive Liberal Party members.

The Cooloola campaign had given John Sinclair an insight into campaigning and focused his attention on sandmining on Fraser Island. The Queensland Government had granted Dillingham-Murphyores mining leases in the 1960s and mining was occurring on the southern end of the island. Murphyores applied for additional leases in 1971 and the Mining Warden granted the leases.

That year the Fraser Island Defence Organisation, FIDO, was formed with John as President. Arthur Harrold, barrister Lew Wyvill QC and solicitor Stephen Comino, both of whom had also played a major part in the Cooloola campaign, were influential in the early days of FIDO. John and FIDO successfully appealed the Mining Warden’s decision in the High Court which ruled that mining was not in the public interest, a matter that the Mining Warden was required to consider.

As a Queensland public servant, John was vulnerable to harassment by the government and Bjelke-Petersen publicly questioned John’s ability to do his job in adult education while campaigning against sandmining. John sued him for defamation. As a result his position in Maryborough was abolished. After successfully appealing, he was transferred to Ipswich College of TAFE. John initially won $500 damages and costs for the defamation case but Bjelke-Petersen won an appeal and John was ordered to pay costs.

In May 1975, the Federal Government, which would have been required to approve export of minerals from sandmining on Fraser Island, intervened. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who was also Minister for Environment at the time, commissioned the Fraser Island Environmental Inquiry, one of the first ever environmental impact inquiries in Australia. John was a principal witness to the Inquiry. In October 1976, the Inquiry published its findings recommending prohibiting export of minerals from Fraser Island. In the interim between May 1975 and October 1976, Gough Whitlam had been controversially dismissed by the Governor-General. Consequently, it was Whitlam’s successor, Malcolm Fraser, whose government banned mineral exports from the island.

Fraser Island IMG_5179

Photo: Mark Ash

So, sandmining had been stopped on Fraser Island but logging was still continuing. In the late 1980s, with the Bjelke-Petersen Government still in power, conservation groups began campaigning to stop logging on the island. The critical event was the election of the Labor Government led by Wayne Goss in 1989. In 1990, Goss appointed Tony Fitzgerald QC to head the Commission of Inquiry into the Conservation, Management and Use of Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Region. ARCS led the submission process for the Joint Conservation Groups and produced a major submission “The Ecological Impact of Logging Fraser Island Forests”. John Sinclair, of course, also made a number of submissions. Tony Fitzgerald was apparently convinced and recommended that logging cease and the island be nominated for World Heritage Listing.

The Goss Government implemented Fitzgerald’s recommendations and logging on Fraser Island ceased in 1991 after more than 120 years. The government also proceeded with World Heritage nomination and ARCS was commissioned to prepare the nomination as a result of the successful nomination prepared by ARCS for the Wet Tropics of Queensland. Fraser Island was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1992.

Prior to the election of the Goss Government in 1989, a national campaign was running to protect the tropical rainforests of North Queensland from logging. ARCS led the campaign. The Federal Environment Minister in the Hawke Government, Barry Cohen, set up a Working Group on Rainforest Conservation. John and Aila Keto were the environment NGO representatives. The Working Group reported to Cohen in 1995 and that led to an allocation of $22.24 million which was applied to a range of rainforest-related projects (Queensland Forestry Department applied for funds to build a road with picnic areas through rainforest in the Conondale Range.).

John-Sinclair-RESIZED4In 1992 John was appointed to a special committee to advise the Queensland Government on the management of Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Bay Region. In 1993 he was awarded the prestigious $60,000 Goldman Environmental Foundation prize in recognition of 20 years work to save Fraser Island.

In 2014, John was made an Officer in the Order of Australia “For distinguished service to conservation and the environment, through advocacy and leadership roles with a range of organisations, and to natural resource management and protection”.

John Sinclair Hon DocJohn received a number of other awards including “The Australian” newspaper’s Australian of the Year in 1976, the Global 500 Roll of Honour in 1990, and in September 2017 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by University of Sunshine Coast.

