A British firm is among those looking at open-cut mining in forests that shelter species including the Tasmanian devil
Considered one of Australia’s natural wonders, the Tarkine Wilderness in Tasmania contains the southern hemisphere’s largest temperate rainforest as well as ancient Aboriginal sites. Home to dozens of endangered species, it also has a unique landscape of karst gorges and cave systems.
But that may not be enough to save it.
The Australian Heritage Council has no doubts about its significance – it has recommended that nearly half a million hectares of the Tarkine be listed to protect them from development. That would be a first step towards the World Heritage listing that many experts believe it merits.
The federal government, though, appears unconvinced. Rather than accept the council’s advice, the environment minister, Tony Burke, has ordered it to carry out another evaluation. At the same time, he has given a British company, Beacon Hill Resources, permission to drill for magnetite, which is used in farming and pharmaceuticals. Beacon Hill is one of three companies keen to develop open-cut mines in the Tarkine.
Conservation groups are horrified and have accused Mr Burke of interfering in the heritage assessment process. He had refused to release the council’s report, and it became public only after it was accidentally posted on a government website.
Christine Milne, the deputy leader of Australia’s Greens, fears that by the time the Tarkine has been re-assessed, its natural assets will have been degraded by mining, making a heritage listing less likely. “You can’t escape the conclusion that the government didn’t like the advice it was given and is stalling in order to give the mining industry a window of opportunity.”
Situated in north-western Tasmania, the Tarkine is the latest battleground in a state recognised as the birthplace of the global green movement. Like others of her generation, Senator Milne cut her teeth on a long and ultimately successful campaign in the early 1980s to prevent a huge hydro-electric dam being built along the Franklin River.
To her, the choice is plain. “Really you have to decide whether you’re going to protect this precious wild tract of forest for its magnificent biodiversity and the threatened species for which it is a home, or you have to make the decision to put a scratch across the Mona Lisa.”