Category Archives: World Heritage

Groundwater mining at Springbrook

High on the ridgeline in the highest part of Springbrook Plateau, south-east Queensland, there is a proposal to extract groundwater for bottling as ‘spring water’.

The development application is currently being considered by Gold Coast City Council. ARCS has lodged an objection, a copy of which follows.


  1. Essence of the application
  • All work carried out on the property has been to prepare the site for commercial groundwater extraction. Approval for construction of a house was granted in September 2016 but no work has been carried out in that regard. Australian Rainforest Conservation Society (ARCS) contends that this application for groundwater extraction should be taken to have involved major vegetation clearing.
  1. The proposed use conflicts with the City Plan.
  • The application prepared by Michel Group Services fails to include the associated movement of 8 heavy vehicles per day in and out of the property as part of the proposed use. The proposed use, taken as a whole, will clearly impact the landscape character and rural amenity and is therefore not compatible with the Rural Zone Code.
  • The associated movement of 8 heavy vehicles per day in and out of the property, which is within the ‘Rural landscape and environment precinct’, will clearly cause a loss of scenic amenity values of this hinterland ridgeline and is in conflict with the Rural Zone Code.
  • The Rural Zone Code requires that non-rural activities (extractive industry) provide goods and services that directly support the rural community. The proposed use is primarily, and probably wholly, to provide water to water-bottling companies. It will not support the rural community.
  • The Rural Zone Code requires that non-rural activities (extractive industry) do not conflict with the landscape character of the area. The proposed use involves eight heavy vehicle movements in and out of the property each day. That would clearly impact on the landscape character.
  • The proposed development does not conform to Rural Activity Code 9.3.17. It does not conform to the overall purpose of Code being to “provide a level of amenity reflective of rural areas and to protect the environment” and to “provide a reasonable level of amenity for the surrounding area.” As owner of the two properties directly opposite the proposed site, purchased specifically to protect their outstanding World Heritage values, ARCS contends that the daily movement of 8 heavy vehicles in and out of the property will in no way “provide a reasonable level of amenity for the surrounding area”.
  1. The proposed use will significantly increase the risk of serious, head-on collisions on Repeater Station Road
  • The traffic engineers’ report notes that sections of the road “narrow to less than the ideal width for two vehicles to pass”. Given that, it is thoroughly inappropriate to propose introducing a new use with heavy vehicles whose width is only slightly less than half the width of these narrow sections of the road.
  • Given blind corners and frequent low visibility due to cloud immersion on this narrow section of Repeater Station Road, used largely by visitors likely to be unfamiliar with the road, 8 heavy vehicle movements a day would significantly increase the risk of serious head-on collisions.
  • This particular section of Repeater Station Road is not currently used to any significant extent by heavy vehicles. Survey data provided in the Traffic Impact Assessment did not record any heavy vehicles over two full days of recording.
  1. The proposed additional extraction from this aquifer has the potential to impact on matters of environmental significance
  • The extraction of groundwater at this site, adding to existing extraction from the same aquifer, has the potential to impact on matters of environmental significance (World Heritage area, protected areas, biodiversity areas, Hinterland to Coastal Corridors, Hinterland Core Habitat System) and thus conflicts with the Rural Zone Code (Rural landscape and environment precinct).
  • The proposed bore site is less than 400 metres from the Springbrook National Park section of Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area.
  • The aquifer from which water will be pumped feeds major attractions in the World Heritage Area including Twin Falls and Natural Bridge.
  • The application does not consider the likely impacts of climate change. Predicted changes for the World Heritage Area include an increase in average annual temperature, an increase in the number of hot days, a drop in average annual rainfall with increasingly severe dry seasons and extreme weather events, increasing annual moisture seasonality, higher evaporative demand and increasingly severe and frequent droughts and fires (Australian National University 2009). Another predicted change is a lifting in the cloud base.
  • Of particular concern is the potential impact on springs and streams during extended dry periods. For example, rainfall from July through September 2017 was just 48 mm. Streams such as Cave Creek and Boy-Ull Creek would have been wholly dependent on groundwater discharge from the aquifer. During such a period, the proposed extraction could be as much as 4 million litres (8 large tankers per day).
  • There is the potential for impacts on endangered plant species including the highly significant Eucryphia jinksii. This tree species is recorded at lower elevation below the escarpment approximately 1.3 km west of the bore site and likely to be within the drawdown zone.
  1. The application is inconsistent with the State Planning Policy
  • State Planning Policy requires consideration of the projected impacts of climate change with respect to natural hazards. The proposed extraction of groundwater has the potential to increase the likelihood of bushfire in an area that the Bureau of Meteorology predicts will spend more time in drought over the course of the century. BOM also predicts with high confidencethat climate change will result in a harsher fire-weather climate in the future in the area. Recent fires in rainforest in Lamington National Park confirm that this hazard already exists.
  1. The proposed use conflicts with Gold Coast City Council policy
  • Approval of this proposal, which would generate more than 30 million half-litre plastic bottles of water annually, would fly in the face of the Council’s “Choose tap” campaign.

A.  The Essence

Site at 18 August 2014
Commercial Groundwater Extraction would not have been approved by Council as the property lies within the Rural Landscape and Environment Precinct which excludes vegetation clearing for rural activities.
Site at 15 May 2016
Site already prepared for MCU Commercial Groundwater Extraction application made 27 April 2018. Preparation works were carried out under MCU201601209 for Detached Dwelling and Treeworks.Some clearing was illegally carried out before the MCU was approved. GCCC issued show cause notice. The report by Rytenskild Traffic Engineering states “The proposed driveway arrangement is in place, together with a shed that will be used for the proposed operation.”

Clearing/widening of the southern exit continues (ground observations to 10 November 2018).

Rytenskild recommended some trees be removed. The owner has already removed some of these trees without approval.

Hoffmann Drilling would be ready to extract and truck water tomorrow with all preparatory work having been carried out under the MCU for a dwelling.

Since the original application for Commercial Groundwater Extraction, further work has been carried out to prepare for groundwater extraction. Several more bores have been drilled, possibly up to 12.

There is no sign of any work being carried out in relation to the construction of a house.

bore_drilling Drilling

In summary, works carried out on the site to date include

  • clearing an area of 2500 sq.m. (GFA of proposed house is 271 sq.m., shed is 72 sq.m.)
  • numerous bores
  • pump & shed
  • storage tanks
  • road designed for entry and exit of large trucks.</li

The site has been fully prepared for groundwater extraction before Council has made a decision but there has been no work at all done on construction of a house despite approval being granted in September 2016.

As shown on the approved plan below, the proposed house extends over the lower driveway. So fully laden water trucks would be driving under the bedroom and living room daily starting at 6.30 am!

House_planB.  Basis of this objection

  1. Vegetation clearing

As detailed in Part A ‘The Essence’, there has been a lot of work carried out on the site. However, it is reasonable to conclude from the nature of the work that it has all been directed towards preparation of the site for groundwater extraction. No work has been carried out on construction of a house despite approval having been granted in September 2016. It is therefore reasonable to propose that this application for groundwater extraction includes major clearing of vegetation.

The application repeatedly claims that it is consistent with various provisions of the City Plan as no vegetation clearing is involved. ARCS contends that all such claims should be taken to be false.

  1. The proposed use conflicts with the City Plan

(a)       The proposed use conflicts with the Rural Zone Code

(i) The proposed use will not directly support the rural community

The Rural Zone Code (2)(a)(iii) provides that land uses “may include a range of small-scale, compatible non-rural activities where they provide goods and services that directly support the rural community.”

It is claimed that the proposed use will support the community through water deliveries. Sale of water to local residents is likely to be minimal. Springbrook residents have rainwater tanks or bores and would only need delivery of water in exceptionally dry periods. Local supply would be a minor part of the business if it occurred at all. Water supplied for drinking would require processing to meet drinking water standards. We understand that would not be possible under this application.

It can be concluded that water supply to local residents will either not occur at all or will be a very minor part of the proposal and therefore it does not meet the code requirement of providing goods and services that directly support the rural community.

If the broader community is considered, it can be argued that the supply of water in plastic bottles is not in the best interests of the community (University of Queensland 2019, Australian Broadcasting Commission 2018). This has been recognised by GCCC in its “Choose tap” campaign which reports that plastic bottles are the most littered items in Gold Coast waterways.