John Sinclair’s conservation interests went well beyond Fraser Island. He was a member of the Council of the Australian Conservation Foundation from 1975 to 1989 and served as Vice-President from 1977 to 1985. John was a member of the IUCN’s Commission for Environmental Planning from 1978 and attended the 15th meeting of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in Christchurch, NZ in 1981 and the World Parks Conference in Bali in 1982. He was President of the Australian Committee of the IUCN in 1982-1983.

In 1993, John was engaged as a consultant to the South African ‘Campaign for St Lucia’ group to advise on measures to protect the St Lucia region of northern Natal and the most biologically important estuary on the African continent.

In 1998, John instituted “Go Bush Safaris” taking people to numerous places of conservation interest especially World Heritage Areas in Australia and in other countries.

I first met John around 1971 when FIDO was being formed. Subsequently, in the early 1980s, John encouraged Aila Keto and myself to form the Rainforest Conservation Society and made the newly acquired premises of WPSQ at Petrie Terrace in Brisbane available to us for meetings.

John Sinclair at climate march IMG_0683

John & the author at the Climate March in Brisbane in November 2015. Photo: Aila Keto

John will be remembered for his absolute and often selfless dedication to conservation. Some mistook his fierce determination and emphatic expression as arrogant and dogmatic. We knew him as passionate about wanting a better world for nature, as caring and considerate and actually quite humble, prepared to listen and adjust his thinking. John was stoical and to his last days, suffering pain caused by his cancer, he never complained.

Up to his death, John was working on his autobiography which will be published in the future.

Few people have lived a life so devoted to protecting nature and working tirelessly to try to ensure its future. We have fond and lasting memories of John in action. And who could forget his booming voice? We miss you John.

Keith Scott


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Notes from Krakow

The ARCS team at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Krakow, Alec Marr and Virginia Young, sent through the following update at the end of the first week of the Committee meeting.

Alec & Virginia at Krakow

“If you’re confused about what happened at the World Heritage Committee Meeting in Krakow re the Great Barrier Reef we can shed a little light on what happened.

The strange and apparently conflicting position of the Committee occurred because technically the GBR was not open for discussion at this meeting. Australia is not required to present a new State of Conservation report on the Reef until December, 2019. The question of whether the GBRWHA should be inscribed on the list of WH Properties In Danger is not scheduled for consideration by the Committee until the middle of 2020!

References by the committee to its concern about coral bleaching and its impact on the GBR occurred in the context of another agenda item looking at the impact of climate change on all the world’s reefs. This item will be discussed more fully next week when it is hoped the Committee will adopt a stronger position on climate change. The Australian Marine Conservation Society is also in Krakow pushing for the Committee to urge governments to commit to the 1.5 degree target in the Paris Agreement.”

Virginia and Alec are in Krakow primarily to help a Canadian First Nation, the Mikisew Cree, protect the Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Area (WBNP) from external threats to the park which contains the largest fresh water delta in the world. Threats include a proposed new dam on the Peace Athabasca River and ongoing severe pollution threats from tar sand developments outside the park. Mikisew Cree fully funded Alec’s and Virginia’s attendance at the meeting in Krakow.


Alec & Virginia with the Mikisew Cree representatives

“WBNP is the largest park in Canada (44,000 sq. kms) that has been home to the Mikisew and other first nation people for thousands of years. It was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1983. The park is also home to the largest herd of roaming wood bison in the world.

Water in the delta is no longer safe to drink and the delta is drying due primarily to the impact of a dam built in 1968. To make matters worse tar sands developments takes 170million cubic metres of water annually out of the delta. The proposed new dam would be catastrophic for the functioning of this superlative freshwater ecosystem.

The World Heritage Committee decided in Krakow to adopt all 17 of the strong recommendations of an expert mission sent by the Committee to Canada in September last year to examine the state of and threats to, the delta. Honouring the Committees decision will require major changes to water management, re-examination of the proposed new dam, development of buffer zones for the park and major steps to eliminate pollution from tar sands. It will also require Canada to develop a collaborative approach to management and monitoring of the health of the park with the Mikisew Cree.”

Our team also managed to help people working to protect the Bialowieza forest in Poland – the largest remaining part of the immense primeval forest that once stretched across the European plain and home to 800 European Bison.

