Australia’s land clearing rate is again among the highest in the world

Today, more than 400 scientists and four scientific organisations have issued yet another dire warning to Australian governments regarding the impact of land clearing. The major focus is on Queensland and New South Wales.

Yellow-footed antechinus

Yellow-footed Antechinus (Photo: Christine Hosking)

Thirteen years ago, scientists from across the world expressed their grave concern about ongoing high rates of forest and woodland destruction in Queensland. In 2004, the Queensland Government lead by Peter Beattie introduced laws to stop broad scale clearing in the state. As a result, the rate of clearing was greatly reduced. However, the Liberal National Party government, which came to power in 2012, greatly weakened controls on land clearing. As a result, clearing doubled with 300,000 hectares of land now cleared each year.

In March 2016, the Queensland Government (Labor) introduced legislation to reinstate land clearing controls. The legislation has passed through an extensive consultation process and is due to go to parliament in the near future.

The proposed changes to land-clearing laws, while strongly supported by today’s statement from eminent scientists, has sparked a campaign led by lobby group, AgForce. Chief executive Charles Burke claims the status quo is sustainable saying “We want to talk about the science, we want to make sure we stick to the facts and make sure it’s not caught up in, sometimes, the conservation rhetoric.”

In New South Wales, the government has proposed scrapping existing legislation including the Native Vegetation Act and the Threatened Species Conservation Act and replacing that legislation with new legislation that will to a significant extent put vegetation management in the hands of landholders. Niall Blair, Minister for Primary Industries, said: “Our farmers are our frontline environmental custodians and it makes sense to give them the flexibility to manage and protect the land…”. The new legislation depends heavily on offsets where areas of land are protected to supposedly compensate for the loss of currently protected vegetation.

Today’s declaration by eminent scientists notes that “between 1998 and 2005 an estimated 100 million native birds, reptiles and mammals were killed because of destruction of their habitat in NSW”  and “in Queensland, the estimate was 100 million native animals dying each year between 1997 and 1999.”

In 2014, the Federal Government launched the 20 Million Trees Programme to be completed by 2020. But the scientists’ statement points out that 20 million trees are cleared every year in Queensland alone.


Photo: William Laurance

The future of the proposed legislative changes in Queensland is difficult to predict. The Labor government does not have a majority in the parliament. The proposed changes are opposed by the two Katter Party members and the government will be dependent on the votes of independents Rob Pyne and Billy Gordon who will be heavily lobbied by AgForce and the LNP.

Today’s declaration by scientists can be found on the web site of Society for Conservation Biology Oceania.

For more information on the Queensland legislation amendments, go to Environmental Defenders Office.

You can help

In Queensland, email the following asking them to support the legislation changes:

Rob Pyne:

Billy Gordon:

Peter Wellington:

In New South Wales, sign the petition at Stand Up for Nature.


Leave a comment

Filed under Biodiversity, Forests, Government Policy

Vale Geoffrey Miller

GeoffreyMiller2ARCS Member and major donor, Dr Geoffrey Miller, died on 8 January 2016.

Geoffrey and his wife, Shirley, owned Ankida, the largest private property on Springbrook. In 2009, in an act of great generosity, the Millers donated the 210-hectare property to ARCS to ensure its protection in perpetuity.

Geoffrey was born in Sydney in 1926. He initially qualified as an electrical engineer, but after a trip to England exploring natural therapies, he began studies in medicine in Sydney and graduated in 1959. During his studies, he met and married Shirley Chatfield in 1957.

In 1969, Geoffrey and Shirley moved to Brisbane. They were looking around for land to purchase and from Beechmont they were able to see the Ankida property looking up along the Waterfall Creek valley to Horseshoe Falls and Springbrook Plateau above. Their decision was made and they purchased the property in 1971, naming it Ankida which in Sumerian means “where heaven and earth meet”.

Geoffrey established the Raphael Healing Centre at Ankida but also worked in cardiac rehabilitation at Tweed Heads Community Centre. He and Shirley later set up a practice called Health Options at Burleigh.

The Millers had taken up residence at Ankida in 1975 and Geoffrey continued his medical practice there with a strong focus on natural therapies.