In response to the previous version of this application to extract groundwater, there were more than 320 objections but no supporting submissions. Whereas Council, in making its decision, is not required to consider public support, this level of objection can surely be taken to mean that supply of water to the Springbrook community is not required.

Internationally, there are growing local government and community concerns about commercial groundwater extraction for bottled water. In Florida, which has the largest concentration of freshwater springs in the world, many of its springs are running dry from overextraction (Sainato and Skojec 2019).

 (ii) The proposed use poses a threat to matters of environmental significance

This is covered in detail under 3. Impact on groundwater.

 (iii) The proposed use will conflict with the landscape character

The Rural Zone Code (2)(a)(iii) provides that land uses “may include a range of small-scale, compatible non-rural activities where they provide goods and services that … do not conflict with the landscape character.”.

The applicant, through Michel Services Group, repeatedly refer to the proposed use as involving small structures and argue no impact as the structures will not be visible from the road. That completely ignores the essential component of the proposed use being transport of the extracted water. The most obvious impact will come from 8 heavy vehicle movements in and out of the property each day. That would unquestionably impact on the landscape character of the area. That section of Repeater Station Road will become anindustrial site.

 (iv) The proposed use will conflict with the rural amenity

The Rural Zone Code (2)(a)(iii) provides that land uses “may include a range of small-scale, compatible non-rural activities where they provide goods and services that … do not conflict with .. rural amenity..”.

Again, the applicant argues the proposed use will not impact rural amenity because it will not be visible from the street. The associated 8 heavy vehicle movements in and out of the property each day will significantly impact on the rural amenity.

The acoustic report did not provide any measurements of the noise that would be created by fully laden water tankers climbing up the exit track and turning out onto Repeater Station Road

 (v) The proposed use will conflict with the purpose of the Rural Landscape and Environment Precinct

The property also lies within the Rural Landscape and Environment Precinct. The relevant code requires that “Land uses do not impact on matters of environmental significance, landscape and scenic amenity values of the land”. The code also aims to protect the “natural landscape .. particularly on the Hinterland ranges .. which contributes to the city’s distinct form, visual attractiveness and role as a major tourist destination.” Code part 6.2.20-2 PO5 requires that activities do not result in “loss of the scenic amenity values of hinterland ridgelines”. Prior to the partly unauthorised vegetation clearing on the property, the landscape character was one of old-growth forest. The clearing adds to cumulative impacts on the landscape character of this area, in particular canopy integrity essential to viability of rare, threatened and phylogenetically significant species contributing to Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage precinct.

We contend that 8 heavy vehicle movements in and out of the property on the road to a major tourist destination, Best of All Lookout, in a World Heritage Area would significantly impact on the landscape and scenic amenity values and the visual attractiveness of a popular tourist destination.

As discussed below, we also contend that the proposal runs the risk, during extended dry periods, of depleting the water source for other major tourist destinations, Twin Falls and Natural Bridge.

 (b)      The proposed use conflicts with the General Development Provisions Code

The site of the proposed development is plainly not an appropriate location for extractive industry.

The General Development Provisions Code PO13 requires that “Development is designed to ..complement the character … of the local area.” An extractive industry is the antithesis of the character of the area, not only because of the commercial water extraction itself but also because of the very visible presence of heavy vehicles making 8 trips per day on the road to a major tourist attraction in the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. The property and its road frontage will effectively be turned into an industrial site.

The General Development Provisions Code PO2 requires that proposed development prevents loss of amenity and threats to health and safety, having regard to, inter alia, traffic and visual amenity. We contend that there will be significant impacts on safety (See 4. Traffic issues.) and visual amenity (See B2(a)(iv).)

 (c)       The proposed use conflicts with the Strategic Framework of the City Plan

Specific Outcome within Element — Landscape Character requires that “The city’s natural, non-urbanised appearance is protected for its contribution to the city’s outstanding scenic amenity, image and role as a major tourist destination.”

The application claims that “the use will not impact upon the existing scenic amenity of Repeater Station Road” again considering only the on-site buildings associated with extraction and not the associated transport. Eight heavy vehicle movements per day in and out of the property will clearly impact on the scenic amenity and the image of Springbrook as a tourist destination and a World Heritage site.

road to best of all

Dark green areas in this photo are conservation areas, mainly national park, illustrating the fact that the major land use in this locality is nature conservation. The two properties directly opposite the MCU property are private wildlife sanctuaries purchased by ARCS to protect their World Heritage Values.

The application also states that “the use is consistent with other properties on Repeater Station Road”. That is presumably a reference to the two (or three) existing commercial water extraction sites. We contend that those properties are anomalous and should not be regarded as providing a precedent. Almost all other properties on Repeater Station Road are used for residential purposes or nature conservation. (The exceptions are a horse paddock and a few communications towers.)

road at 263

This section of Repeater Station Road, just 1.3 km from Best of All Lookout, would be converted into an industrial site with 8 heavy vehicle movements per day.

3. Impact on groundwater

The application depends significantly on the assertion that there are already two groundwater extraction businesses on Repeater Station Road and they have had no impact on the aquifer. We contend that it has never been shown that that there has been no impact on groundwater discharge in the locality. Further, the assumption completely ignores cumulative impacts. The fact that there are already two current groundwater extractions occurring should raise concerns about a third extraction rather than providing assurance of no impact.

The hydrogeologists’ report notes that “Depletion of springs, waterfalls and streamflows occurs from time to time due to prolonged drought conditions.” That statement illustrates the issue. During prolonged drought conditions, springs, waterfalls and streams in this area are wholly dependent on discharge from this aquifer from which Hoffmann Drilling would be extracting more than 300,000 litres per week.

Whereas Council might consider approval with a condition on the volume to be extracted, that would be of great concern given the impact on the environment is unknown but potentially significant.

The report by Douglas Partners provides no confidence that the potential impact on the groundwater system has been adequately assessed.
The report rests heavily on long-term average rainfall and consequent recharge of the aquifer. Given that the proposed groundwater extraction would be expected to occur year after year no matter what the annual rainfall might be, it would have been prudent to look at the range of annual rainfall and especially the minimal annual rainfall.

The long-term average annual rainfall is quoted by Douglas Partners as 3053.4 mm. However only 44 of the 104 years of rainfall data (1915–2018) have recorded annual rainfalls of ≥ 3000 mm. Years where annual rainfall exceeds 3000 mm are often associated with cyclone activity where the majority of falls are high rainfall events over a short space of time. Even in such years, such as in 1956, five consecutive months were classified as dry, i.e. less than 100 mm of rainfall during a month. There are nine years where annual rainfall is less than 2000 mm. In many years there have been six or more consecutive months in a year classified as dry. In 2002, the annual rainfall at Upper Springbrook was just 1569 mm and in 2014 it was 1927 mm. Rainfall over the four months from May to August 2018 was 224 mm. In January 2019 rainfall at Upper Springbrook was only 17 mm, the lowest ever recorded.

However, only 44 of the 104 years of rainfall data (1915–2019) have recorded annual rainfalls of ≥3000 mm.

The test pumping done by Douglas Partners shows a fall in the aquifer level of 4.5 meters over 24 hours and a significant recovery over the following 2 hours. There was no attempt to mimic the pumping for 12 hours per day every day during an extended dry period.

Potential impacts of climate change
We find it surprising that the specialists did not consider the impacts of future climate change, given that the proposed extraction would continue “forever”.

Predicted changes for the World Heritage Area include an increase in average annual temperature, an increase in the number of hot days, a drop in average annual rainfall with increasingly severe dry seasons and extreme weather events, increasing annual moisture seasonality, higher evaporative demand and increasingly severe and frequent droughts and fires (Australian National University 2009).

The State Interest “Natural hazards, risk and resilience”, as defined in the State Planning Policy, has not been integrated in the City Plan. Hence, “the applicable assessment benchmarks, relevant guiding principles, state interest statements and state interest policies contained in the State Planning Policy applies to development, to the extent relevant.”

The State Planning Policy defines this State Interest as follows: “The risks associated with natural hazards, including the impacts of climate change, are avoided or mitigated to protect people and property and enhance the community’s resilience to natural hazards.”

