Heritage

Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen

Conflict … Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Photo: Peter Solness

CONSERVATIONISTS were just beginning to flex their electoral muscle when cabinet agreed to nominate NSW rainforests for World Heritage listing.

It was a half-hearted measure. Brisbane did not want heritage listing anywhere near its huge swathe of tropical rainforests.

So the Lamington National Park rainforests in south-east Queensland were not mentioned, even though they were a part of the rainforests associated with the Mount Warning volcano system in northern NSW.

On June 17, 1985, cabinet agreed to a recommendation by the Wran government that 204,819 hectares, taking in the Tweed Range, Barrington Tops National Park, the New England Group, Washpool National Park, Mount Warning National Park and the Iluka Nature Reserve, be nominated for World Heritage listing.

But in late 1983 and September 1984 the Queensland premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, had sent in police and graders against greenies and hippies trying to save Cape Tribulation in far-north Queensland from roadworks. They claimed the works would tear a hole through the rainforest and the runoff from annual rainfall would damage abutting fringe coral reefs.

The Bjelke-Petersen government claimed the road was needed to give the Wudjal Wudjal Aboriginal community on the banks of the Bloomfield River faster and year-round access to Cairns, allow police to stop marijuana cultivation and prevent women being taken off Cape York beaches for the white slave trade.

The local National Party MP Martin Tenni's slim 2 per cent margin was also considered a factor in Mr Bjelke-Petersen's decision to call in police to rid Cape Tribulation of the southern greenies.

On September 8, 1984, the federal environment minister, Barry Cohen, submitted to cabinet that pressure on the Commonwealth to protect the Cape Tribulation area from the Queensland government was unlikely to weaken.

''The Queensland premier in a letter dated 28 June 1984 stated that 'irrespective of the international significance of the Greater Daintree area the Queensland government opposes its nomination or any further nomination of any further areas of Queensland for inclusion on the World Heritage List','' Mr Cohen said.

He canvassed direct intervention and said, although Queensland would consider it ''extremely provocative'', it also could result in widespread calls for the government to stop logging in the area. He said the legal outcome was uncertain and the legal costs likely to be unacceptable.

Mr Cohen offered cabinet five options, but opted to discuss the funding of conservation projects with Mr Bjelke-Petersen and not to proceed with unilaterally seeking World Heritage listing.

Mr Hawke did just that in 1987, making it one of the cornerstones of his federal election campaign against John Howard.

Queensland resistance also weakened. Mr Bjelke-Petersen's foolish ''Joh for Canberra'' campaign in the 1987 federal election turned him into a national joke and wiley far-north Queensland businessmen realised ecological tourism was a money-spinner.