Geoffrey was a central figure in the Theosophical Society and the Millers transferred part of their property to the Society leading to the establishment of the Theosophical Education and Retreat Centre at Springbrook.

Both Geoffrey and Shirley suffered falls and broken hips at Springbrook and in March 2015 they moved into an aged care facility in Mudgeeraba.

A wonderful memorial service was held at the Theosophical Education and Retreat Centre and the Chapel was filled to overflowing. Geoffrey was greatly respected and dearly remembered by many, many people around the country. The service was attended by ARCS President, Aila Keto, ARCS Secretary, Denise Elias and ARCS Director, Keith Scott.

Ankida is of outstanding conservation significance and ARCS regards it as a great privilege to have been made its custodian. The Society has received a bequest from the estate of long-time ARCS member and supporter, the late Jani Haenke, and has invested the funds in the Jani Haenke Ankida Preservation Fund to provide for conservation and management of the property into the future.

horseshoe falls

Horseshoe Falls on Ankida, the property donated to ARCS by Geoffrey and Shirley Miller

Keith Scott

Leave a comment

Filed under Sadness

Vale Syd Curtis

Syd Curtis imageFormer Vice-President of ARCS, H. Sydney (Syd) Curtis died at Killarney on 27 December 2015.

Syd served as ARCS Vice-President for 10 years before his health deteriorated and he felt he could no longer fulfill the role.

Born in 1928 to Herbert Curtis and Hilda Geissman Curtis, Syd grew up on Tamborine Mountain in South East Queensland. Syd gained his interest in and love of nature from his mother. Hilda Geissmann was a well known and highly respected naturalist and photographer. The noted biologist Francis Ratcliffe, author of the classic Flying Fox and Drifting Sand and a founder and first Honorary Secretary of the Australian Conservation Foundation, visited Hilda in 1928. Ratcliffe wrote “She knew the habits of every bird and beast that lived there, and where the rare ferns and orchids could be found”.

Syd trained as a forester and began his career in the Queensland Forestry Department. In 1963, he moved to the new national park section and formed a dedicated team to manage the park estate and to consider proposals for expansion. He was responsible for the new approach of selecting new national parks on the basis of representative samples of the Queensland landscape including the less scenic.

When the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service was formed in 1975, he was appointed Director of Management and Operations. In 1982, he became Assistant Director (Policy and Legislation) and continued in that role until retiring in 1988.

After retiring, Syd lectured in environmental law at University of Queensland’s Gatton campus.

Syd was passionate about lyrebirds and spent decades studying Albert’s Lyrebird populations in South East Queensland and recording their complex song. Lyrebirds are famous for their mimicry, not only of other birds but also of human-made sounds such as tyres on gravel and chain saws. Syd published his findings showing differences in vocalisations between populations. In a paper by Norman Robinson and Syd Curtis (The Emu 96(4) 1996), the authors conclude that the territorial song of lyrebirds is learned and the mimicry is culturally transmitted from adults and not learned anew from sounds the young hear. But new sounds can be added and others deleted.

Syd recording

Syd Curtis recording bird song in the rainforest.     Photo: Kimbal Curtis

Syd had a 25-year association with a lyrebird named ‘George’ in Lamington National Park. Over the years, George got to know Syd and continued to sing and perform his courtship display while Syd watched and recorded. Syd once got his son, Kimbal, to photograph George while he was in full display but when George saw a red flash as the camera took the picture, he stopped his display, raised his tail, stared straight at the camera, lashed his tail and stalked off, clearly displeased.

George Kimbal Curtis

Albert’s Lyrebird, “George”, in Lamington National Park          Photo: Kimbal Curtis

Syd was also an accomplished pianist and entertained our Management Committee on an occasion when we were visiting one of our rainforest restoration sites at Springbrook.

Syd was devoted to the protection of national parks and staunchly defended the “cardinal principle” of national park management as enshrined in State legislation. His grandfather, Sydney Curtis, had been partly responsible for the declaration in 1908 of the first national park in Queensland, Witches Falls National Park at Mt Tamborine.