Relevant to this proposed use, taking account of the likely impacts of climate change, is the natural hazard of bushfire. The State Planning Policy requires development to “maintain or enhance natural processes and the protective function of landforms and vegetation that can mitigate risks associated with the natural hazard”.

Under the planning legislation, Council is required to consider the likely impacts of climate change.

Recent fires in the Beechmont area and Lamington National Park show that extended dry conditions and higher temperatures can lead to fires occurring in rainforest. The Bureau of Meteorology’s (BOM) prediction for the East Coast (Northern) region in which Springbrook occurs is for time spent in drought to increase over the course of the century. BOM also predicts with high confidence that climate change will result in a harsher fire-weather climate in the future in this region.

Research has shown impacts of wildfire can be related to groundwater (Taufik et al. 2017). Groundwater extraction can be expected to increase the likelihood and impacts of wildfire and this needs to be considered in assessing this application.

Approval of this application has the potential to increase the risk of bushfire in the Springbrook rainforest, an outcome that would be disastrous for the community and for Gold Coast City.

There is evidence that climate change may already be having an impact on fauna in this very locality. The black-tailed dusky antechinus (Antechinus arktos) was discovered in 2014 and last year placed on the Federal endangered species list. Dr Andrew Baker, from QUT’s Science and Engineering Faculty, said his research team spent time earlier this year around Best of All Lookout at Springbrook National Park as part of their ongoing study of the rare antechinus. The area is one of the marsupial’s four known Scenic Rim mountain habitats. They had done trap-and-release studies in the same area annually from 2013 to 2017 between May and September. During those visits, it has been teeming with small mammals of various species easily caught, and that was what they expected to see again this year. However, in the 1750 traps set in 2019, no rare black-tailed dusky antechinus were captured, nor any of the very common brown antechinus (Antechinus stuartii). Based on past studies, they had expected to see up to 10 black-tailed dusky antechinus captures and about 250 brown antechinus captures. The results were very concerning.

Dr Baker said climate change and extreme weather plausible explanation. Research has shown a strong link between the amount of rainfall and insect availability. The 17 mm of rainfall in Upper Springbrook in January, 2019 was the lowest on record. Rainfall levels in February were 32% of the long-term average, followed by March levels that were 20% lower than the long-term average. Commercial water extraction, through impacts on groundwater discharge, could be expected to reduce leaf litter insect populations upon which Antechinus arktos depends. Extinction of this animal would be the first antechinus extinction recorded in the world.

Of further concern is the potential impact on springs and streams during extended dry periods. The hydrogeologists’ report depends on the assumption of high recharge. But that can not be assumed. For example, rainfall from July through September 2017 was just 48 mm. Streams such as Cave Creek and Boy-Ull Creek would have been wholly dependent on groundwater discharge from the aquifer. During such a period when recharge is negligible, the proposed extraction could be as much as 4 million litres (4 large tankers per day). It is these extreme conditions/events compounded by several co-occurring stressors that have the most significant impact rather than considerations of just average annual rainfall as is the case for the hydrogeological specialists.

Twin Falls

Twin Falls at moderate flow

Twin Falls

Twin Falls, September 2018

The application includes the statement “It is also important to note here that due to the depth of aquifer (84 m below the natural surface level) the terrestrial trees do not rely on it as a source of water, and therefore extraction of ground water will not impact upon said trees.” This is further argued by Element Ecology in their specialist report. According to the specialists’ report, the aquifer is actually around 60 m below ground level at the bore site. However, at lower elevations on the property and beyond the property boundaries, the aquifer is closer to or at the surface where vegetation (as well as fauna such as frogs) may well depend on this source of water.
Lowering the aquifer would be expected, through lowering pressure, to reduce the level of discharge with likely impacts on the overall hydroecology of the adjoining catchments. Many macro-invertebrates that are either important components of the broader foodweb or have other essential ecosystem functions, have part or whole of their life-cycle associated with streams, springs or soaks.

In the vicinity of the property there are springs occurring at an elevation of >900m. On the property itself, there are springs, intermittent streams and a permanent stream above 800m. These springs and streams indicate the presence of groundwater close to the surface at this elevation. There is the potential for extraction from the aquifer at the proposed site to affect this groundwater and hence ecosystem integrity.

Large, old trees, apart from being critical carbon sinks that help mitigate climate change, are keystone species within rainforest communities. Their capacity for hydraulic redistribution of moisture from lower levels fed by aquifers keeps soils moist during dry periods for the benefit of other species. Commercial ground water extraction from the aquifer has the potential to interfere with this process with long-term consequences for the ecosystem and its characteristic diversity.

Three frog species that contribute to World Heritage values, Assa darlingtoni, Kyarranus loveridgei and Lechriodus fletcheri are not dependent on streams but do depend on moist soil or ephemeral pools. They are likely to be impacted by any reduction in available moisture. K. loveridgei has been recorded on 263 Repeater Station Road.

There is the potential for impacts on endangered plant species including the highly significant Eucryphia jinksii. This tree species is recorded at lower elevation below the escarpment approximately 1.3 km west of the bore site and likely to be within the drawdown zone. There is evidence that the main large canopy trees such as Argyrodentron trifoliolatum, essential for ecosystem integrity, are declining as a result of longer spells of drier microclimate and soils followed by high rainfall events accompanied by strong winds. Moreover, depletion of water levels of interconnected aquifers within the local fractured basalts has the potential for diminishing hydraulic redistribution by these large canopy species with flow-on impacts on other surrounding moisture-dependent species.

Douglas Partners assessed the impact of extraction on the aquifer by estimating the impact on flow into Little Nerang Dam. Not surprisingly, the impact was insignificant. What is required is information on the impact of extraction on the local environment gained through research into the ecophysiological responses of vegetation, in particular trees, to the extraction of groundwater in order to determine a baseline from which changes can be observed over time. Such research includes the use of dendrometers and sap flow meters, measurement of Leaf Area Index (LAI), comparison of the stable isotope composition of water in the xylem and the water table, determination of the root depth of trees with regards to the water table, and calculation of leaf water potential and water balance. Scientists would subsequently use a subset of these tools to monitor the ecophysiological responses of vegetation over time, often many years.

A realistic assessment process should be based on a systems approach particularly when dealing with complex, dynamic ecosystems potentially exhibiting non-linear threshold dynamics with alternative stable states, driven and maintained by bi-directional interactions and feedback loops between species, resource fluxes and disturbance regimes. Such systems are capable of threshold behaviour characterised by tipping points to different states including ecosystem collapse as defined by the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems Categories and Criteria, Version 1.1. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. ix + 99pp. Consideration of impacts involving a linear approach of direct causality is inappropriate especially when medium- and long-term impacts are concerned.

The ridge comprising Repeater Station Road is ecologically significant given it uniquely receives both morning and afternoon sunlight leading to a higher ecologically productive zone relied upon during extreme dry periods by a range of fauna including especially Albert’s Lyrebird and Noisy Pitta. It is likely that during these extreme events road kills from increased traffic from the development would result in long-lasting impacts on population numbers.

Douglas Partners provide a chart of drawdown versus distance from the bore. Their report includes an image with a circle showing the approximate extent of drawdown to 1.5 metres. The image below shows the approximate extent of drawdown to 1 metre. Clearly, the image is indicative only as the drawdown extent would not be circular. This modelled result was based on pumping for 24 hours per day with no rainfall. Whereas that is an unlikely situation, a drawdown of anything like 1 metre would have disastrous effects on vegetation and streamflow.


Australian Rainforest Conservation Society (ARCS) owns the group accommodation business, Koonjewarre, which operates on the property adjoining the eastern boundary of 263 Repeater Station Road. A feature of the property is a lake on a tributary of Boy-Ull Creek fed by a spring which derives from the up-slope aquifer. The lake is a feature of our business and is used for canoeing activities for schools and other groups including State Emergency Services. There is the potential for the flow in this watercourse to be impacted by extraction from the aquifer by the applicant. This would significantly affect our business. All profits from the business are directed to rainforest restoration on areas adjoining the World Heritage Area on Springbrook Plateau.


