Daintree Crisis

If mains power is brought to the Daintree, the rainforest, as we know it, will end with a bang; if mains power is not connected, but the present poor management practices continue, the Daintree Rainforest will end with a quiet whimper. Please see the "What You Can Do" section at the end of this article

A report to the Douglas Shire Council, based on traffic surveys carried out this year, has shocked the Council as it has indicated that the Daintree Ferry (which acts as the "gateway" to the Daintree World Heritage region), and the road north to Cape Tribulation, will reach their peak carrying capacities next year, instead of in 2007 as expected.

Mile Berwick, Mayor of Douglas Shire, said that there were only two practical solutions - build a bridge over the Daintree river or buy-back the remaining blocks of freehold land north of the river to limit future development and therefore traffic, and reduce unacceptable development pressures on the World Heritage listed areas.

He suggested that the remaining land could be bought back for less than half the cost of a bridge across the Daintree.



Editorial, Cairns Post. Tuesday, December 16 1997

Page 8


Fund the Daintree

The Federal and State governments have some hard decisions to make about the future of the Daintree area.

Yesterday's shock disclosure that the Daintree River Ferry and the Cape Tribulation Road, will reach their peak carrying capacities next year - more than a decade earlier than expected - highlights two major government failures. The first is the absolutely shocking state of long term strategic planning in this region - with the Daintree situation revealing just how serious the consequences of this deficiency can be.

The second is the complete and utter failure of the Federal government to think through fully, and fund its decision to enter northern Queensland's rainforests on the World Heritage list. Those forests were submitted for inclusion on the World Heritage list in December 1987 by the Hawke Labour Government and officially listed in December 1988.

Nearly 10 years later, and neither the State nor Federal governments have fully come to grips with the situation in the Daintree, which is without a doubt the single most popular area within the World Heritage region and attracts more than 300,000 visitors a year.

Nevertheless, as popular as the Daintree is, it is far from being a pristine wilderness, with large parts of it cleared for for earlier agricultural purposes.

Much of this land has been subdivided into m ore than 1000 freehold rural blocks of which more than half have already been sold to individuals. Those privately owned allotments together with the several hundred still available for purchase are like a ticking time-bomb in the heart of the Daintree.

They will not destroy the Daintree forest if developed because most of these blocks are either partly cleared or covered only with secondary regrowth rather than primary forest. However, the pressure of population, were all these blocks to be taken up, would have a very definite impact on the Daintree, thereby compounding the pressures of increasing tourist visitation.

Urban Threat

Several thousand people could legitimately make their homes in the Daintree and they would have every right to demand the same sorts of urban services that the rest of us expect.

The Federal Government should have realised this many years ago and, having made the decision to place the area on the World Heritage list, coughed up the cash to buy back the bulk of privately owned land to forstall a population explosion. But it was not until May 1994 that the Federal and State Governments released a $23 million Daintree Rescue Package to fund land buy-backs and necessary infrastructure development such as tourist access.

Even that was only about half of the $51 million a firm of consultants commissioned by the Douglas Shire Council had estimated earlier in 1994 would be necessary to preserve the area fully and buy back most of the private allotments.

Today, most of that $23 million package has been spent and no extra money is on the horizon. In addition, the last Federal Budget severely reduced the funding for the Wet Tropics Management Authority which is supposed to oversee the more than 900,000 ha of listed forests.

This is political madness. The Federal Government must accept full responsibility for the World Heritage area it has caused to be listed and spend the money necessary to preserve and manage it properly."


COMMENT by Hugh Spencer

This is quite an amazing editorial from a paper that is primarily pro-development, and we should cheer it on.

We should also note that the classic N-Queensland furfies are in evidence, particularly the insistent degradation of regenerating rain forest as "regrowth", a particularly insidious mindset of Australians, which has justified the clearing of large areas of regenerating land.

The Queensland Bjelke-Petersen government of the day opposed the World Heritage listing, and it became a State vs Federal issue, echoes of which are evident in the editorial.

The Wet Tropics Management Authority has been put in the impossible position of attempting to serve many political masters, Federal and State, having wildly divergent and often conflicting agendas.

The situation is actually worse - only $13 million of the $23 million, were ever used for buy-back, an even smaller fraction of the figure of $51 million originally proposed. There are over 300 blocks on offer to the Government for buy-back. With the State Government pushing for extension of grid electricity to the 1000+ blocks, a move quite deliberately intended to destroy the area as a region of international World Heritage value, time is running out for the Daintree, fast.

Estimations of the cost of providing infrastructure to cater for the 4000 potential residents (4 people per block x 1000 blocks) exceed $0.5 billon. Buy-back, even at this late stage, would be less than a 10th of this figure, to say nothing of the international kudos that would accrue to Australia, to the Qld. government and the greenhouse brownie points that would be gained. As well, the estimated $18 million that results from tourism to the area, would continue flowing. For an intelligent economic rationalist, its a pretty hard bargain to resist.

The current Federal Government has recently partly privatised TELSTRA, the Government telecommunications provider, and $ 1 billion of this money, has been ostensibly set aside for environmental programs. There is no reason why the Federal Government, alone, cannot fund the buy-back.

Peter Hitchcock, recently retired Director of the Wet Tropics Management Authority, said recently at a public meeting, that on an area-for-area basis, the Daintree lowland rainforests (which are the ones currently under threat) have 100 to 1000 times the biodiversity value of corresponding Amazonian forests, reflecting how little area of these forest types we have left in Australia (=World).




Write A Letter

In your letter:

Ask questions - politicians are obliged to answer them. Remember, put your return address on both the letter and the envelope. Don't forget to date and sign your letter.

Liz Cunningham
Independent Member for Gladstone
PO Box 1593
Gladstone Qld. 4680

The Hon. Rob Borbidge MLA
Premier of Queensland
PO Box 185 Albert Street
Brisbane, Qld.4002

The Hon. John Howard
Prime Minister
GPO Box 36
Sydney, NSW 2000

The Hon. Senator Robert Hill
Federal Minister for Environment
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

The Hon. Duncan Kerr
Federal Shadow Environment Minister
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Peter Beattie MLA
Leader of the Opposition
Parliament House
Alice Street
Brisbane Qld. 4000
(Fax 61 77 229 4431)

Current threats to our Wet Tropics World Heritage Area abound:

- The Environmental Impact Study for grid power may be completed early in1998; construction of electricity lines could begin through World Heritage land early next year!

- Rainforest is being destroyed every day because our local council is not committed to creating or enforcing sufficiently strong local by-laws.

Sample Letter


Dear * * * * * * *

If mains power is brought to the Daintree, the rainforest, as we know it, will end with a bang; if mains power is not connected, but the present poor management practices continue, the Daintree Rainforest will end with a quiet whimper. For the Daintree to survive, action must be taken.

- Are you prepared to provide more funding for land buy-back? If so, how much? The TELSTRA buy-back money can more than satisfactorily cover the costs and generate much needed environmental plaudits for Australia.

- Will you take measures to prevent grid power being connected to the Daintree?

- Have you considered subsidising renewable energy systems for landowners and commercial premises?

- Do you agree that a comprehensive and co-ordinated management policy for the Wet Tropics should be adopted, where Commonwealth, State, Federal and Local Government work together with the Wet Tropics Management Authority, the Department of Environment and local communities?

Sadly, as we have seen in the Daintree, relying solely on Local Government to prevent the devastation of biologically valuable land is not enough. Australians need your help to ensure that the Daintree remains fully protected for the future.

Yours Sincerely ...


Source: Hugh Spencer - AUSTROP

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