We knew Syd as a kind, thoughtful, nurturing and  generous man who cared passionately for his family, friends and Nature. Such was his spirit of giving that he sacrificed studying his beloved lyrebirds for many years to help ARCS achieve the historic South-East Queensland Forests Agreement which lead to a huge increase in national parks in this bioregion. Syd, together with Ingrid Neilson, Gayle Johnson and David Hangar trekked over many distant forests collecting and pressing plant specimens to help document their biological value to conservation. He advised on legal matters, overall strategies, and the all important historical context for tangible examples of past mistakes and successes in the long history of national parks. And when the pressures of campaigning took their toll, Syd and Anne took care of us in many ways.

A private funeral was held on 8 January 2016 and attended by ARCS President Aila Keto and Director Keith Scott.

Syd is survived by his wife Anne, son Kimbal and daughter Patrice.

Syd was a dear friend and a devoted supporter of ARCS. He will always remain warmly in our memories.

Keith Scott

Leave a comment

Filed under Sadness

Stopping logging native forests could save millions in carbon credits

As indicated in the blog article “Native forests for burning”, burning native forest “residues” as a source of renewable energy is expected to help the declining native forest timber industry, especially in Tasmania and Victoria. It has been revived by the Abbott Government based, at least in part, on the notion that burning wood waste for electricity generation will reduce the need to burn coal.

But recent research suggests that far greater reductions in greenhouse gas emissions could be achieved by stopping native forest logging altogether.

For decades, ARCS has been arguing that native forest logging should be phased out and hardwood production moved to plantations. Our position has been based on biodiversity conservation but it now appears there are additional benefits including major economic benefits. The following text is an extract from a paper by Professor David Lindenmayer, ANU, and Professor Brendan Mackey, Griffith University.

Analysis done using the Australian government’s public native forest model suggests that stopping all harvesting in the public native forest estate would generate in the order of 38 million tonnes of potential credits (that is, the equivalent of 38 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions avoided) each year in the short to medium term.

While this is the technical capacity, the Kyoto Protocol’s rules cap credits from forest management at 3.5% of base-year emissions, or around 15 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. So if Australia ratifies the second commitment period of the Protocol, which runs from 2013 to 2020, the cap would limit forest management credits to 120 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent over the commitment period.

The Australian government’s latest emissions projections estimate that, in order to meet its 5% emissions-reduction target in 2020, Australia has to reduce its emissions by 236 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent over the second commitment period. This means stopping harvesting in public native forests could provide 51% of the abatement task to 2020.

Native forest logging results in significant greenhouse gas emissions because typically less than 5% of the biomass carbon of logged forests ends up as long-term timber products like furniture. The majority of the biomass carbon is made into short-lived products such as paper, which simply delays emissions for around three years.

Meanwhile, up to 60% of the remaining biomass in Victorian Mountain Ash forests is logging slash – tree heads, lateral branches, understorey trees, bark and other unwanted forest residues. Most of the carbon stored in this slash is emitted to the atmosphere, either in high-intensity stand-regeneration fires or through accelerated decomposition.

Research shows that the logging of several thousand hectares of Victoria’s Mountain Ash forest each year produces emissions equivalent to about one-third of the annual greenhouse emissions of Yallourn Power Station.

Carbon book-keeping
Since the start of 2013, Australia has been required to account for carbon emissions from forest management in the national greenhouse gas accounts. This includes emissions (and carbon sequestration) due to the management of public native forests (usually known as “state forests”), plantations established before 1990, and private forests that have been harvested since 1990.

The accounting is based on a “baseline-and-credit” system. The Australian government was required to make a projection of net emissions (emissions minus sequestration) from its forest management lands over the period 2013 to 2020. If Australia’s actual net emissions from forest management are below this reference level, it receives credits that it can use to offset emissions from other sectors. If its net emissions are above the reference level, it receives debits.

Phasing out native forestry
The Kyoto cap on forestry credits means that any plan to stop harvesting would be best done in a staged manner, with logging areas progressively being shut down. This would also minimise the transitional issues for workers, while still maximising the claimable carbon credits for Australia. If done well, stopping harvesting in native forests could move workers into more profitable and sustainable plantation-based industries, while providing an ongoing and low-cost source of carbon abatement that can be used to meet current and future emissions targets.

The Australian government could do this using its Emissions Reduction Fund. It could effectively pay states like Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania for the substantial carbon abatement derived from not logging their native forests. The states in turn could use the money to transition workers out of the native forest sector.