We can also provide some anecdotal evidence that groundwater extraction currently occurring on Repeater Station Road depletes the aquifer to the point where water ceases to be available at other sites. ARCS has management responsibility for a property at 74 Repeater Station Road which is at a lower altitude than the three existing extraction sites. Water is supplied to the buildings on that property from a bore pump which, given the location, derives water from the same aquifer as the commercial extraction sites further south on Repeater Station Road. In late 2017, we had to replace the bore pump to restore water supply to the property. However, when the new pump was installed, very little water could be pumped and it took several days for a reasonable volume of water to be obtained.

The application makes reference to the fact that commercial groundwater extraction has been approved at three other sites in Repeater Station Road. The reference is presumably making the point that commercial groundwater extraction is a legitimate activity in the area. But, as noted above, cumulative impacts need to be considered. Given that it is distinctly possible that existing commercial extraction is significantly affecting the aquifer, it would be irresponsible to add a third (or fourth) commercial extraction in the absence of definitive data on the impact on the environment.

The previous response to Council’s information request states “there are similar uses located elsewhere along Repeater Station Road that have been operational for many years without issue”. We provided anecdotal evidence above that suggests that there has been an issue.

The response states that a “private individual could take the same or greater amounts of water without any approvals or restrictions.” The argument is hollow. No individual could possibly require 60,000–224,000 L per day. Further, water extracted for domestic purposes is returned to the environment following on site treatment.

Further still, if there were a significant drawdown from future bores, it would be prudent to allow for that prospect and ensure that groundwater is available for future additional household use and not used for the financial benefit of one business and producing more of an environmentally undesirable product.
The response to Council’s request for more information includes a response from the hydrogeologists, Douglas Partners. They argue that “Limiting drawdown to a property is not considered to be a relevant requirement in managing groundwater resources in the Springbrook area.” We contend that it is a completely relevant requirement if the extraction causes an environmental impact beyond the boundary of the property, e.g. in the World Heritage Area. The City Plan requires such a consideration.

It is also noted that the highest pre-clearing density of modelled threatened flora and fauna habitat in Queensland is found at Springbrook (M.Laidlaw pers. comm, Department of Environment and Science 2018). This finding significantly elevates the importance of Springbrook, including the area relevant to the proposal, to the State’s and Australia’s threatened biodiversity.

Given that

  • the recommendations of Douglas Partners are apparently based on long-term average annual rainfall which is twice the minimum annual rainfall over that period, and
  • future climate change is predicted to lead to lower rainfall, increasingly severe dry seasons and generally drying conditions, and
  • the proposal involves removal of around 7 to 10 times the maximum recommended by Douglas Partners, and
  • there are already two (or three) commercial groundwater extractions drawing on the aquifer with some evidence that they are significantly depleting the aquifer,

it is reasonable to conclude that the proposal will have a significant impact on the groundwater system. That, in turn, could be expected to impact on the World Heritage Area part of which is only 400 metres from the bore site. The aquifer from which water will be pumped feeds Boy-Ull Creek (850 m from the bore) and a tributary of Boy-Ull Creek (200 m). Boy-Ull Creek feeds Twin Falls, a major attraction in this section of the World Heritage Area. The aquifer also feeds Cave Creek (480 m) which flows through Natural Bridge within the World Heritage Area. Natural Bridge is a highly visited site because of the presence of glowworms.

Studies on Tamborine Mountain showed that 72–80 % of stream flow was derived from groundwater discharge (Todd 2011).

Considering the likely impact on the groundwater system, it is clear that the application should be rejected. Indeed, applying the Precautionary Principle, the application must be rejected.

4. Traffic issues

Australian Rainforest Conservation Society (ARCS) has operated a field office at two locations on Repeater Station Road since 2008. Currently, our office is at 250 Repeater Station Road directly opposite 263 Repeater Station Road. Officers of ARCS have been driving on the relevant section of Repeater Station Road essentially daily for the past decade and are very familiar with the nature of the road. We know this section of the road as well as anyone.

The narrowness of the road and absence of centre line marking are likely factors contributing to the frequent experience of meeting an oncoming vehicle travelling near the centre of the road.

It is also noted that this section of the road, being above 800 metres elevation, is often submerged in cloud and visibility is low.

Of particular concern is the corner shown in the report by Rytenskild Traffic Engineering at the top of page 36. The relevant image from the Rytenskild report is shown below.


This corner is blind and whereas a convex mirror is installed, the experience of ARCS officers is that the mirror is of no value.

The bitumen surface is 5.3 m wide at this corner. The trucks proposed to be used are described in the Rytenskild report as being 2.5 m wide. That leaves no room for error should a vehicle approaching this blind corner from the north meet a fully laden water truck coming from the south, or vice versa.

The Rytenskild report (pp. 20 & 26) states “Whilst there are some sections of the road which narrow to less than the ideal width for two vehicles to pass, visibility is satisfactory and there is provision for two vehicles to pass at each end of these sections.” The corner illustrated above is a section of the road that is “less than ideal for two vehicles to pass” but where visibility is far from satisfactory. Further, the statement that two vehicles are able to pass at the end of these sections implies a voluntary one-lane section where one vehicle stops to let the other pass. That could not be considered a satisfactory solution to the issue. The engineers’ statement must be considered unqualified: the road is “less than ideal” for two vehicles to pass. It is therefore thoroughly inappropriate to propose introducing a new use of this section of the road by heavy vehicles with a width that is just slightly less than half the width of the road.

The engineers consider the possibility of widening the road but dismiss it as inappropriate. It would certainly be inappropriate to widen this scenic road in order to allow an increase in the supply of an undesirable product – bottled water.


This photo of a crest in the road was taken just 30 metres north of 263 Repeater Station Road.

In response to the Extractive Industry Development Code, Michel Group Services state “It is important to note here that Repeater Station Road has approved similar uses and therefore the immediate residents are conditioned to the impacts of commercial water extraction.” The statement has no basis. The traffic report by Rytenskild Traffic Engineering provides the results of traffic survey which show no heavy vehicles during the full two-day survey period. The currently operating water trucks do not use the road south of 166 Repeater Station Road. The proposal represents a completely new and high-impact use of this section of the road.

The statistics record a vehicle travelling on this section every two minutes at peak times. As the road leads to the very popular Best of All Lookout, it is likely that most of these vehicles are carrying visitors unfamiliar with the road which will raise the risk of a collision, not to mention the fact that these visitors, on a scenic drive to a World Heritage Site would not be expecting to meet a 10-metre long fully-laden water truck coming towards them around a blind corner.

We also note that this road is regularly used by cyclists for training.

The Traffic Impact Assessment Report provides no convincing evidence to support the recommendation in favour of the proposed groundwater extraction operation. On the contrary, all evidence suggests that the proposed 8 heavy vehicle movements per day on this road present a significant risk that serious, possibly fatal, head-on collisions will occur.

Therefore, the proposed development does not conform to the Transport Code requirement (PO20) that development is “designed to reduce impacts on the amenity, safety and operation of the road network through appropriate measures to ensure that the function and capacity of the road network is not compromised.”

D. References

Australian Broadcasting Commission 2018. War on Waste. July 2018.

Australian National University 2009. Implications of Climate Change for Australia’s World Heritage Properties: A preliminary assessment.

Department of Environment and Science 2018. Queensland State of the Environment 2017.

Sainato, M. and Skojec, C. (2019). Bottled Water is Sucking Florida Dry: The state’s aquifers are shrinking, yet corporations want to appropriate even more of them. The New York Times.

Taufik, M., Torfs, P.J.J.F., Uijlenhoet, R., Jones, P.D., Murdiyarso, D. and Van Lanen, H.A.J. (2017). Amplification of wildfire area burnt by hydrological drought in the humid tropics. Nature Climate Change, 7 (6). 428–431. ISSN 1758-678X

Todd, A. 2011. Groundwater Investigation, Tamborine Mountain, South East Queensland. Institute for Sustainable Resources, Queensland University of Technology technical report to South East Queensland Catchments Ltd.

University of Queensland 2019. The real cost of bottled water.

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Vale Peter Hitchcock AM

PeterHitchcock_John Benson_croppedInternationally recognised conservationist, Peter Hitchcock AM, died on 20 May 2019.