“Thankfully, the World Heritage Committee resisted attempts by Poland to open up parts of this old growth forest for logging.

The Bangladeshi Sundarban National Park WHA was not so lucky. This National Park helps protect the greatest mangrove forest left on Earth, home to Bengal tigers, rare river dolphins and a vast array of other marine and terrestrial wildlife. Sadly, the Committee failed to sanction the Bangladsesh government’s plans to move ahead with a new coal fired power plant which will directly impact the WHA. Nor did it encourage Bangladesh to consider other options being promoted by the community to meet their energy and development needs. We are continuing to help those fighting to protect this WH site to build a stronger constituency for the ongoing campaign to protect the Sundarbans.”

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World Heritage Committee rejects Australia’s proposal for delisting parts of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area

The Australian Government put a proposal to the World Heritage Committee to de-list 74,000 hectares of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

In its 38th Session held in Doha, Qatar, the World Heritage Committee unanimously rejected the proposal. The Committee took less than  10 minutes to reach a decision.

Delegates from three countries, Portugal, Germany and Colombia, spoke against the proposal.

The delegate from Portugal spoke at length saying “accepting this delisting would set an unacceptable precedent” and  “The justifications presented to the reduction are to say the least feeble.”

ARCS was officially represented at the meeting by a delegation headed by Alec Marr, Director of our International World Heritage Programme, and Peter Hitchcock, an expert on World Heritage matters, Lincoln Siliakus, an international legal expert with World Heritage experience, and Jenny Webber who has expert knowledge of the Tasmanian WHA.

Australian environment delegation at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha, Qatar, June 15 - 25. Director of ARCS International World Heritage Committee is third from the left.

The ARCS delegation at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha, Qatar, June 15 – 25. Left to right: Peter Hitchcock, Lincoln Siliakus, Alec Marr (Director of ARCS International World Heritage Programme) and Jenny Webber.

The delegation was supported by a detailed submission to the World Heritage Committee, “Why the Australian proposal for de-listing parts of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area should be rejected”, prepared by World Heritage experts and endorsed by expert scientists including Peter Hitchcock AM, Adjunct Associate Professor Peter Valentine, William Laurance, Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate Fellow, James Kirkpatrick, Distinguished Professor of Geography and Environment Studies, Dr Aila Keto AO, ARCS President and Sean Cadman, environmental consultant.  The report showed the Australian submission was misleading in claiming that the area proposed for de-listing was degraded. In fact, less than 10 per cent had been logged, the remainder being in excellent condition. A major point made by the Government was that the area contained plantations of pine and eucalypt. The area of pine plantation is 80 square metres and the eucalypt plantation area is just 8 hectares or 0.01 per cent of the proposed excision.

It is clear that the real reason for the proposed de-listing was to allow logging.



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Tony Abbott says no more national parks

from ABC News 5 March 2014

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declared that too many of Australia’s forests are “locked up” and vowed to set up a new advisory council to support the timber industry.

