Australia: The battles for Tasmania’s Tarkine rainforestPublished by MAC on 2021-06-29
Source: The Advocate, ABC, Examiner, The Guardian
Activists have been arrested at the site of a proposed new tailings dam.
Having never been formally recognised, the Tarkine’s boundaries remain loosely defined and contested. The area includes windswept beaches, buttongrass moorland, wild rivers and unique cave formations, but is best known as home to the world’s second-largest temperate rainforest. Some parts have been mined and logged already, but significant sections remain untouched.
Tasmania's Rosebery mine has been operating since the 1930s, but needs to build a new tailings dam in order to survive past 2024.
20 June 2021
The mine's closure would have ramifications across the state, but operator MMG is facing significant opposition from protesters who are concerned about the dam's proposed location inside takayna/Tarkine rainforest — an area the Australian Heritage Council says should be protected.
As Hobart farmer and businessman Anthony Houston walked into the Tarkine with two others last week, he knew he would be arrested and removed within hours.
Mr Houston had volunteered to prevent workers accessing the site of MMG's proposed new tailings dam inside the Tarkine — a vast temperate rainforest of outstanding national heritage significance.
About 100 metres along the prohibited road, Mr Houston set up his camp chair to wait for the trucks, and later, the police.
One of 30 Bob Brown Foundation protesters arrested in a month, Mr Houston said he was motivated to protest because of the deforestation the project would cause, as well as the chemicals it would introduce to the forest.
"Why put a poison into a rainforest? It doesn't make sense to me," he said.
"The most important thing is to keep what we've already got, the Tarkine is something really special."
Closing the mine to result in job losses
The Rosebery mine has been producing zinc, copper and lead concentrates for 85 years, as well as gold dore.
Its two existing tailings dams will be at capacity within three years, and without another opening up, the MMG-owned mine will close, putting hundreds of jobs on the line.
It's proposing to build a third dam inside the Tarkine with a footprint of 285 hectares and a lifespan of up to 42 years.
"If we don't have a tailings dam and nowhere to put our waste by the end of 2024, that's when we'll have to go into closure," Rosebery mine acting general manager Steve Scott said.
"That'll mean the loss of 500 jobs here on the west coast for our permanent employees and contractors, there'll be a massive economic impact to the west coast and obviously to Tassie as well."
The proposed site is on MMG's existing mining lease, about one kilometre west of Rosebery.
"It's the most viable option, and that area's been earmarked for a tailings dam for quite a number of years," Mr Scott said.
The dam has plenty of support from within the Rosebery community.
One local, Jenelle Carey, said there was a need for environmental sustainability, but the mine was essential.
"The mine certainly has a lot more regulations and restrictions they have to adhere to, to make it sustainable," she said.
"I don't think any of us can do without our computers, our laptops, our cars, all those things that mining gives us the minerals for."
Mine worth 'hundreds of millions of dollars' to the economy
According to Tasmania's Minerals, Manufacturing and Energy Council, the flow-on effects of a mine closure would be significant.
"It would certainly take many hundreds of millions of dollars out of the Tasmanian economy," chief executive Ray Mostogl said.
All of Rosebery mine's zinc is provided to Hobart's Nyrstar zinc smelter, and Mr Mostogl said a Rosebery closure would significantly disrupt the Hobart operations.
The Australian Heritage Council has found the Tarkine was of outstanding national heritage significance, but in 2013 the federal Labor government declined to give it a national heritage listing, other than a small coastal portion for its Aboriginal heritage values.
Conservationists have continued pushing for it to be designated a national park, and for the area to be world-heritage listed.
Scott Jordan from the Bob Brown Foundation said the failure to list the area had left it open to being "plundered".
"This is an area of outstanding wilderness value, it's an area that is old, mature myrtle rainforest, it's part of Australia's largest remaining temperate rainforest, and one of the last remaining in the world," he said.
"This is globally important.
"We don't care if it's a tailings dam or a logging operation, if it's going to destroy this area we're going to stand against it."