In 1988, Peter Hitchcock was appointed Executive Director of the interim body that later became the Wet Tropics Management Authority (WTMA). Peter had a close association with ARCS through President Aila Keto who was a member of the interim body and later the WTMA Board.

World Heritage listing of the Wet Tropics of Queensland followed years of campaigning and negotiation and was strongly opposed by the Queensland Government led by Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Peter recorded being told by the then State Environment Minister that he had no chance of success and that no-one in North Queensland wanted the World Heritage Area. “It was like walking into an ants’ nest that had been stirred up.” But Peter started talking to local landholders and found the mood to be quite different.

Peter began his career as a forester in the NSW government in the 1960s. When he became more interested in conserving forests rather than logging them, he moved to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service where he rose to the position of Deputy Director (Policy and Wildlife). Over his years in the NPWS, Peter was responsible for the establishment of numerous national parks many of which are now part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. Peter worked closely with the Wran Government and would have had a significant influence on the 1982 decision by Neville Wran to protect rainforests in northeast NSW.

In 1987, Peter was seconded by the federal government led by Bob Hawke to serve on the Commonwealth Commission of Inquiry into the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests of Tasmania to inquire into the possible World Heritage values of the areas and how they could be protected. Peter produced a dissenting report recommending protection of the forests and World Heritage nomination. Most of Peter’s recommendations were accepted by the Commonwealth and in 1989 the areas were added to the Western Tasmanian Wilderness National Parks World Heritage Area created in 1982 to become the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA).

Peter was also instrumental in achieving additions to TWWHA in 2013.

In 2014, the Australian Government led by Tony Abbott put a proposal to the World Heritage Committee to de-list 74,000 hectares of the TWWHA in order to allow logging. The Committee took less than 10 minutes in making a decision to reject the proposal. ARCS was officially represented at the meeting by a delegation headed by Alec Marr, Director of ARCS International World Heritage Programme, and including Peter Hitchcock.

When Peter left WTMA, he established a consultancy practice in Cairns with a focus on natural heritage.

Peter’s contribution to World Heritage was recognised in a tribute by IUCN: “With decades of contributions, both internationally and in his native country of Australia, Peter Hitchcock served over many years as a senior advisor on World Heritage for IUCN. During this time, he undertook numerous missions throughout the globe to monitor the state of conservation of World Heritage sites and evaluate sites nominated for the World Heritage List. He continued to contribute to the reviews of potential new sites up to this very year.”

Peter received a range of awards including Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1990, the IBM Award for Environmental Excellence in 1993 and the IUCN Packard International Parks Merit Award in 1996.

Peter will be sorely missed around the world.


Australian delegation at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha, Qatar, June 2015.
Left to right: Peter Hitchcock, Lincoln Siliakus, Alec Marr, Jenny Weber.

Keith Scott

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Vale John Sinclair AO

John SinclairLeading conservationist, John Sinclair AO, died on 3 February 2019.

John Sinclair was born in Maryborough in 1939 and educated at Maryborough Boys State High School. He left school at age 15 but obtained a Diploma of Agriculture at Queensland Agricultural College (now University of Queensland Gatton Campus) in 1959. His first job was with the Department of Education and in 1967 he took a job in the Adult Education office in Maryborough.

John was introduced to Fraser Island when his parents, who had honeymooned on the island, took him on visits to the island in his youth. He fell in love with the island and in the late 1960s he was organising safaris to the island for members of the Maryborough and Bundaberg branches of Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland (WPSQ). John was Honorary Secretary of the Maryborough Branch from its formation in 1967 until 1978. During the 1980s, he served as President and Senior Vice-President of WPSQ.

In 1969, John became aware of the campaign to save Cooloola, the mainland sandmass immediately to the south of Fraser Island, from sandmining. That campaign was led by Dr Arthur Harrold and Bill and Mavis Huxley who headed The Cooloola Committee though it was really instigated by wildflower artist Kathleen McArthur who, with her friend poet Judith Wright, had conceived the idea of a Cooloola National Park back in 1953. Judith and Kathleen had, with David Fleay and Brian Clouston, formed the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland in 1962.

As part of the Cooloola campaign, Kathleen devised the first significant conservation campaign postcard distribution with 100,000 postcards being widely distributed.

Cooloola postcard

At this time, Queensland was governed by the National Party led by Joh Blelke-Petersen. In December 1969, Bjelke-Petersen announced that areas of Cooloola would be declared national park but before that happened applications were made for sandmining leases. This led to an intense campaign to stop sandmining. Despite Bjelke-Petersen’s support, sandmining was eventually rejected by the Government essentially as a result of opposition from a “Ginger Group” of more progressive Liberal Party members.

The Cooloola campaign had given John Sinclair an insight into campaigning and focused his attention on sandmining on Fraser Island. The Queensland Government had granted Dillingham-Murphyores mining leases in the 1960s and mining was occurring on the southern end of the island. Murphyores applied for additional leases in 1971 and the Mining Warden granted the leases.

That year the Fraser Island Defence Organisation, FIDO, was formed with John as President. Arthur Harrold, barrister Lew Wyvill QC and solicitor Stephen Comino, both of whom had also played a major part in the Cooloola campaign, were influential in the early days of FIDO. John and FIDO successfully appealed the Mining Warden’s decision in the High Court which ruled that mining was not in the public interest, a matter that the Mining Warden was required to consider.

As a Queensland public servant, John was vulnerable to harassment by the government and Bjelke-Petersen publicly questioned John’s ability to do his job in adult education while campaigning against sandmining. John sued him for defamation. As a result his position in Maryborough was abolished. After successfully appealing, he was transferred to Ipswich College of TAFE. John initially won $500 damages and costs for the defamation case but Bjelke-Petersen won an appeal and John was ordered to pay costs.

In May 1975, the Federal Government, which would have been required to approve export of minerals from sandmining on Fraser Island, intervened. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who was also Minister for Environment at the time, commissioned the Fraser Island Environmental Inquiry, one of the first ever environmental impact inquiries in Australia. John was a principal witness to the Inquiry. In October 1976, the Inquiry published its findings recommending prohibiting export of minerals from Fraser Island. In the interim between May 1975 and October 1976, Gough Whitlam had been controversially dismissed by the Governor-General. Consequently, it was Whitlam’s successor, Malcolm Fraser, whose government banned mineral exports from the island.

Fraser Island IMG_5179

Photo: Mark Ash

So, sandmining had been stopped on Fraser Island but logging was still continuing. In the late 1980s, with the Bjelke-Petersen Government still in power, conservation groups began campaigning to stop logging on the island. The critical event was the election of the Labor Government led by Wayne Goss in 1989. In 1990, Goss appointed Tony Fitzgerald QC to head the Commission of Inquiry into the Conservation, Management and Use of Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Region. ARCS led the submission process for the Joint Conservation Groups and produced a major submission “The Ecological Impact of Logging Fraser Island Forests”. John Sinclair, of course, also made a number of submissions. Tony Fitzgerald was apparently convinced and recommended that logging cease and the island be nominated for World Heritage Listing.

The Goss Government implemented Fitzgerald’s recommendations and logging on Fraser Island ceased in 1991 after more than 120 years. The government also proceeded with World Heritage nomination and ARCS was commissioned to prepare the nomination as a result of the successful nomination prepared by ARCS for the Wet Tropics of Queensland. Fraser Island was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1992.

Prior to the election of the Goss Government in 1989, a national campaign was running to protect the tropical rainforests of North Queensland from logging. ARCS led the campaign. The Federal Environment Minister in the Hawke Government, Barry Cohen, set up a Working Group on Rainforest Conservation. John and Aila Keto were the environment NGO representatives. The Working Group reported to Cohen in 1995 and that led to an allocation of $22.24 million which was applied to a range of rainforest-related projects (Queensland Forestry Department applied for funds to build a road with picnic areas through rainforest in the Conondale Range.).

John-Sinclair-RESIZED4In 1992 John was appointed to a special committee to advise the Queensland Government on the management of Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Bay Region. In 1993 he was awarded the prestigious $60,000 Goldman Environmental Foundation prize in recognition of 20 years work to save Fraser Island.

