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02 March 2015

Tony Abbott's 'captain’s call' over Tasmanian forest humiliated Australia, Greens say

Freedom of Information documents reveal the PM pushed forward with an election pledge to delist world heritage forest despite departmental caution.

Prime minister Tony Abbott made a “captain’s call” over Tasmanian forestry policy which globally humiliated Australia, the Greens and a conservation group claim.

The Wilderness Society (TWS) says Freedom of Information documents reveal Abbott pushed forward with election commitments in the sector despite departmental caution.

One pledge included delisting 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian wilderness world heritage area, an application swiftly rejected by the United Nations’ world heritage committee in June last year.

The government argued the tranche of forest had already been impacted by logging and devalued bordering wilderness areas.

TWS says FOI documents, released on Saturday, show environment minister Greg Hunt and agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce wrote to Abbott immediately after the election and asked for time to review the government’s forestry package.

“In light of the complexity of the issues surrounding Tasmanian forestry, we have come to the view that it would be appropriate to have a six-month review of the Tasmanian forestry package that would enable us to consult more broadly with a wide range of stakeholders on our election commitments,” a section of the letter to Abbott reads.

TWS says the proposed review was clearly ignored because further documentation reveals Abbott wrote to now-Tasmanian premier Will Hodgman a couple of months after the election to confirm the government’s stance.

Greens leader Christine Milne says the revelation is another example of a “captain’s call” by Abbott.

“It’s clear to everybody that it was a stupid policy from the Liberals to try to remove important forest from the world heritage area, but the Liberals in Tasmania wanted them logged,” she said.

“Tony Abbott went with them against the best advice of the departments, humiliating Australia on the global stage.”

Tasmania’s resources minister Paul Harriss said it was “totally bizarre” that Abbott was being criticised for sticking to key election commitments.

“Prior to the last federal election, Mr Abbott made it clear that in government he would seek to reverse the damage done by federal and state Labor to the Tasmanian forestry industry, damage that resulted in the loss of thousands of local jobs,” he said.