The Australian Labor government’s Environment Minister, Tony Burke, has rejected a bid by conservationists to lock out mining from Tasmania’s Tarkine region.
Mr Burke has rejected the National Heritage Council’s advice to list more than 400,000 hectares of the Tarkine on the National Heritage register.
The decision has shocked the Australian Greens Party, which supports the minority Labor government and holds the balance of power in the upper house Senate, which is now predicting another long-running environmental fight in Tasmania.
Mr Burke said it would have been “disastrous” for potential mining jobs in the area if he had followed the council’s advice.
“From purely environmental terms, it would have been something that would have been a wonderful thing to be able to do but you have to take into account the impact on people and taking that impact into account meant that I simply couldn’t go with the Heritage Council’s recommendations,” he said.
“To do heritage listing you have to truly represent the values and, politically, there may well have been an option of my putting a bigger area on the heritage list and claiming ‘there you go, I’ve done it’, but it would have been an abuse of the system.”
A two-kilometre stretch of coast in the far north-west has been placed on the list, due to Indigenous heritage values.
Environmentalists had wanted heritage protection for 433,000 hectares of the state’s north-west, which is covered with temperate rainforest which provides a habitat for endangered species.
Mr Burke has already approved a magnetite mine, but has applied conditions aimed at protecting Tasmanian devils and quolls from being killed by traffic on new roads through the area.
“What this means is that any arguments that Tasmania is closed for business are now dead in the water,” she said.
“This is a great day for Tasmania, a great day for jobs.”
Tasmanian Australian Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said it was a devastating decision.
He says the Australian Greens were expecting a compromise decision and the fact that the Tarkine is now available for mining will come as a shock.
He believed the move would inspire a new wave of environmental activism
“This is another big win for the miners and another big loss for Australians.
“They should know better in this day and age. We only get one chance to protect the environment.”
Australian Greens leader, Senator Christine Milne, described the decision as a “crime against the environment”.
“What possible justification can an environment minister have for abandoning the environment to the mining industry?
While the decision has infuriated the Australian Greens, it is likely to be seen by Labor sources as helpful for the party in the marginal Federal seat of Braddon.
Australian Workers Union head Paul Howes says the campaign to put the Tarkine’s on the heritage register was run by mainland activists and would have been a disaster for Tasmania.