Environmental activist Anna Brozek has just returned from a tree-sit at the proposed dam site.
She said there was no room for compromise.
"It's a lot of mixed feelings when you're in there because it's such a beautiful experience being surrounded by all this life, and at the same time heartbreaking, because we know what these people want to do to that place," she said.
The dam still needs a green light under federal environment laws, as well as local planning approvals.
The timeframe for a federal decision on the next steps has been pushed back, with the Environment Department now due to decide whether the action needs to go through a full assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act by July 23.
June 20 2021
Tasmania Police has said it regrets the three-day detention of a Bob Brown protester last May for an assault charge it has since dropped.
Victorian man Billy Rodwell, 23, was arrested in May during a protest in the Tarkine region against mining company MMG's proposal to develop a tailings dam for its Rosebery mine.
Mr Rodwell on Sunday said his arrest had resulted from a minor and misconstrued action involving a gate and a security during the protest.
"At that moment, I thought I was just going to get a move-on order [from police] with my other two colleagues," he said.
Instead, he was taken to a holding cell in Burnie after which he was refused bail in an out-of-hours court sitting and then taken to Launceston remand centre, spending three nights in custody all up.
Mr Rodwell described the experience as confronting.
"I had no contact with the outside world," he said.
"It felt like I had none of my rights as an Australian citizen."
In a letter to legal representatives for the Bob Brown Foundation, Tasmania Police principle legal officer Mark Miller said Mr Rodwell was wrongfully denied bail.
He said this was because he was considered a flight risk, having come to the state from Victoria.
"Tasmania Police regrets the stress and inconvenience that would have undoubtedly caused Mr Rodwell," Mr Miller said.
Police have dropped two of three charges against Mr Rodwell, including a charge of assault.
Jenny Weber, from the Bob Brown Foundation, said the group was outraged that Mr Rodwell was held in jail for three days on an ill-founded assault charge.
Dr Brown said Mr Rodwell was one of 30 Bob Brown Foundation protesters that had been arrested for undertaking protest action in the Tarkine over the past month.
Where mining meets rainforest: the battle for Tasmania’s Tarkine
Campaigners say plans for a new tailings dam threatens wilderness that should be declared a heritage area.
5 Jun 2021
Four days before the Morrison government was due to decide the future of a mining development in the takayna/Tarkine, 77-year-old Frits Harmsen planted a camping chair in front of trucks on an unsealed road snaking through Australia’s largest temperate rainforest.
Harmsen, a former French horn player with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, was part of a small band of Bob Brown-endorsed protesters who on Friday began a 19th day attempting to block work by MMG, a majority Chinese-owned minerals company, in Tasmania’s remote north-west.
Up the road, the mining giant was attempting to carry out drilling and other testing for what it hopes will become a much larger project – a new pipeline and waste storage facility near the town of Rosebery.
MMG says a new tailings dam is needed to extend the life of an 85-year-old zinc, copper and lead mine that employs about 500 staff and contractors. If the dam is approved, the company expects to clear up to 285 hectares – roughly equivalent to 350 football pitches – of rainforest and other terrain for both the South Marionoak dam and a 3.5km pipe that would carry toxic waste from the mine across the Pieman River.
The plan is supported by the Tasmanian Liberal government, which has welcomed MMG’s proposal as “investing with an eye to the future, particularly at a time when every job counts”, and the local mayor.
But campaigners from the Bob Brown Foundation say crossing the river would place the tailings dam inside the takayna/Tarkine, a vast and environmentally diverse area that the Australian Heritage Council recommended nine years ago should be protected. Opponents rallied at Hobart Town Hall on Saturday calling for the development to be stopped.
The foundation said Harmsen was one of 17 to have been arrested at the site. Speaking after being charged with failing to comply with police, he said he was acting to protect “this incredible tract of rainforest on behalf of my children and grandchildren”, and because he felt powerless watching governments make decisions that damaged the environment without being subject to proper scrutiny.
