Around 450,000 hectares of rainforest in the Tarkine region, in north western Tasmania, is under threat from the mining industry. For the first time in twenty years mining has been approved in this sensitive area.
In late December 2012, Environment Minister Tony Burke approved Shree Minerals’ application to build an open cut mine at Nelson Bay River. Three days later, Acting Tasmanian Premier Bryan Green granted a land lease to Venture Minerals at Riley Creek near Tullah, which will allow the company to mine iron ore. More mining projects at Mount Lindsay and Stanley River are set to be confirmed by Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings within the year.
The Tarkine is the largest and least fragmented cool temperate rainforest in Australia. In the region you will find everything from giant forests to huge sand-dunes, sweeping beaches, rugged mountains and pristine river systems. It is a storehouse for rare and threatened species and biodiversity, including the Tasmanian Devil, and contains sites of Aboriginal archaeological significance.
In 2004, a report commissioned by the National Tarkine Coalition revealed that “Mining [has] a significant destructive impact at the mine site. [It] also has the potential to lead to serious downstream impacts due to mineral runoff.” Despite this both the state and federal governments are determined to go ahead with the plans.
Far from representing the needs of ordinary people and the environment, both the major parties are at the behest of the big mining bosses. Under this system the short term benefits of mining the Tarkine is seen as more important than the future survival of the planet.
The fact that the Tasmanian State Government still refuses to grant the Tarkine national park status – as recommended by the Australian Heritage Council in 2010 – gives us an insight into the backwardness of the leaders of the major parties and even some trade union leaders.
With unemployment at 6.8% in Tasmania, the Giddings Labor-led Government – of which the Greens are part of – claim that mining in the Tarkine will help create jobs. The right-wing Australian Workers Union (AWU) has echoed these claims.
While mining may create some jobs it will not benefit the lives of ordinary people and the environment. It will only benefit the back pockets of the owners of Shree and Venture Minerals. The iron ore mine near Tullah is expected to make Venture Minerals an annual profit of around $200 million dollars.
While job creation is to be supported, it would be much better if there was a focus on sustainable and socially useful jobs – not just jobs that turn a profit for big business.
For example in August 2011, the Tasmanian Renewable Energy Industry Development Board delivered a report which suggested that Tasmania has “(a) quality and (diverse selection) of renewable energy resources” which would make it “the ideal location for renewable energy research and development.” These include solar, wind and geothermal. Despite this the Giddings Government has failed to invest and create jobs in these potential industries.
The truth is that we can have no confidence in the ability of the major parties or the profit driven capitalist system to address the issues of jobs and environmental sustainability. We need a totally different approach.
If the mining industry was brought into public ownership, and democratically run by workers and the community, then a plan could be developed to immediately close down the mines operating in the Tarkine. Mining workers, in time displaced by these closures, could be retrained to fill environmentally sustainable jobs. In this way both jobs and the environment could be protected.
It is clear that important decisions about the environment, jobs and the future of local communities should not be left in the hands of profiteers or the major parties that represent them. Only a socialist approach can offer real solutions.
By Conor Flynn