Environmental History

Environmental History
Environmental History

Environmental issues have been a force in Tasmanian politics since the unsuccessful campaign to save Lake Pedder in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Lake Pedder in south-west Tasmania was flooded to supply 83 megawatts of electricity for industry. From the Lake Pedder experience, the world's first Green political party came into being, the United Tasmania Group. The environment movement learned many lessons from this campaign and fine-tuned its skills for the fight to save the Franklin.
The Franklin River, located in Tasmania's south-west wilderness, is one of Australia's last truly wild rivers. During the late 1970s and early 1980s it became the focus of the largest conservation battle ever fought in Australia.
In 1979 the Hydro-Electric Commission (HEC) proposed that an integrated hydro-electric power development be built, initially involving the damming of the Gordon River below its confluence with the Franklin River and later damming the Gordon River above its confluence with the Olga River. This would have required the destruction of 35 per cent of the remaining South West wilderness area including significant Huon pine habitats.
A co-ordinated campaign by the Tasmanian Wilderness Society (TWS) and other conservation groups mobilised support from a wide cross section of the community to protect the Franklin River and the integrity of one of the world's last great temperate wilderness areas. Dr Bob Brown led the campaign and fellow protestors included internationally renowned botanist, author and environmentalist David Bellamy, as well as art workers including prose writer James McQueen, poet Vicki Raymond, and photographic artist the late Peter Dombrovkis. The campaign was so successful it brought the plight of the Franklin River to the notice of all Tasmanians and much of the world.
In an attempt to stem the wave of concern over construction of the dam, the Labor Government of the day sought a compromise and passed legislation that paved the way for the construction of a dam on the Gordon above its confluence with the Olga River. This alternative did little to appease either pro- or anti-dam groups. In 1981 a referendum was conducted to give Tasmanian people the opportunity to express their support for the construction of either the Gordon-below-Franklin or the Gordon-above-Olga scheme. The option of 'no dams' was withdrawn. This resulted in a staggering 44 per cent of the electorate casting an informal vote by writing, 'No Dams' across ballot tickets.
In 1982 the government nominated the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, Franklin-Lower Gordon Wild Rivers National Park and the Southwest National Park for World Heritage listing. The listing was accepted at the December UNESCO meeting on World Heritage. The Western Tasmanian Wilderness National Parks World Heritage Area had satisfied all the criteria for listing as a natural property, as well as three of the six cultural criteria. In doing so, the listing had satisfied more criteria than any other World Heritage Area on earth. The World Heritage Committee said that it was 'seriously concerned at the likely effect of dam construction in the area on those natural and cultural characteristics which make the property of outstanding universal value'.
However, before the listing occurred the Labor government was defeated at a State election. The new Liberal Premier, Robin Gray, was a staunch proponent of the dam who considered the Franklin River 'nothing but a brown ditch, leech-ridden and unattractive to the majority of people'. On 16 June, 1982 the newly elected Gray government revoked parts of the Wild Rivers National Park, paving the way for the development of the Gordon-below-Franklin power scheme.
This was met with massive passive resistance in the streets, in the forests and on the rivers themselves, as Australians rallied to fight for the Franklin. In the nearby town of Strahan, river blockaders were trained in techniques of non-violent resistance. Australia had seen nothing like it and the Franklin Blockade dominated the national media for almost three years. A total of 2,613 people registered at the TWS headquarters in Strahan to participate in the campaign, which continued through the summer of 1982-83 and resulted in the arrest of 1,272 people. Dr Bob Brown was imprisoned for three weeks and many people, including David Bellamy, were remanded in custody.
The dam was finally stopped when a newly elected Federal Labor government used its constitutional foreign affairs power to enforce its treaty obligations under the World Heritage Convention. In a close vote on 1 July, 1983, the High Court of Australia subsequently upheld the Commonwealth's position against a challenge from the State of Tasmania.
The listing of the Tasmanian wilderness as a World Heritage Area was an essential component of the landmark decision to halt construction of the dam. Listing also gave recognition to the natural and cultural values which make the area of outstanding universal significance.
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