Media Release: Legal obligations and course of action on World Heritage logging outlined to Minister
The Australian Environment Minister has been urged to uphold Australia’s international obligations to conserve World Heritage values by using his powers under Australian legislation to halt logging inside Tasmanian forests recently nominated for World Heritage listing. Such logging last week provoked protest action on the forestry access road into Butlers Gorge.
A letter based on legal advice to Still Wild Still Threatened, the Huon Valley Environment Centre, and Markets For Change outlines to the Minister that Section 14 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act provides specifically for areas nominated but not yet listed as World Heritage to be the subject of a Ministerial Declaration. Publication of such a Declaration in the government Gazette is preliminary to any action to keep the World Heritage values safe from threat.
“As a signatory to the World Heritage Convention, Australia has taken on an obligation to protect World Heritage values under Articles 4 and 5 of that international agreement. Australian law then provides for the Environment Minister to publish a declaration regarding any place nominated to be added to the World Heritage list after which he can prevent any threats from destroying those values in the meanwhile – exactly the situation we are facing with the continued industrial logging of Tasmania’s forests nominated for recognition for their outstanding universal values,” said Jenny Weber of Huon Valley Environment Centre.
“We sent this letter and are publicising it, in order to scuttle the erroneous claim that there is nothing that the Australian Environment Minister can do to halt the logging until the area is actually listed. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
“It is a failure of political will that is daily destroying World Heritage values of these precious forests, and the Minister can’t simultaneously espouse these values and renege on his obligation to protect them,” said Miranda Gibson of Still Wild Still Threatened speaking from the Observer Tree.
“If it is true that the signatories are agreed on this continued logging, and we believe that this is not the position of the environmental signatories, then any such agreement is an awful mistake that must be rectified urgently.”
“Forestry Tasmania is dragging the chain on rescheduling this logging and plan to commence more. Continuing to provide product logged from a smash and grab raid inside World Heritage nominated forests to the market is a recipe for disaster. It will not only lead to the loss of environmental values but will quite likely unsettle markets further,” said the CEO of Markets For Change, Peg Putt.
“Tony Burke should act in the best interests of the forests as well as the industry,” Ms Putt concluded.
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Letter to Minister Burke:
Request to exercise your powers under Section 14 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to protect the World Heritage values of Tasmanian forests
Further to our recent letter in which we congratulated you on the nomination of Tasmanian forests for World Heritage listing and asked that you ensure that logging of those forests ceases immediately so as to prevent further damage to the natural values currently being caused by that activity, we now write to outline your course of action to do so under current legislation. We were concerned to hear you assert on radio in Tasmania that you have no power to restrain the ongoing logging, when there is a clear course of action that can and should be followed.
Articles 4 and 5 of the World Heritage Convention binds each signatory state to, inter alia, do all that it can to ensure protection and conservation of natural and cultural heritage and to take effective and active measures to do so in respect of such heritage situated within national boundaries. This includes, at Article 5 (d), ‘to take the appropriate legal, scientific, technical, administrative and financial measures necessary for the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and rehabilitation of this heritage’.
Domestically, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is the implementing legislation for these obligations. Section 14 provides specifically for a mechanism to ensure that a property nominated for World Heritage listing can be protected from threat during the period in which it is under consideration for inclusion in the World Heritage list.
Section 14 provides that the Minister, if the property has been submitted by the Commonwealth to the World Heritage Committee or if the Minister is satisfied that the property has World Heritage values and some or all of the World Heritage values are under threat, may declare it to be a specified World Heritage property by notice in the Government Gazette. Once the Minister makes the Declaration, it is a criminal offence to take any action that will impact upon the world heritage values of the property (S. 15A).
We are asking you to exercise your powers under Section 14 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act in respect of the area of Tasmania recently nominated by Australia for inclusion on the World Heritage list.
Peg Putt, Markets for Change
Jenny Weber, Huon Valley Environment Center
Miranda Gibson, Still Wild Still Threatened.