Logging at Brown Mountain, East Gippsland Photo: Environment East Gippsland

Logging at Brown Mountain, East Gippsland. Photo: Environment East Gippsland

Speaking at a timber industry dinner in Canberra last night, Mr Abbott also recommitted to repealing part of Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area made under the forest peace deal.
His comments have prompted anger from the Greens, who have labelled him the “dig it up, cut it down Prime Minister”.
Under the Tasmanian peace deal, 170,000 hectares of forest was added to the World Heritage area.
The Government has formally asked the World Heritage Committee to delist 74,000 hectares – a position Mr Abbott reaffirmed last night.
“We don’t support, as a Government and as a Coalition, further lock-ups of our forests. We just don’t support it,” Mr Abbott said.
“We have quite enough national parks. We have quite enough locked up forests already. In fact, in an important respect, we have too much locked up forest.
“Why should we lock up as some sort of World Heritage sanctuary country that has been logged, degraded or planted for timber?
“Getting that 74,000 hectares out of World Heritage Listing, it’s still going to leave half of Tasmania protected forever, but that will be an important sign to you, to Tasmanians, to the world, that we support the timber industry.”
Mr Abbott told the dinner that Tasmania’s forest workers have a friend in Canberra.
“When I look out tonight at an audience of people who work with timber, who work in forests, I don’t see people who are environmental vandals; I see people who are the ultimate conservationists,” he said.
“And I want to salute you as people who love the natural world, as people who love what Mother Nature gives us, and who want to husband it for the long-term best interests of humanity.”
But Tasmania’s Deputy Premier, Bryan Green, says Mr Abbott’s approach to the issue is a step backwards for the timber industry, and a return to the logging war between activists and timber workers.
He told ABC Local Radio the best way forward is through the treaty struck by environmentalists and the industry – the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement (TFA).
“We’ve taken massive steps forward in this industry as a result of the TFA, we’re backing the TFA, we don’t want to return to the trenches,” he said.
“We want to continue to diversify the economy, we want to grow the forest industry based on the TFA as it’s established.
“I don’t want to return to the forestry debate that we had.”

Greens condemn ‘massive assault on the environment’

Greens leader Christine Milne says the Prime Minister’s words send a clear message to the world “that Australia does not value its world heritage areas or its national parks”.
“People are going to be pretty upset that Tony Abbott is mounting this massive assault on the environment,” she said.
Any move to repeal the World Heritage classification on Tasmanian forests would ultimately prove destructive to the state’s logging industry, she added.
“Tony Abbott has got it so wrong. The logging industry was on its knees in Tasmania because around the world nobody wants to buy timber products that come from old growth forest,” she said.
“There’s now a high level of recognition that we need to be protecting the last of our primary forests around the world.”
Senator Milne said the recent peace deal with Tasmania’s conservation movement had given loggers “some chance of a future in the plantations”, but that Mr Abbott had threatened to “send Tasmania back to decades of conflict”.
“What he’ll actually do is destroy the forest industry, not to mention Tasmania’s clean, green and clever brand which is our main asset and that comes from our World Heritage area,” she said.
Mr Abbott also used his address to criticise the Tasmanian Greens for everything from the state’s ailing economy to its poor educational outcomes.
“We all know Tasmania has the lowest wages in Australia, it has the lowest GDP per head, it’s got the lowest life expectancy, it’s got the lowest educational retainment in the country and it’s got the highest unemployment, and funnily enough for the last eight years it has had a government in large measure dominated by the Greens,” he said.
While appointments to the new Forestry Advisory Council are still being finalised, Institute of Foresters national director Rob De Fegely has been named as co-chair.

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25th Anniversary of Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area

Winning the Wet Tropics

by Aila Keto

Today is the 25th anniversary of the World Heritage Listing of the Wet Tropics. It is one of the most important, irreplaceable natural areas on Earth. It is fitting to celebrate this milestone by our very first blog as ‘winning the Wet Tropics’ was why and how ARCS began.

Photo: Wet Tropics Images

Photo: Wet Tropics Images

The campaign to protect the Wet Tropics was one of the most significant in Australia’s history. At stake was what James Thorsell (the official IUCN assessor of World Heritage nominations) later rated in the top 10 World Heritage sites. Very little was protected then. Industrial logging was reaching the last accessible areas of untouched forests.

It was a call to arms that stirred passions deep enough to sustain a 10-year campaign for ARCS and the many other conservation groups involved. The personal journeys of many individuals, especially that of Rupert Russell, are moving and inspiring. Link

What was it all about? How was it won? What was its legacy? What lessons are there for today and the future?

What was it all about?

This was the classic “tragedy of the commons” — human short-term self-interest at the expense of the public interest (protecting an area of outstanding universal significance).

Photo: Nicholas Rakotopare

Double-eyed Fig-Parrot, Golden Bowerbird, Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroo.
Photo: Nicholas Rakotopare

Reams have been written, but most notably by the late Nobel laureate, Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues, on how NOT to keep repeating this “tragedy of the commons”. That collective knowledge from around the world has been distilled into a resilience decision framework that we find invaluable.


