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Dec 19, 2012

Approval for a devil of an issue in the Tarkine

The campaign is well underway to protect the Tarkine's natural and cultural heritage after approval was given this week for the Shree Minerals iron ore mine in western Tasmania. The ANU's Andrew Macintosh writes on the politics and policy.


Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke yesterday gave the go-ahead to the Shree Minerals iron ore mine in the north-west of the Tarkine in Tasmania. It’s one of eight major projects scheduled for the region, and signals the start of what is sure to be a lively period in the campaign to protect the Tarkine’s natural and cultural heritage.

Not surprisingly, conservationists have expressed outrage at Burke’s decision. This reaction is partially related to the threat that the mine poses to the iconic and endangered Tasmanian devil. The north-west of the Tarkine is home to one of the few remaining populations of disease-free devils. The Shree Mine is located in the heart of this area and the road along which the ore will be transported has been identified as a devil hot spot.

Several conditions have been imposed on the mine in an attempt to minimise the threat posed by ore-loaded B-doubles and other mine vehicles. These include running regular instruction sessions for workers on the importance of the species and how to minimise the risk of road kill; erecting posters and distributing glovebox guides on the same; preparing a plan on how to protect the species from the impacts of the mine and road traffic; running a free bus service to shuttle workers and others to and from the site; “taking all reasonable measures” to ensure vehicles do not exceed 50km/h when travelling to and from the site; and removing carcasses from the road every day.

Shree Minerals is also required to donate $350,000 to the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program Appeal over seven years. Further, in the event that more than two devils are killed in any 12-month period at the mine site or by authorised vehicles travelling to or from the mine, Shree Minerals is required to pay an additional $48,000 to the appeal. How the Department of Environment came up with the $48,000 figure is a topic worthy of investigation. Based on current population estimates, it suggests the species is worth roughly $1.7 billion.

There are similar conditions for the other two threatened species that are likely to be affected by the mine and its vehicles: the spot-tailed quoll (a small carnivorous mammal) and the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle.

While the attempt to reduce animal mortality is laudable, the scepticism expressed by conservationists towards the conditions is understandable. For starters, Shree Minerals has no legal authority over vehicles owned by other parties travelling to and from the mine site. And does anybody really think that handing out glovebox guides and running information sessions is going to significantly reduce mine-related animal mortality?

Whatever management measures are put in place, the establishment of the mine will increase the risk to the population, both from roadkill and through the potential introduction of the disease to the area. Given the perilous state of all three species, particularly the devil, it is difficult to reconcile Burke’s decision with the statutory requirement that “the conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity … be a fundamental condition in decision-making”.

Beyond the threat posed by the mine to the threatened species, Burke’s decision has clarified how the Gillard government intends to deal with the Tarkine heritage nomination and the remaining projects. Some conservationists believed that, if it was going to intervene on any project in the region, it would be the Shree Minerals mine because of its diminutive size and the threat it poses to the devil and quoll.

The approval has made it clear that Burke intends to approve all of the major proposed projects and draw the boundaries of the Tarkine National Heritage Area around the project sites.

The Tarkine National Heritage area will end up covering only those parts of the region that are already included in reserves or for which there are no known significant commercial uses.

The entire Tarkine saga, from its origins in the 1960s through to now, has been a drawn-out case study in the difficulties associated with heritage conservation and the interplay between the Australian and state governments. It demonstrates the urgent need for an overhaul of the federal environmental and heritage laws and the re-establishment of an independent national heritage body that can ensure areas of world and national heritage significance receive appropriate protection.

*Andrew Macintosh is an associate professor at the ANU College of Law and associate director of the ANU Centre for Climate Law & Policy


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8 thoughts on “Approval for a devil of an issue in the Tarkine

  1. michael crook

    does anyone now doubt that the ALP is in the pocket of the mining corporations. this is crazy.

  2. paddy

    Amazing & tragic! Still, it’s obviously a necessary evil, because Australia is so desperately short of iron ore to mine. #facepalm

  3. Microseris

    The sad thing is that there was never any doubt this application would be approved. If all proposals had to be presented and assessed cumulatively, maybe the outcome could be different. Then again with pro development objectives for both major political parties, maybe not.

    With foxes, DFTD, mining, logging, etc. the Tarkine and Tasmania’s natural values are being eroded away until they will be on a par with the mainland.

  4. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Tasmania is not the only island being administratively pillaged during the Xmas shut down. The Cockle Bay Transfer Station on Magnetic Island (World Heritage listed, part of the GBR), with critically endangered bat species right there on site, has just been signed over by the same minister with equally perfunctory dismissal. That means Campbell Newman can now assess whether any instruments of his government will intervene in the issuing of the mandatory State Government environmental licence. Basically, there is no one left at the Queensland EPA except the skip guy looking for his money for the dump fee.

  5. sparky

    Why is this, “and removing carcasses from the road every day”, little gem in the agreement?

  6. Kelly Goldacre

    Seriously? Less than ten extra vehicles an hour on a public road is

    difficult to reconcile…with the statutory requirement that the conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity … be a fundamental condition in decision-making

    and evidence for

    the urgent need for an overhaul of the federal environmental and heritage laws and the re-establishment of an independent national heritage body that can ensure areas of world and national heritage significance receive appropriate protection


    Get. A. Grip. If this was carried to its logical conclusion, every second public road in Tasmania would have to be shut.

    A Tarkine National Heritage area covering “only” those parts of the region that are already included in reserves or for which there are no known significant commercial uses is still a massive tract, with more than enough room for multiple viable devil populations and much else besides. Even a ‘worst’ case development scenario would see less than 5% of the region affected by mining footprint, cumulatively, ever.

    Sparky, devils are scavengers, so they’d be attracted to carcasses left on the road, with obvious potential consequences.


  7. drovers cat

    I have lost all confidence in Tony Burke – sooner he gets shoved off this portfolio the better.
    Truckies watchful of avoiding roadkill – and pick it up when they do … yeah, that’ll work … laughable

  8. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Clearly, Coalition and Labor governments have no real philosophy about conservation of nature. The EPBC Act has been amended into irrelevance (by both Howard and Labor) and is now just a shell of its former self. The Minister has very little power because the loopholes in the act make litigation automatic and very difficult to win. So the minister makes the occasional pathetic effort (witness Garrett in Tasmania), departmental officers occasionally make something more, and even halfwit lawyers for developers can mow and slash their way to a profitable outcome with the Commonwealth usually picking up the legal tab. Conservation (let alone preservation and presentation) is only as pathetic as the electorate wants it in Australia. Honestly, most people couldn’t give a fuck, they think ‘bush’ is alien and concepts like conservation are like the Catholic Church talking about sin or manhood.


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