Employment Policies Threaten Environmental Protection In Tasmania’s Tarkine

On February 25th 2018, over 1000 people rallied in Hobart, the state capital of Tasmania, Australia’s southern-most state, demanding protection for a vast track of wilderness in the state’s North West called the Tarkine or Takayna. Takayna is the traditional name given to the region by indigenous groups. The Tarkine coastline contains a number of middens and other sites of significance to Indigenous people which allude to thousands of years of previous habitation. These sites have been threatened by the presence of four-wheel drive roads stretching through areas containing such sites. The rally was prompted by the continued threat to such sites and the catalysts for environmental degradation facing the region as a whole. As the region does not have national park status, it remains open to both mining and logging ventures which have wide reaching support in nearby population centres due to the employment which they have historically provided.

In 2014, Tasmania passed anti-protest laws in the form of the Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act, of which sections were found to be unconstitutional following a High Court challenge by veteran activist Bob Brown. The legislation was forged in the context of a number of anti-logging protests which succeeded in halting operations. Through the legislation, the Liberal Party in Tasmania sought to pursue improved employment outcomes through removing barriers to the expansion of the forestry industry. The legislation came under heavy criticism, both in respect to the threat it poses to Tasmania’s renowned wilderness values and its derogation of free speech. In the lead up to the March 3rd 2018 election, the Tasmanian Liberals pledged to revitalize the legislation if reelected.

The implementation of this legislation in 2014 is microcosmic of the political hurdles which have to be overcomed for the Tarkine to be adequately protected. The Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife website describes the Tarkine as “a big, open land, shaped and nurtured by the hands of thousands of generations of Aboriginal families, with a coastline sculpted by the enormous swells of the Southern Ocean.” Tourism in the Tarkine has been actively promoted by a number of significant government and non-government bodies in Tasmania, in line with the state’s desire of promoting tourism. The vast majority of tourist attractions relate to the state’s wilderness values, prompting the implementation of a broad array of ecotourism ventures.

The revenue and employment source which ecotourism, including in the Tarkine region, presents to the state government sits juxtaposed against pressure to provide employment in other sectors. Employment rates in the north west of Tasmania are some of the highest in the state and logging, an industry entrenched in the regions over decades, presents a straightforward pathway to alleviate the issue. As a result, many oppose the “closing-off” of areas of the state in favour of wilderness preservation. The detriment to the ecotourism image the state is trying to build can easily be sold to the majority of voters as it will not tarnish an area where most Tasmanians have visited, and furthermore is currently in the infancy of its tourism development.

Currently, both the Labour and Liberal Parties, the two major political factions in the state, have manifested intentions against designating the region as a national park. In addition to the threat this poses to both natural and cultural heritage sites, activists assert that the diminishment of the region’s vast tracts of temperature rainforest has direct links to the processes of global warming. The interplay between Tasmania’s desire to promote green tourism while also providing local employment in traditional sectors such as logging is a dichotomy which deeply hinders preservation efforts and will continue to do so into the future. There is no straightforward solution to the environmental crisis which has the potential to unfold, however one thing is certain: rights to free speech and peaceful demonstration should not be impugned be legislation.