An added benefit of this strategy is that it would remove the major competitive disadvantage faced by the plantation sector, which has to compete against a heavily subsidised and major loss-making native forest logging sector. The impact on wood production would be limited given that plantations are already the source of more than 80% by volume of all wood products.

Don’t burn it
The current policy is almost exactly opposite of what is needed, with wood from native forests (including sawlogs from Victorian forests) set to be burned to generate electricity as part of the Renewable Energy Target (RET). Indeed, the federal forestry minister Richard Colbeck recently admitted that the native forest sector is not viable without burning forests for energy.

However, when it receives renewable energy credits, burning native forest biomass cannot reduce emissions from electricity generation by coal-fired power stations. The way the RET works means that when biomass is burned it merely displaces forms of renewable electricity generation (like solar and wind), rather than coal as the forest industry consistently maintains.

This means that including native forest biomass in the RET will not reduce emissions from electricity generated by coal-fired power stations. But it could very well significantly increase emissions from forest management, thereby making it harder for Australia to reach its emissions target.
Of course, there would be significant other benefits of not logging native forests, including securing the water supply of cities like Melbourne, and better conserving critically endangered species like Leadbeater’s Possum.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biodiversity, Forests, Government Policy

Native forests for burning

The Abbott Government recently succeeded in having burning of so-called ‘wood waste’ from native forests included as a source of renewable energy for electricity generation.


Australia’s dirtiest coal-burning power station, Hazelwood, in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, is considering switching from coal to native forest ‘waste’ from East Gippsland.

In 2001, the Howard Government set a mandatory Renewable Energy Target requiring electricity suppliers to source an additional two per cent, or 9500 GWh, of their electricity from renewable sources by 2010. In 2009, the Rudd Government increased the target to 45,000 GWh by 2020. The target has two components, 41,000 GWh from large-scale sources such as wind and large-scale solar and 4000 GWh from small-scale sources such as roof-top solar.

The target had to be reviewed every two years by the Climate Change Authority. But last year Prime Minister Tony Abbott set up a separate review headed by businessman and climate sceptic Dick Warburton. Not surprisingly, the recommendations of the Warburton review were not well supported.

What followed were protracted negotiations between the government and the Labor opposition to try to reach agreement on a revised target. The parties eventually agreed on a reduction from 41,000 GWh to 33,000 GWh by 2020.

A controversial issue has been the question of whether wood waste from native forests should be counted as renewable energy. The Howard Government included native forest wood waste in the RET. But in 2011 a parliamentary Multi-Party Climate Change Committee agreed to remove it.

In March 2012, when the House of Representatives had passed the clean energy future legislation, Independent MP Rob Oakeshott introduced a motion to include native forest wood waste. The vote on his motion was tied and the Speaker, Peter Slipper, used his casting vote to defeat the motion.

Late December 2012, the Climate Change Authority recommended including burning native forest residues in the RET. They naively accepted the argument that if residues from harvesting operations are going to be burnt or left to rot, it would be better to burn them for electricity generation.

In June this year, the House of Representatives passed the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015 to change the RET from 41,000 GWh to 33,000 GWh. The Bill also included an amendment allowing burning of biomass from native forest.

When the Bill went to the Senate, Labor moved an amendment to remove the native forest clause. The amendment was supported by the Greens and Senator Glenn Lazarus but failed because all the other cross-bench senators voted with the government.

Tony Abbott had done a deal with the cross-bench senators to get their support. The deal involves measures aimed at reducing the use of wind energy in favour of large-scale solar. Whereas this move was led by Senator David Leyonhjelm, it clearly had the support of Tony Abbott who believes wind turbines are “visually awful” and noisy.
The Government has agreed to appoint a national wind farm commissioner to “handle complaints from concerned residents about the operations of wind turbine facilities”. They will also appoint a scientific committee to investigate the health impacts of wind turbines despite numerous reviews by medical authorities that have found no evidence for health impacts.

A leader in the push for burning native forest “residues” was Tasmanian Senator Richard Colbeck, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture. The Tasmanian timber industry has been in trouble since the decline in wood chip exports. When the wood chip industry was starting up, supporters argued that no trees would be cut for chipping if they could be used for sawlogs. In other words, wood chips were just a by-product of the sawlog industry. Clearly, that was farcical and the fear is that the same will happen with electricity generation from native forests.