“I am here today because nothing else seems to be working,” Harmsen said. “I just feel we have lost our moral compass a bit as a developed nation. Particularly now, we do have to protect what is left of nature. It’s too important to make into a waste dump, which is basically what [the tailings dam] is.”
The scope of MMG’s proposal became clear last month when it lodged documents with the federal environment minister, Sussan Ley. It argued the impact of the development on threatened species would not be significant and it should not have to be fully assessed under national environment laws.
Ley’s decision was due on Tuesday, but the environment department website was updated late on Friday to indicate the deadline had been extended until 23 July.
Having never been formally recognised, the Tarkine’s boundaries remain loosely defined and contested but, based on the heritage council’s assessment, it covers at least 439,000ha. It includes windswept beaches, buttongrass moorland, wild rivers and unique cave formations, but is best known as home to the world’s second-largest temperate rainforest and Aboriginal shell middens. Some parts have been mined and logged over a long period, but significant sections remain untouched by development.
Assessing the site nine years ago, the heritage council found it had “outstanding national heritage significance”, was “one of the world’s great archaeological regions”, and had rainforests with links to the ancient continent of Gondwana. The then Labor federal government largely ignored its advice, protecting only a 2km strip near the coast for its rich Indigenous heritage.
The Bob Brown Foundation wants the entire area added to the Tasmanian world heritage wilderness area, which covers about a fifth of the state.
Jenny Weber, the group’s campaign manager, said it was “one of the last wild places on Earth” and provided shelter to more than 60 threatened species. She argued the company’s submission underplayed the damage the development could cause, and said it had acknowledged the dam could be built at other sites outside the Tarkine.
The environment group last month wrote to Ley urging her to grant an emergency national heritage listing for the area – a step that would have echoed a decision in 2009 by the then environment minister Peter Garrett to prevent a 134km road through rainforest – and invited her to inspect the forest personally. The minister did not respond.
Weber called on Ley to use her powers to block it before the formal application process began. “It’s the biggest fight that we have on our hands in the Tarkine,” she said. “It is such a massive incursion into intact rainforest that includes endangered species habitat that we are lobbying for it to be declared as clearly unacceptable.”
MMG maintains the environmental impact of the dam can be managed. Its spokesman, Troy Hey, said it was “absolutely committed to continuing the life of Rosebery” and the development would have a “relatively small footprint” on the border of the Tarkine.
He said the company would “never stop looking at other options” for waste storage, but the proposed site was the only viable option to replace two near-filled dams in 2024.
“We believe that you can balance development and mining sites such as Rosebery and the protection of the natural wilderness of Tasmania,” Hey said. “We have been doing that for 85 years fairly successfully and we don’t think the South Marionoak development is any departure from that.”
A spokesman for Ley said the department was assessing the proposal and a decision was expected “in due course”.
“Regarding the Bob Brown Foundation, we have received correspondence, which is under consideration,” the spokesman said.
Australia's Amazon is Under Threat and Should Be Granted a 'National Heritage Listing'.
June 4, 2021
In 2020, I had the pleasure of racing the takayna Ultra, well I only did the 21km event- but I’ll claim it. Takayna (Tarkine) is situated in Tasmania’s north-west corner, and it is one of the most amazing places I have ever seen. It is up there with America’s Yosemite, the Great Barrier Reef, or Brazil’s Amazon. But few Australians have heard of it, and our politicians are quickly trying to destroy it.
The Tarkine wilderness is spread out over 494,000 hectares, with about half of that consisting of pristine rainforest; the sort of rainforest most only read about in books or seen in nature documentaries. The area is rich in indigenous sassafras, thousand-year-old myrtle trees, a crazy number of rare fungi, and some of the tallest trees on earth. Takayna is wild, blustery mountains, torrential rivers, and sky-high ancient trees. More than a dozen endangered species call the Tarkine home (including the Tasmanian Devil), and it is rich in Indigenous artifacts. Vitally, the Tarkine is perhaps one of the richest natural carbon sinks in Australia, a highly valuable asset during this climate crisis that we are facing.