Our conceptual model of the drivers of change is inspired by that framework but concentrates on what most affects the Earth’s sustainability — its social, economic and environmental well-being.

Society automatically organizes itself into and functions through these three types of institutions. At the apex are the formal institutions or structures that set and enforce the rules governing what happens in society — the policies, laws, regulations, the courts etc.

The economic institutions organize and drive the use (or abuse) of nature (what some call ecosystem services). They are motivated by profit and economic growth, which if not moderated by “collective choice rules and processes”, and “graduated sanctions” undermine sustainability. In this instance I focus on the timber industry and its industry association. Both have long held disproportionate political power and harbored a long culture of entitlement.

The third pillar, civic institutions, is the ultimate driver of social change.

These three groupings (political, economic and civic institutions) need to work effectively together to achieve that holy grail of sustainability. They do not. Otherwise we would not have the sixth greatest extinction crisis in earth’s long history. Barriers to change are huge and overcoming them is what campaigns are about.

How was it won?

Political Institutions — firstly, the Queensland Government
This was the era of Joh Bjelke-Petersen. We tried our best but the barriers proved insurmountable.

The policy instruments for environmental sustainability were weak. There was a strongly partisan political culture that favoured the timber industry; the Forestry Department was a classically captured bureaucracy; corruption was endemic in some parts of the government; and there were no champions for change — the conservation bureaucracy was essentially compliant or intimidated into silence.

Civic institutions
Civic institutions (NGOs) initially did not have the power or unity to mobilise public opinion enough to change the government’s mind. It was a time in Queensland when free speech and assembly were often prohibited. The Joh Bjelke-Petersen Government established the notorious police “Special Branch” to spy on community leaders and active dissent frequently met violent physical force from police. This context presented seemingly insurmountable challenges — especially if protecting nearly a million hectares of forests meant shutting down a rainforest timber industry that was being promoted as the model for the rest of the world. Despite all the risks involved, protests gained momentum buying time to explore other alternative fronts to achieve change.

Rainforest rally, Melbourne;  Logging at Downey Creek; Log dump, Windsor Tableland

Rainforest rally, Melbourne; Logging at Downey Creek; Log dump, Windsor Tableland

Political institutions — new hope from the Commonwealth
Our only other hope was with the newly elected Federal Labor government.

Two factors were cause for optimism. (1) Bob Hawke had just been elected on 5 March 1983 on the promise of saving the Franklin and (2) the High Court on 1 July made a historic landmark ruling in the Tasmanian Dams Case. It validated the new World Heritage Properties Conservation Act Barry Cohen had introduced into Parliament on 21 April and which became law on 22 May 1983. The Act was necessary to protect the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area listed only the previous year in 1982. Listing followed by the new WHPC Act were the crucial keys allowing federal constitutional powers to be validly applied.

Based on this model we urgently needed to assess and establish the World Heritage values of the Wet Tropics. The Australian Heritage Commission was a critical ‘champion’ for change. It commissioned and published our report, positively reviewed by international experts, and in September 1984 officially recommended the Federal Government proceed to World Heritage nomination.

Federal Environment minister Barry Cohen was supportive in principle but preferred to entice Queensland into cooperation. Predictably his $22.24 million Rainforest Conservation Program, finalised in 2005, failed as an inducement. Prominent conservationist John Sinclair and I were integrally involved and did our best to ensure there were lasting benefits for rainforests in the rest of Australia. However, we were losing patience with Barry Cohen as an effective champion. [The real reasons for his reticence may have been niggling doubts about a High Court outcome given the narrow margin in 2003, and that things were starting to look bad electorally for Federal Labor.]

It was unclear what tactics would be effective as federal and state politics were becoming very murky. Disastrous by-elections for Federal Labor made prospects for re-election gloomy. Joh’s strong win at the 1986 state election massively consolidated National Party power stirring his ambitions for PM. Joh’s infamous push for Canberra however split the federal coalition with Ian Sinclair (Deputy leader of the Opposition) tearing up the coalition deal. To capitalize on opposition disunity Hawke called an early, double-dissolution election on 11 July 1987 and won an unlikely increased majority, mainly with the help of swinging voters in Queensland, and having also promised to save the “Daintree”. Arguably and perversely, Joh won the election for Labor, and for the Wet Tropics.