In 2014, John was made an Officer in the Order of Australia “For distinguished service to conservation and the environment, through advocacy and leadership roles with a range of organisations, and to natural resource management and protection”.

John Sinclair Hon DocJohn received a number of other awards including “The Australian” newspaper’s Australian of the Year in 1976, the Global 500 Roll of Honour in 1990, and in September 2017 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by University of Sunshine Coast.

John Sinclair’s conservation interests went well beyond Fraser Island. He was a member of the Council of the Australian Conservation Foundation from 1975 to 1989 and served as Vice-President from 1977 to 1985. John was a member of the IUCN’s Commission for Environmental Planning from 1978 and attended the 15th meeting of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in Christchurch, NZ in 1981 and the World Parks Conference in Bali in 1982. He was President of the Australian Committee of the IUCN in 1982-1983.

In 1993, John was engaged as a consultant to the South African ‘Campaign for St Lucia’ group to advise on measures to protect the St Lucia region of northern Natal and the most biologically important estuary on the African continent.

In 1998, John instituted “Go Bush Safaris” taking people to numerous places of conservation interest especially World Heritage Areas in Australia and in other countries.

I first met John around 1971 when FIDO was being formed. Subsequently, in the early 1980s, John encouraged Aila Keto and myself to form the Rainforest Conservation Society and made the newly acquired premises of WPSQ at Petrie Terrace in Brisbane available to us for meetings.

John Sinclair at climate march IMG_0683

John & the author at the Climate March in Brisbane in November 2015. Photo: Aila Keto

John will be remembered for his absolute and often selfless dedication to conservation. Some mistook his fierce determination and emphatic expression as arrogant and dogmatic. We knew him as passionate about wanting a better world for nature, as caring and considerate and actually quite humble, prepared to listen and adjust his thinking. John was stoical and to his last days, suffering pain caused by his cancer, he never complained.

Up to his death, John was working on his autobiography which will be published in the future.

Few people have lived a life so devoted to protecting nature and working tirelessly to try to ensure its future. We have fond and lasting memories of John in action. And who could forget his booming voice? We miss you John.

Keith Scott


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Notes from Krakow

The ARCS team at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Krakow, Alec Marr and Virginia Young, sent through the following update at the end of the first week of the Committee meeting.

Alec & Virginia at Krakow

“If you’re confused about what happened at the World Heritage Committee Meeting in Krakow re the Great Barrier Reef we can shed a little light on what happened.

The strange and apparently conflicting position of the Committee occurred because technically the GBR was not open for discussion at this meeting. Australia is not required to present a new State of Conservation report on the Reef until December, 2019. The question of whether the GBRWHA should be inscribed on the list of WH Properties In Danger is not scheduled for consideration by the Committee until the middle of 2020!

References by the committee to its concern about coral bleaching and its impact on the GBR occurred in the context of another agenda item looking at the impact of climate change on all the world’s reefs. This item will be discussed more fully next week when it is hoped the Committee will adopt a stronger position on climate change. The Australian Marine Conservation Society is also in Krakow pushing for the Committee to urge governments to commit to the 1.5 degree target in the Paris Agreement.”

Virginia and Alec are in Krakow primarily to help a Canadian First Nation, the Mikisew Cree, protect the Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Area (WBNP) from external threats to the park which contains the largest fresh water delta in the world. Threats include a proposed new dam on the Peace Athabasca River and ongoing severe pollution threats from tar sand developments outside the park. Mikisew Cree fully funded Alec’s and Virginia’s attendance at the meeting in Krakow.


Alec & Virginia with the Mikisew Cree representatives

“WBNP is the largest park in Canada (44,000 sq. kms) that has been home to the Mikisew and other first nation people for thousands of years. It was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1983. The park is also home to the largest herd of roaming wood bison in the world.

Water in the delta is no longer safe to drink and the delta is drying due primarily to the impact of a dam built in 1968. To make matters worse tar sands developments takes 170million cubic metres of water annually out of the delta. The proposed new dam would be catastrophic for the functioning of this superlative freshwater ecosystem.

The World Heritage Committee decided in Krakow to adopt all 17 of the strong recommendations of an expert mission sent by the Committee to Canada in September last year to examine the state of and threats to, the delta. Honouring the Committees decision will require major changes to water management, re-examination of the proposed new dam, development of buffer zones for the park and major steps to eliminate pollution from tar sands. It will also require Canada to develop a collaborative approach to management and monitoring of the health of the park with the Mikisew Cree.”

Our team also managed to help people working to protect the Bialowieza forest in Poland – the largest remaining part of the immense primeval forest that once stretched across the European plain and home to 800 European Bison.

“Thankfully, the World Heritage Committee resisted attempts by Poland to open up parts of this old growth forest for logging.

The Bangladeshi Sundarban National Park WHA was not so lucky. This National Park helps protect the greatest mangrove forest left on Earth, home to Bengal tigers, rare river dolphins and a vast array of other marine and terrestrial wildlife. Sadly, the Committee failed to sanction the Bangladsesh government’s plans to move ahead with a new coal fired power plant which will directly impact the WHA. Nor did it encourage Bangladesh to consider other options being promoted by the community to meet their energy and development needs. We are continuing to help those fighting to protect this WH site to build a stronger constituency for the ongoing campaign to protect the Sundarbans.”

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World Heritage Committee rejects Australia’s proposal for delisting parts of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area

The Australian Government put a proposal to the World Heritage Committee to de-list 74,000 hectares of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

In its 38th Session held in Doha, Qatar, the World Heritage Committee unanimously rejected the proposal. The Committee took less than  10 minutes to reach a decision.

Delegates from three countries, Portugal, Germany and Colombia, spoke against the proposal.

The delegate from Portugal spoke at length saying “accepting this delisting would set an unacceptable precedent” and  “The justifications presented to the reduction are to say the least feeble.”

ARCS was officially represented at the meeting by a delegation headed by Alec Marr, Director of our International World Heritage Programme, and Peter Hitchcock, an expert on World Heritage matters, Lincoln Siliakus, an international legal expert with World Heritage experience, and Jenny Webber who has expert knowledge of the Tasmanian WHA.

Australian environment delegation at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha, Qatar, June 15 - 25. Director of ARCS International World Heritage Committee is third from the left.

The ARCS delegation at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha, Qatar, June 15 – 25. Left to right: Peter Hitchcock, Lincoln Siliakus, Alec Marr (Director of ARCS International World Heritage Programme) and Jenny Webber.

The delegation was supported by a detailed submission to the World Heritage Committee, “Why the Australian proposal for de-listing parts of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area should be rejected”, prepared by World Heritage experts and endorsed by expert scientists including Peter Hitchcock AM, Adjunct Associate Professor Peter Valentine, William Laurance, Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate Fellow, James Kirkpatrick, Distinguished Professor of Geography and Environment Studies, Dr Aila Keto AO, ARCS President and Sean Cadman, environmental consultant.  The report showed the Australian submission was misleading in claiming that the area proposed for de-listing was degraded. In fact, less than 10 per cent had been logged, the remainder being in excellent condition. A major point made by the Government was that the area contained plantations of pine and eucalypt. The area of pine plantation is 80 square metres and the eucalypt plantation area is just 8 hectares or 0.01 per cent of the proposed excision.

It is clear that the real reason for the proposed de-listing was to allow logging.



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Tony Abbott says no more national parks

from ABC News 5 March 2014

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declared that too many of Australia’s forests are “locked up” and vowed to set up a new advisory council to support the timber industry.

