There is a little island, seemingly at the bottom of the world, where an often unfavourable climate has deterred the masses and separation from the mainland and time has enabled unique species of fauna and flora to evolve into quirky creatures of legend. It is also an island of conflict where developers hungry for money and ‘progress’ lock horns with those of environmentalists seeking to embrace nature and fiercelessly defend it’s destruction.
I returned to Tasmania from Africa late last year to discover Tony Abbott had been elected Prime Minister, leaving me in disbelief. In the 18 months I had been out of the country what had convinced the Australian population that this regressive, right-wing, climate change-denying, inarticulate man should be put in the seat of power and represent our country on the world stage? In the months that have followed his election the Abbott Government have approved major developments along the Great Barrier Reef’s World Heritage Area, including the dumping of 3 million cubic metres of sludge; exempted the west coast from the White Shark Recovery Plan, allowing the luring and killing of sharks in WA; removed the science minister portfolio for the first time since it’s inception in 1931 and sharing it between the industry and education minister portfolios; campaigned to ‘turn the boats around’ – comparing asylum seekers to drug runners and content in locking them up in questionable conditions on Manus Island – and pushed for a repeal of the carbon tax, condemning its impact on big business. All-in-all confirming the worst fears of those who oppose his leadership.
As Australian’s are slowly waking up to the devastation his actions could have on our environment, together with our reputation throughout the world as the international media begins to question his decisions, his controversial address to an audience of loggers at Parliament House in Canberra hit closest to home. Referring to them as the ‘ultimate conservationists’ and saluting them as ‘people who love what Mother Nature gives us and who want to husband it for the long-term best interests of humanity’, Tony Abbott confirmed his commitment to remove a World Heritage listing covering 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian forest, a wilderness he has never experienced, and open it up to logging. With 15% of Tasmanian jobs in tourism (and only 1% in logging) and visitors, both domestic and international, embracing the state’s wild landscapes, this destructive stomp towards ‘development’ which Tony Abbott hails could be devastating for the island.
The forests in question comprise giant, sky-scraping 100 metre tall trees and a specialised ecosystem of diverse flora and fauna, including the Tasmanian devil, platypus and giant wedge-tailed eagle. Not only are these areas important to the continuation of such species, but also for their intrinsic value as wild, untouched places for future generations to discover. But perhaps our society no longer holds onto values which hinder the justification for short term monetary gains through exploitation. And after they dry out, we move onto the next.
When I enter into Tasmania’s World Heritage Listed Wilderness I am awed by the immensity and scale of mountains and rock formations, the vastness on stretches of beaches where I am the sole human being, humbled by the magnitude of its forests and diversity of species, and empowered by the blazing skies of sunrise and sunset over areas of unfathomable beauty. When you experience this no amount of money can justify its destruction. To the Prime Minister of Australia – I’m not sure who you are representing, but it is not me.