Unesco rejects move to revoke Tasmanian World Heritage status

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 June, 2014, 9:36pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2014, 4:41am


Environment groups yesterday hailed Unesco's decision to reject the Australian government's bid to revoke World Heritage status for parts of the Tasmanian wilderness, calling it "a strong rebuke" for the conservative government.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott believes too much forest is locked up and favours more access for loggers. He asked the UN cultural body to delist 74,000 protected hectares in the southern island state.

But delegates at Unesco's World Heritage committee meeting in Doha turned down the controversial request, saying it would set an unacceptable precedent. It was the first time a developed country had asked for a delisting.

In a joint statement, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Wilderness Society, Environment Tasmania and the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre said it was a win for common sense.

"The World Heritage committee delivered a strong rebuke to the Australian government by rejecting its request to delist Tasmania's new World Heritage forests so they could be logged," they said.

"The World Heritage committee's decision also sends a clear message to the Tasmanian state government, which wants to log other iconic forests, such as the Blue Tier, Tarkine, Bruny Island, Tasman, Reedy Marsh and the Northeast Highlands."

Former Greens Party leader Bob Brown, a prominent Tasmanian environmentalist, described the decision as "humiliation" for the prime minister.

"The World Heritage forests safe as World Heritage committee rejects embarrassing gov't bid. Global diplomatic humiliation for Abbott," he tweeted.

The area slated for delisting was part of 120,000 hectares added last year to the Tasmanian wilderness area under the previous Labor government, the culmination of a long battle waged by environmentalists.

The government claimed the area it wanted delisted already has been "degraded", having been logged before.

Opponents said only 8.6 per cent of it has been disturbed, with the rest pristine old-growth rainforest.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the government accepted the decision, while calling it a "minor boundary modification". Some of the last temperate wilderness areas in the world, the Tasmanian forests cover nearly 20 per cent, or 1.4 million hectares, of the state.

Last week Unesco also voiced its alarm at a "serious decline in the condition" of the Great Barrier Reef off Queensland, which is another World Heritage-listed area.

It gave Australia until February next year to submit a report on what it was doing to protect the reef or risk it being put on their list of endangered sites.