There is the potential to address the problem at the state level. You can help by telling the Queensland Government not to approve electricity generation from native forest ‘waste’. Email the following Ministers:
Hon Dr Steven Miles MP, Minister for Environment & Heritage Protection,
Hon Leanne Donaldson MP, Minister for Agriculture & Fisheries,

For more on this issue, have a look at “Burning Question” on ABC Background Briefing. Click here for the story.

Keith Scott

Leave a comment

September 10, 2015 · 4:44 pm

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.



Leave a comment

Filed under Forests, World Heritage

Is this newly described antechinus at Springbrook in trouble?

Black-tailed Antechinus, Antechinus arktos. Photo: Gary Cranitch (Queensland Museum)

Black-tailed Antechinus, Antechinus arktos.
Photo: Gary Cranitch (Queensland Museum)

An antechinus found in the McPherson and Border Ranges area has been described as a new species. But its future may be dim. The Dusky Antechinus population recorded in this area was previously described as a subspecies, Antechinus swainsonii mimetes. Other subspecies of Antechinus swainsonii occur in Tasmania and along the eastern coast of the mainland.

Researchers at Queensland University of Technology have shown that the population in this area is sufficiently different from other subspecies to be regarded as a species in its own right. They have named it Antechinus arktos with the common name of Black-tailed Antechinus.

The specific epithet, arktos, is Greek for bear, chosen because of the long guard hairs over the body and the tendency to rear on its hind legs sniffing the air when disturbed. This differs from the acrobatic leaping exhibited by other species when disturbed.

The Black-tailed Antechinus differs from the Dusky Antechinus in having orange-brown fur on the face and a black tail. It occurs only in high rainfall rainforests where rainfall is augmented by fog drip (cloud forests). Its range is considered to be from Springbrook in the north east to eastern Lamington Plateau to the west and Tweed Range in Border Ranges National Park to the south.

Based on DNA analyses, the researchers have concluded that the Black-tailed Antechinus, which is confined to high altitude, high rainfall rainforest, became isolated from other populations of the Dusky Antechinus and evolved to become genetically different.

Of concern is the failure in recent surveys to find the species in areas such as O’Reillys and Binna Burra in Lamington National Park where it has previously been recorded. Dr Andrew Baker, the research team leader at QUT, has applied for the species to be listed as endangered and believes its apparent decline may be due to climate change.

Australia has the worst record for mammal extinctions with 27 species extinct since European settlement. No antechinus has been recorded as having become extinct.

Dr Baker and his PhD student, Emma Gray, are studying the ecology of the Black-tailed Antechinus at Springbrook with support from ARCS.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biodiversity

Queensland to restrict community rights to object to mining applications

The Newman-Seeney government is proposing to restrict the right to object to mining applications to people directly affected such as the owner of the land. Community groups including environment organisations will not be able to object to the majority of mining applications.
Currently, any person or group can object and that can lead to the matter being heard by the Land Court. According to Deputy Premier, Jeff Seeney, that is “frustrating” for the government.

The Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, Andrew Cripps, has released a discussion paper for public comment. Submissions close on Friday 28 March. The discussion paper can be downloaded at

On releasing the discussion paper, Mr Cripps said “The proposed reforms will allow us to hear from those who are directly impacted by the development rather than extreme green groups in Melbourne or California whose life goal is to create a road block for economic development. These individuals or groups have little or no interest in our state and submit vexatious objections to tie up economically beneficial projects.”

Jeff Seeney told the ABC, “It’s obvious that the current process allows individuals or groups who are fundamentally opposed to the coal industry – for whatever reason – to use the objection process to frustrate and delay those projects,”
“The people of Queensland have elected us as a government based on developing our coal industry to supply the world markets and our processes need to allow us to do that.”

The Environmental Defenders Office Queensland has identified the issues and produced a summary of the discussion paper as well as a sample submission. They can be found at the EDO Queensland web site.

Leave a comment

Filed under Government Policy, Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biodiversity, Forests, World Heritage

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?’

Leave a comment

Filed under World Heritage