The Australian Heritage Council declared it to be one of the world’s great archaeological regions – and recommended National Heritage Listing back in 2012. Tony Burke,the then Australian federal environment minister, dismissed the recommendation, and subsequent governments have made no steps to reverse his horrible decision
I understand business; that our economy needs to grow, our citizens need to prosper, and that the world needs mining. I am not a hippy arguing an end to all mining. But I do think it is vital we are selective about where we mine. As a civilised country, we protect truly unique places by classifying them as National Parks. For example, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, we decided many years ago not to mine it. Likewise, the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, we are doing our best not to dig it up or cut it down. And the Tarkine, it deserves equal attention as both these places. It is that special.
Currently, as I write this, a Chinese state-owned company, MMG, is planning to flatten up to 285 hectares of Tarkine wilderness, to construct a new tailings dam. MMG plans to dump twenty-five million cubic metres of toxic, acid producing mine tailings into this World Heritage value rainforest. It seems absurd to me that, in 2021, Australia is even considering this.
But the Tarkine has been under threat since the nineties. Grange Resources, an ASX listed company, has been mining iron ore there for years. Venture Minerals, another ASX listed company, is hoping to cash in on the current iron ore boom, by mining at Riley Creek. And Shree Minerals, another ASX listed company, is still trying to get its Nelson Bay River iron ore mine off the ground.
Aside from mining, the Tarkine is also being logged, at a stupid rate. Under the ridiculous name ‘Sustainable Timbers Tasmania’, this government owned organisation, is in charge of the ‘sustainable’ logging of the Tarkine (and Tasmania’s) forests. Dubbed ‘Sus Timbers Tasmania’ – there is nothing sustainable about what these environmental criminals are doing. Once a coupe has been designated for clearing, they literally flatten, then incinerate the area. They argue we need this wood for day-to-day things, like furniture, woodchips, and paper. This argument is in itself absurd, civilisation developed the required technologies many years ago to solve all these needs. The plantation industry itself is being held back because we are so busy chopping down scarce rainforest. Logging old growth is easier, faster, and perhaps slightly cheaper. But it is not needed.
We all watched as Australia managed its way through the Covid-19 crisis. Our government implemented Jobkeeper, ramped up Jobseeker, and provided corporate handouts to the majority of Australian businesses. You simply cannot tell me that Australia is not capable of managing and financially assisting a few loggers into new, more ‘truly’ sustainable industries. That we cannot tell a couple mining companies to please leave and find a patch of dirt to mine that has less inherent value. That we cannot stand up to this mainly Chinese state-owned company (China is a signatory to the World Heritage Convention) and tell them to mine somewhere else. Sure, some agreements will need to be altered, it will take some negotiations, and the Australian government may need to buy itself out of a few contracts. But don’t tell me this isn’t possible, or even that hard to do.
The world successfully managed their respective economies when Horse and Cart businesses were forced to close down. Whalers, who once made their living from whale produce, successfully transitioned to a new line of work. Not many Australians are arguing today that we should still be slaughtering whales. This ancient Gondwanan rainforest is of equal value, especially given this climate crisis that we find ourselves in. Many other industries throughout history (tobacco for example) have been forced to transition, to pivot. This is the natural order of business. Any business that cannot cope with this reality, in the words of Kerry Packer, “needs their heads read.”
The tourism potential of the Tarkine region is simply gargantuan. Like Brazil’s Amazon, if effectively managed, and marketed, the tourism dollars that could potentially pour into Tasmania’s economy, in the long run, would far exceed that received from mining and logging- combined, when analysed from a long-term investment viewpoint.
‘In 2008, the Cradle Coast Authority – an organisation created by the northwest’s nine councils – identified a huge potential for tourism in the Tarkine. It developed the Tarkine Tourism Development Strategy based on market research and investigations of latent demand. It found that the Tarkine had an “unrivalled opportunity to ‘raise the bar’ in responsible, ecologically sustainable tourism.” The study recognised that “the primary attributes of the Tarkine… are increasingly scarce in the modern world,” and argued that, if developed correctly, the area had the potential to attract international attention.
