Australia – with its wide brown lands and stunning natural beauty – was once a darling of the World Heritage Committee (WHC).
But in just a few short months, we appear to have become something of a pariah, with the United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) delivering two rebukes in less than a week to the Abbott Government over its plans for protecting iconic sites of international significance.
UNESCO has just wound up meetings in Doha in Qatar to consider applications for listings – and in our case de-listings – of iconic natural and cultural sites around the world.
Last week, Australia dodged a bullet after being considered for an international shame list over our protection of the Great Barrier Reef. The WHC deferred a decision for 12 months on whether to add the iconic area to the ‘List of World Heritage in Danger’.
Part of the WHC’s angst is around the Abbott Government’s approval to dump three million cubic tonnes of dredge spoil in the marine park, as part of its approval to expand a coal port near the reef.
This week, the Abbott Government’s application to redraw the boundaries of the mighty Tasmanian Wilderness was also sunk.
Within months of coming to office, the Abbott Government wrote to UNESCO seeking a “minor” tweaking of the boundaries, so that it could begin logging.
The World Heritage Committee last night rejected the application.
UNESCO describes the Tasmania Wilderness thus: “In a region that has been subjected to severe glaciation, these parks and reserves, with their steep gorges, covering an area of over one million hectares, constitute one of the last expanses of temperate rainforest in the world. Remains found in limestone caves attest to the human occupation of the area for more than 20,000 years.”
While the knock-back was being celebrated by Aboriginal and environmental groups alike, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre’s secretary Ruth Langford said there was still work to do.
“It is now our job to ensure that the Australian Government honours the request of the World Heritage Committee to undertake an extensive Cultural Assessment in negotiation with our people,” Ms Langford said.
Community elder Rocky Sainty, speaking from Doha said: “We can return home in celebration and assure our Elders that Tasmanian Aboriginal Heritage and culture is important to the world.
“As custodians, we have felt the weight of responsibility to protect the burial places of our ancestors, some of the oldest rock art in the world and our magnificent forests, from the Australian Government’s irresponsible proposal.”
Environment Tasmania, The Australian Conservation Foundation, the Wilderness Society and the Tasmania Aboriginal Centre all combined to help lead the fight in Doha to protect the wilderness area.
Overnight, Prime Minister Tony Abbott described the failed logging bid as disappointing.
"The application that we made to remove from the boundaries of the World Heritage listing – areas of degraded forest, areas of plantation timber – we thought was self-evidently sensible," he said.
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