Logging at Brown Mountain, East Gippsland Photo: Environment East Gippsland

Logging at Brown Mountain, East Gippsland. Photo: Environment East Gippsland

Speaking at a timber industry dinner in Canberra last night, Mr Abbott also recommitted to repealing part of Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area made under the forest peace deal.
His comments have prompted anger from the Greens, who have labelled him the “dig it up, cut it down Prime Minister”.
Under the Tasmanian peace deal, 170,000 hectares of forest was added to the World Heritage area.
The Government has formally asked the World Heritage Committee to delist 74,000 hectares – a position Mr Abbott reaffirmed last night.
“We don’t support, as a Government and as a Coalition, further lock-ups of our forests. We just don’t support it,” Mr Abbott said.
“We have quite enough national parks. We have quite enough locked up forests already. In fact, in an important respect, we have too much locked up forest.
“Why should we lock up as some sort of World Heritage sanctuary country that has been logged, degraded or planted for timber?
“Getting that 74,000 hectares out of World Heritage Listing, it’s still going to leave half of Tasmania protected forever, but that will be an important sign to you, to Tasmanians, to the world, that we support the timber industry.”
Mr Abbott told the dinner that Tasmania’s forest workers have a friend in Canberra.
“When I look out tonight at an audience of people who work with timber, who work in forests, I don’t see people who are environmental vandals; I see people who are the ultimate conservationists,” he said.
“And I want to salute you as people who love the natural world, as people who love what Mother Nature gives us, and who want to husband it for the long-term best interests of humanity.”
But Tasmania’s Deputy Premier, Bryan Green, says Mr Abbott’s approach to the issue is a step backwards for the timber industry, and a return to the logging war between activists and timber workers.
He told ABC Local Radio the best way forward is through the treaty struck by environmentalists and the industry – the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement (TFA).
“We’ve taken massive steps forward in this industry as a result of the TFA, we’re backing the TFA, we don’t want to return to the trenches,” he said.
“We want to continue to diversify the economy, we want to grow the forest industry based on the TFA as it’s established.
“I don’t want to return to the forestry debate that we had.”

Greens condemn ‘massive assault on the environment’

Greens leader Christine Milne says the Prime Minister’s words send a clear message to the world “that Australia does not value its world heritage areas or its national parks”.
“People are going to be pretty upset that Tony Abbott is mounting this massive assault on the environment,” she said.
Any move to repeal the World Heritage classification on Tasmanian forests would ultimately prove destructive to the state’s logging industry, she added.
“Tony Abbott has got it so wrong. The logging industry was on its knees in Tasmania because around the world nobody wants to buy timber products that come from old growth forest,” she said.
“There’s now a high level of recognition that we need to be protecting the last of our primary forests around the world.”
Senator Milne said the recent peace deal with Tasmania’s conservation movement had given loggers “some chance of a future in the plantations”, but that Mr Abbott had threatened to “send Tasmania back to decades of conflict”.
“What he’ll actually do is destroy the forest industry, not to mention Tasmania’s clean, green and clever brand which is our main asset and that comes from our World Heritage area,” she said.
Mr Abbott also used his address to criticise the Tasmanian Greens for everything from the state’s ailing economy to its poor educational outcomes.
“We all know Tasmania has the lowest wages in Australia, it has the lowest GDP per head, it’s got the lowest life expectancy, it’s got the lowest educational retainment in the country and it’s got the highest unemployment, and funnily enough for the last eight years it has had a government in large measure dominated by the Greens,” he said.
While appointments to the new Forestry Advisory Council are still being finalised, Institute of Foresters national director Rob De Fegely has been named as co-chair.

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25th Anniversary of Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area

Winning the Wet Tropics

by Aila Keto

Today is the 25th anniversary of the World Heritage Listing of the Wet Tropics. It is one of the most important, irreplaceable natural areas on Earth. It is fitting to celebrate this milestone by our very first blog as ‘winning the Wet Tropics’ was why and how ARCS began.

Photo: Wet Tropics Images

Photo: Wet Tropics Images

The campaign to protect the Wet Tropics was one of the most significant in Australia’s history. At stake was what James Thorsell (the official IUCN assessor of World Heritage nominations) later rated in the top 10 World Heritage sites. Very little was protected then. Industrial logging was reaching the last accessible areas of untouched forests.

It was a call to arms that stirred passions deep enough to sustain a 10-year campaign for ARCS and the many other conservation groups involved. The personal journeys of many individuals, especially that of Rupert Russell, are moving and inspiring. Link

What was it all about? How was it won? What was its legacy? What lessons are there for today and the future?

What was it all about?

This was the classic “tragedy of the commons” — human short-term self-interest at the expense of the public interest (protecting an area of outstanding universal significance).

Photo: Nicholas Rakotopare

Double-eyed Fig-Parrot, Golden Bowerbird, Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroo.
Photo: Nicholas Rakotopare

Reams have been written, but most notably by the late Nobel laureate, Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues, on how NOT to keep repeating this “tragedy of the commons”. That collective knowledge from around the world has been distilled into a resilience decision framework that we find invaluable.


Our conceptual model of the drivers of change is inspired by that framework but concentrates on what most affects the Earth’s sustainability — its social, economic and environmental well-being.

Society automatically organizes itself into and functions through these three types of institutions. At the apex are the formal institutions or structures that set and enforce the rules governing what happens in society — the policies, laws, regulations, the courts etc.

The economic institutions organize and drive the use (or abuse) of nature (what some call ecosystem services). They are motivated by profit and economic growth, which if not moderated by “collective choice rules and processes”, and “graduated sanctions” undermine sustainability. In this instance I focus on the timber industry and its industry association. Both have long held disproportionate political power and harbored a long culture of entitlement.

The third pillar, civic institutions, is the ultimate driver of social change.

These three groupings (political, economic and civic institutions) need to work effectively together to achieve that holy grail of sustainability. They do not. Otherwise we would not have the sixth greatest extinction crisis in earth’s long history. Barriers to change are huge and overcoming them is what campaigns are about.

How was it won?

Political Institutions — firstly, the Queensland Government
This was the era of Joh Bjelke-Petersen. We tried our best but the barriers proved insurmountable.

The policy instruments for environmental sustainability were weak. There was a strongly partisan political culture that favoured the timber industry; the Forestry Department was a classically captured bureaucracy; corruption was endemic in some parts of the government; and there were no champions for change — the conservation bureaucracy was essentially compliant or intimidated into silence.

Civic institutions
Civic institutions (NGOs) initially did not have the power or unity to mobilise public opinion enough to change the government’s mind. It was a time in Queensland when free speech and assembly were often prohibited. The Joh Bjelke-Petersen Government established the notorious police “Special Branch” to spy on community leaders and active dissent frequently met violent physical force from police. This context presented seemingly insurmountable challenges — especially if protecting nearly a million hectares of forests meant shutting down a rainforest timber industry that was being promoted as the model for the rest of the world. Despite all the risks involved, protests gained momentum buying time to explore other alternative fronts to achieve change.

Rainforest rally, Melbourne;  Logging at Downey Creek; Log dump, Windsor Tableland

Rainforest rally, Melbourne; Logging at Downey Creek; Log dump, Windsor Tableland

Political institutions — new hope from the Commonwealth
Our only other hope was with the newly elected Federal Labor government.

Two factors were cause for optimism. (1) Bob Hawke had just been elected on 5 March 1983 on the promise of saving the Franklin and (2) the High Court on 1 July made a historic landmark ruling in the Tasmanian Dams Case. It validated the new World Heritage Properties Conservation Act Barry Cohen had introduced into Parliament on 21 April and which became law on 22 May 1983. The Act was necessary to protect the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area listed only the previous year in 1982. Listing followed by the new WHPC Act were the crucial keys allowing federal constitutional powers to be validly applied.

Based on this model we urgently needed to assess and establish the World Heritage values of the Wet Tropics. The Australian Heritage Commission was a critical ‘champion’ for change. It commissioned and published our report, positively reviewed by international experts, and in September 1984 officially recommended the Federal Government proceed to World Heritage nomination.

Federal Environment minister Barry Cohen was supportive in principle but preferred to entice Queensland into cooperation. Predictably his $22.24 million Rainforest Conservation Program, finalised in 2005, failed as an inducement. Prominent conservationist John Sinclair and I were integrally involved and did our best to ensure there were lasting benefits for rainforests in the rest of Australia. However, we were losing patience with Barry Cohen as an effective champion. [The real reasons for his reticence may have been niggling doubts about a High Court outcome given the narrow margin in 2003, and that things were starting to look bad electorally for Federal Labor.]

It was unclear what tactics would be effective as federal and state politics were becoming very murky. Disastrous by-elections for Federal Labor made prospects for re-election gloomy. Joh’s strong win at the 1986 state election massively consolidated National Party power stirring his ambitions for PM. Joh’s infamous push for Canberra however split the federal coalition with Ian Sinclair (Deputy leader of the Opposition) tearing up the coalition deal. To capitalize on opposition disunity Hawke called an early, double-dissolution election on 11 July 1987 and won an unlikely increased majority, mainly with the help of swinging voters in Queensland, and having also promised to save the “Daintree”. Arguably and perversely, Joh won the election for Labor, and for the Wet Tropics.