Modelling found that if “a menu of meaningful, high quality visitor experiences,” were created, tourism in the Tarkine could generate $58.2 million per year and provide 1100 jobs, as long as the required infrastructure was developed.’
Write asap to both Sussan Ley (Minister.Ley@environment.gov.
And get behind the Bob Brown Foundation, donate as much as you can, or even better, travel to Tasmania and get involved with peaceful, passionate protests. This impressive organisation has been on the ground, fighting day-by-day, for many years – to save this sacred place.
May 19 2021
The 85-year-old Rosebery Mine could be forced to close if a new storage site for tailings is not developed, owner MMG has warned.
Environmentalist group the Bob Brown Foundation has come out swinging against MMG's proposed new tailings site, saying it is in pristine rainforest in the Tarkine.
However, MMG has revealed it has other options.
"MMG must find a new site for a tailings storage facility as existing facilities currently supporting Rosebery Mine are nearing capacity," the Hong Kong-listed company said.
"To date, several locations have been considered for a new site.
"However, further field studies and baseline investigations are required to prove options.
"Failure to complete these investigations will stop the safe storage of tailings and risk ramping down operations and closing the mine within the coming years.
"We are confident for the extended future of the mine, with the identification of more ore meaning a longer mine life, the protection of 500 regional jobs and a significant economic contribution to the local community and state.
"At this stage, our intent is to gain more information and a better understanding of the environmental, social and geological impacts of potential site locations.
"The investigations we conduct will inform the future path and longevity of the mine."
Bob Brown Foundation campaigner Scott Jordan was sceptical about the other options.
"MMG's claim to be looking at options is absolute bollocks," Mr Jordan said.
"They have referred a single project (under federal environmental law), they haven't referred options.
"If they've got other options, they should be looking at them."
He said the referred project involved a toxic tailings dump in Australia's largest temperate rainforest.
The Bob Brown Foundation on Wednesday morning said protesters had "reclaimed" the "threatened rainforests".
It said one protester had locked onto a gate blocking access to the site and another had attached themselves to a bulldozer.
"After yesterday's dawn raid by Tasmanian police and eviction of a four-month blockade, we have people coming to us from all over Australia asking how they can help and traveling to the Tarkine to get involved in this campaign," foundation native forests campaign organiser Lisa Searle said.
"People are seeing the destruction happening right now in takayna/Tarkine and are joining us on the front lines to defend Australia's largest temperate rainforest.
"Despite the presence of 24-hour security, we were able to get into position and halt the destruction of these ecosystems."
MMG said it would start investigations to extend the mine's life and "and support Tasmania's West Coast community for many decades to come".
"We are at the early stages of identifying options to expand our tailings storage and we welcome the opportunity to commence approved baseline geotechnical and environmental investigations.
"This includes works to secure safe access to MMG's mining lease.
"We acknowledge the right to peaceful protest and for people to express their opinions; we also want to find the best outcome for the Rosebery township and are keen to work with stakeholders.
"We are seeking the opportunity to complete the preliminary investigations to select the best location for future tailings storage.
"MMG intends to evaluate all potential site options and prepare appropriate plans to submit for full environment approval."
Resources Minister Guy Barnett hit out, saying: "At a time when jobs have never been more important in our state, the Bob Brown Foundation's opposition clearly displays how out of touch they are with everyday Tasmanians."
"Mining and minerals processing is a key pillar of the Tasmanian economy, accounting for over $2 billion of the state's (annual) exports and employing more than 5000 Tasmanians, many in regional and rural areas.
"It also contributes millions in royalties which help fund the schools, hospitals and critical infrastructure Tasmania needs."
He said the Rosebery Mine had been a key contributor to Tasmania and the West Coast for more than 80 years.
"News that the mine is investing with an eye to the future is welcome, particularly at a time where every job counts," Mr Barnett said.
"It is important to note that any proposal will need to go through the appropriate assessment and approvals process."
The mine produces zinc, copper and lead.