The world's leading expert body for protected areas has made an unprecedented entry into the political debate, calling on Australia to rethink its growing antagonism to national parks, world heritage sites and other conservation land.
All 114 Australian members of the World Commission on Protected Areas have sent Prime Minister Tony Abbott an open letter, urging his government to take a leadership role in protecting nature.
The letter follows Mr Abbott's speech to a timber industry dinner last week when he vowed not to "lock up" any more forests in national parks.
Mr Abbott also reiterated his government's proposal to remove 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian wilderness from world heritage protection.
The protected areas commission is part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, one of the key advisers to the World Heritage Committee.
The vice-chair of the union's Oceania arm, Penelope Figgis, said while Mr Abbott's speech was the catalyst for the letter, the commission's members had been concerned with a broader retreat across federal and state governments in protecting land set aside for conservation.
"This retreat from many years of leadership and achievement by governments of all political persuasions is both unfortunate and unprecedented," the letter says
It comes as submissions to a senate inquiry into the proposed reduction in the Tasmanian wilderness world heritage area accused the government of being misleading in its formal case to the United Nations for the change.
In its submission to UNESCO's World Heritage Committee the government says it wants to make a minor boundary change to remove some degraded areas that detract from the overall values of the sites.
Peter Hitchcock, a consultant who advised on last year's world heritage extension in Tasmania, said in his submission that the government's application was ''overly brief, inaccurate and quite misleading''.
Mr Hitchcock said the fundamental claim in the government's application that the areas to be removed had been significantly degraded by logging ''seriously misrepresents the proposed de-listings because these elements are only a minor part of the lands proposed to be delisted''.
In a joint submission, the Wilderness Society of Tasmania, the Australian Conservation Foundation and Environment Tasmania said the area of logged forest comprised just 10 per cent of the total area proposed for excision and less than 0.5 per cent of the property as a whole.
The Law Council of Australia said it would be "unusual" if a world heritage boundary was altered without a significant change to the ecological condition of the area.
"In the absence of such a significant change, the existing boundary should be retained," the council said.
The body also stated that the world heritage provisions allowed for some degraded areas to be included in a world heritage site and that there was an obligation to rehabilitate those areas to improve the overall values of the site.