With conservative forces in disarray in both Queensland and nationally, and two new appointments to High court made the previous February, new environment minister Senator Graham Richardson accelerated the process for World Heritage listing of the Wet Tropics in earnest. ARCS was commissioned to write the nomination and help draw up the boundaries.

Economic institutions
Queensland’s opposition to the nomination greatly intensified. In August 1987 it established the Northern Rainforests Management Agency (NORMA); this was a front to bolster the international reputation of their logging model. This was a critical issue as the Forestry Department widely promoted logging in the Wet Tropics as a model for the rest of the world. We followed them to each and every international forum to present our contrary research findings — first at an ITTO congress in Indonesia, then a UNEP forum in Fiji, and finally at a World Resources Institute Colloquium in Washington, going head-to-head each time with Queensland’s logging champions. We gained vital credibility at each of these forums. We also employed journalist Gregg Borschmann and invited eminent British scientist and conservationist Dr Norman Myers to help communicate our message and inspire public support.

The Federal Government finally publicly announced its intention to nominate on 11 December, formally presenting the nomination to the World Heritage Committee on 23 December 1987. Queensland immediately mounted a High Court challenge. ARCS was asked to help acquaint the Federal government’s top legal team with the values of the Wet Tropics with the help of Black Hawk helicopters. What an experience!

So as not to compromise the listing, a regulation banning logging in the Wet tropics was made under the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act on 20 January 1988. A Structural Adjustment Package of $75.3 million, to ensure natural justice for those affected, was in place by April. Without Senator Graham Richardson as the new environment minister, the Wet Tropics would not have been won. His courage facing the angry loggers at Ravenshoe is legendary and his power base politically was undisputed.

Queensland, in response, established a new anti-listing alliance, including all Shire Councils in the area, and funded a 19-person delegation to tour the world in June 1988 with the intention of intimidating the World Heritage Bureau and Committee and its evaluating partner, the IUCN — but to no avail. Staying a step ahead globally, though, was a challenge for our small organisation. That involved my flying to the IUCN World Congress in Costa Rica to block any backward slides.

We also enlisted the help of Gough Whitlam (Prime Minister of Australia 1972–1975) who had been Ambassador to UNESCO (1983-1986). He was also chair of the National Gallery of Australia (1987–1990) while I was a member of its board. His international standing was immense (He chaired the General Assembly of the World Heritage Convention in 1989.).

The WH Bureau meeting in June 1988 recommended inscription but wanted clarification on some boundary issues and management arrangements. ARCS assisted a new review team that reported to the Bureau in September. Graham Richardson was getting ‘wobbly’. Long, 6-hour meetings with him resolved his concerns. The nomination was resubmitted in October 1988.

Graham Richardson, Gough Whitlam, and I as their official advisor, attended the World Heritage Committee meeting in Brasilia on 9 December 1988 to safeguard the official listing from any last minute challenges from Queensland.

The High Court thankfully rejected the Queensland Government’s legal challenge on 30 June 1989. During initial hearings, Justice Mason described Queensland’s case as “Alice in Wonderland”.

In December 1989 Labor, led by Wayne Goss, won office in Queensland after nearly 20 years of conservative rule and, as a final step in the long saga, withdrew the government’s High Court challenge to the logging ban. ARCS helped design the new management arrangements (the Wet Tropics Management Authority), its statutory head of power (the Wet Tropics World Heritage Protection and Management Act 1993) as well as its resourcing needs that were instituted in 1990. I was an inaugural member of the Board of Directors of the new Authority for the period 1990–1997 to help bed it down to face enormous challenges. This was an essential part of achieving sustainability. The legislation defining its role and powers came into effect in 1993.

Civic Institutions — The role of the conservation movement
None of this would have happened without pressure from the third pillar of social change— the civic institutions (e.g. conservation organisations and the media). Being less constrained, they are potentially the most powerful agents and catalysts of real change.

Our effectiveness is built on generating trust and respect, on our engaging the wider community through social learning and empowerment. But in communicating urgent crises (even those that are dire) it is vital to keep alive the belief that change is possible.

ARCS invested enormously in research, networking with the world’s scientific experts, and in bridging connections between the various national, state and regional conservation groups. In 1987 we employed successful and highly respected journalist Greg Borschmann and invited eminent British scientist and conservationist Dr Norman Myers to help inspire the public.

Equally, so many other individuals and organisations committed a decade of their lives, mostly at great cost, in defense of the Wet Tropics. The nation-wide campaign resonated with the community to build that vital legitimacy for changes that followed.

A vital factor in the campaign’s success was having champions at every level —those individuals with courage and vision, in the Australian Heritage Commission, Graham Richardson at the political level, and journalists – those true to their profession’s fundamental ideals of reporting the truth without fear or favour. Without them even the most powerful policy instruments would not have been enough nor could the public have been mobilized. But, above all, without the many courageous, tenacious individuals, whether the many leaders in the conservation movement or ordinary people who took serious risks and put their lives on hold for Nature’s sake, nothing would have been achieved.

The legacy

Without the success of the Wet Tropics, the South East Queensland Forests Agreement (SEQFA) would not have been possible. If the focus had only been on the Daintree as was the original plan, World Heritage listing (1988) would have failed, the rainforest logging industry would still be entrenched, and the SEQFA (1999) and Delbessie Agreement for statewide leasehold land reforms would not have been possible. All depended on historically built credibility and proven effectiveness.

The learnings

There are seven ‘learnings’ from the Wet Tropics campaign that are still relevant today. The most critical is “never lose sight of what nature needs”.

(1) Champions are essential but not sufficient.
In the case of Delbessie: with Peter Kenny as champion gone, insular short-term factors now dominate and AgForce is ready to ditch the Agreement they signed. The failure was in not bringing his constituency fully along with him. That’s something Rod McInnes, Chief Executive of Timber Queensland also needed to heed.

(2) Timing — Not all objectives need to be achieved at once.
Whereas non-partisan support at all levels is essential for enduring gains, it takes time to build that consensus. Opportunities must be seized when they emerge, else they may never come again. In the Wet Tropics the industry and the Queensland government made themselves irrelevant in the short to medium term. In the SEQFA the federal government became irrelevant because it was partisan and intractable in its determination to preserve the timber industry unchanged.

(3) Unceasing vigilance is critical.
At every step, there were powerful forces trying to undermine progress, e.g. Queensland’s Rainforest Conservation Program. During the SEQFA, it was the National Association of Forest Industries (NAFI) and Wilson ‘ironbar’ Tuckey, the then Federal Minister for Forestry and Conservation (1998-2001).

(4) Passion, patience, persistence — the three vital Ps.
Most campaigns take years (for ARCS, up to 10 years or more); if you don’t feel passionately about things, you won’t last the distance. Patience is vital, especially when we are so distracted by the pace and complexity of this modern world and expect ‘instant’ success. Persistence is the essence of success — learning from failure, being there at the right place and time. Even when things seem impossible, one has to grit one’s teeth, bide time, and keep building capacity for the next window of opportunity.

(5) Luck, and loads of it:
Things often happen out of the blue. Being clear about one’s long-term goals but open to exploring many different ways of getting there is important — being ready to seize new, unexpected ways or hidden opportunities to achieve change.

(6) Respect: everyone’s efforts count — no matter how small. Networks and partnerships all depend on trust and respect. Movements for change can fail for the want of it.

(7) Nature’s need: the hardest of all to learn.
It may seem impossible at first to deliver — we may lack the resources, vision or the courage, but we should do our best and never lose sight of what nature really needs, then do our utmost to deliver it. Often, there is no second chance.

George Bernard Shaw’s lines from Back to Methuselah are at the heart of it for all of us:

White Lemuroid Ringtail Photo: Mike Trenerry

White Lemuroid Ringtail
Photo: Mike Trenerry

You see things;
and you say, ‘Why?’
But I dream things
that never were;
and I say, ‘Why not?’

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