With conservative forces in disarray in both Queensland and nationally, and two new appointments to High court made the previous February, new environment minister Senator Graham Richardson accelerated the process for World Heritage listing of the Wet Tropics in earnest. ARCS was commissioned to write the nomination and help draw up the boundaries.

Economic institutions
Queensland’s opposition to the nomination greatly intensified. In August 1987 it established the Northern Rainforests Management Agency (NORMA); this was a front to bolster the international reputation of their logging model. This was a critical issue as the Forestry Department widely promoted logging in the Wet Tropics as a model for the rest of the world. We followed them to each and every international forum to present our contrary research findings — first at an ITTO congress in Indonesia, then a UNEP forum in Fiji, and finally at a World Resources Institute Colloquium in Washington, going head-to-head each time with Queensland’s logging champions. We gained vital credibility at each of these forums. We also employed journalist Gregg Borschmann and invited eminent British scientist and conservationist Dr Norman Myers to help communicate our message and inspire public support.

The Federal Government finally publicly announced its intention to nominate on 11 December, formally presenting the nomination to the World Heritage Committee on 23 December 1987. Queensland immediately mounted a High Court challenge. ARCS was asked to help acquaint the Federal government’s top legal team with the values of the Wet Tropics with the help of Black Hawk helicopters. What an experience!

So as not to compromise the listing, a regulation banning logging in the Wet tropics was made under the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act on 20 January 1988. A Structural Adjustment Package of $75.3 million, to ensure natural justice for those affected, was in place by April. Without Senator Graham Richardson as the new environment minister, the Wet Tropics would not have been won. His courage facing the angry loggers at Ravenshoe is legendary and his power base politically was undisputed.

Queensland, in response, established a new anti-listing alliance, including all Shire Councils in the area, and funded a 19-person delegation to tour the world in June 1988 with the intention of intimidating the World Heritage Bureau and Committee and its evaluating partner, the IUCN — but to no avail. Staying a step ahead globally, though, was a challenge for our small organisation. That involved my flying to the IUCN World Congress in Costa Rica to block any backward slides.

We also enlisted the help of Gough Whitlam (Prime Minister of Australia 1972–1975) who had been Ambassador to UNESCO (1983-1986). He was also chair of the National Gallery of Australia (1987–1990) while I was a member of its board. His international standing was immense (He chaired the General Assembly of the World Heritage Convention in 1989.).

The WH Bureau meeting in June 1988 recommended inscription but wanted clarification on some boundary issues and management arrangements. ARCS assisted a new review team that reported to the Bureau in September. Graham Richardson was getting ‘wobbly’. Long, 6-hour meetings with him resolved his concerns. The nomination was resubmitted in October 1988.

Graham Richardson, Gough Whitlam, and I as their official advisor, attended the World Heritage Committee meeting in Brasilia on 9 December 1988 to safeguard the official listing from any last minute challenges from Queensland.

The High Court thankfully rejected the Queensland Government’s legal challenge on 30 June 1989. During initial hearings, Justice Mason described Queensland’s case as “Alice in Wonderland”.

In December 1989 Labor, led by Wayne Goss, won office in Queensland after nearly 20 years of conservative rule and, as a final step in the long saga, withdrew the government’s High Court challenge to the logging ban. ARCS helped design the new management arrangements (the Wet Tropics Management Authority), its statutory head of power (the Wet Tropics World Heritage Protection and Management Act 1993) as well as its resourcing needs that were instituted in 1990. I was an inaugural member of the Board of Directors of the new Authority for the period 1990–1997 to help bed it down to face enormous challenges. This was an essential part of achieving sustainability. The legislation defining its role and powers came into effect in 1993.

Civic Institutions — The role of the conservation movement
None of this would have happened without pressure from the third pillar of social change— the civic institutions (e.g. conservation organisations and the media). Being less constrained, they are potentially the most powerful agents and catalysts of real change.

Our effectiveness is built on generating trust and respect, on our engaging the wider community through social learning and empowerment. But in communicating urgent crises (even those that are dire) it is vital to keep alive the belief that change is possible.

ARCS invested enormously in research, networking with the world’s scientific experts, and in bridging connections between the various national, state and regional conservation groups. In 1987 we employed successful and highly respected journalist Greg Borschmann and invited eminent British scientist and conservationist Dr Norman Myers to help inspire the public.

Equally, so many other individuals and organisations committed a decade of their lives, mostly at great cost, in defense of the Wet Tropics. The nation-wide campaign resonated with the community to build that vital legitimacy for changes that followed.

A vital factor in the campaign’s success was having champions at every level —those individuals with courage and vision, in the Australian Heritage Commission, Graham Richardson at the political level, and journalists – those true to their profession’s fundamental ideals of reporting the truth without fear or favour. Without them even the most powerful policy instruments would not have been enough nor could the public have been mobilized. But, above all, without the many courageous, tenacious individuals, whether the many leaders in the conservation movement or ordinary people who took serious risks and put their lives on hold for Nature’s sake, nothing would have been achieved.

The legacy

Without the success of the Wet Tropics, the South East Queensland Forests Agreement (SEQFA) would not have been possible. If the focus had only been on the Daintree as was the original plan, World Heritage listing (1988) would have failed, the rainforest logging industry would still be entrenched, and the SEQFA (1999) and Delbessie Agreement for statewide leasehold land reforms would not have been possible. All depended on historically built credibility and proven effectiveness.

The learnings

There are seven ‘learnings’ from the Wet Tropics campaign that are still relevant today. The most critical is “never lose sight of what nature needs”.

(1) Champions are essential but not sufficient.
In the case of Delbessie: with Peter Kenny as champion gone, insular short-term factors now dominate and AgForce is ready to ditch the Agreement they signed. The failure was in not bringing his constituency fully along with him. That’s something Rod McInnes, Chief Executive of Timber Queensland also needed to heed.

(2) Timing — Not all objectives need to be achieved at once.
Whereas non-partisan support at all levels is essential for enduring gains, it takes time to build that consensus. Opportunities must be seized when they emerge, else they may never come again. In the Wet Tropics the industry and the Queensland government made themselves irrelevant in the short to medium term. In the SEQFA the federal government became irrelevant because it was partisan and intractable in its determination to preserve the timber industry unchanged.

(3) Unceasing vigilance is critical.
At every step, there were powerful forces trying to undermine progress, e.g. Queensland’s Rainforest Conservation Program. During the SEQFA, it was the National Association of Forest Industries (NAFI) and Wilson ‘ironbar’ Tuckey, the then Federal Minister for Forestry and Conservation (1998-2001).

(4) Passion, patience, persistence — the three vital Ps.
Most campaigns take years (for ARCS, up to 10 years or more); if you don’t feel passionately about things, you won’t last the distance. Patience is vital, especially when we are so distracted by the pace and complexity of this modern world and expect ‘instant’ success. Persistence is the essence of success — learning from failure, being there at the right place and time. Even when things seem impossible, one has to grit one’s teeth, bide time, and keep building capacity for the next window of opportunity.

(5) Luck, and loads of it:
Things often happen out of the blue. Being clear about one’s long-term goals but open to exploring many different ways of getting there is important — being ready to seize new, unexpected ways or hidden opportunities to achieve change.

(6) Respect: everyone’s efforts count — no matter how small. Networks and partnerships all depend on trust and respect. Movements for change can fail for the want of it.

(7) Nature’s need: the hardest of all to learn.
It may seem impossible at first to deliver — we may lack the resources, vision or the courage, but we should do our best and never lose sight of what nature really needs, then do our utmost to deliver it. Often, there is no second chance.

George Bernard Shaw’s lines from Back to Methuselah are at the heart of it for all of us:

White Lemuroid Ringtail Photo: Mike Trenerry

White Lemuroid Ringtail
Photo: Mike Trenerry

You see things;
and you say, ‘Why?’
But I dream things
that never were;
and I say, ‘Why not?’

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