TMEC Opinion Piece: Mining and tourism can coexist

The Tasmanian Minerals and Energy Council is delighted with the Tarkine Drive completion discussed in The Mercury opinion article: Talking Point: Tourism drive takes to the Tarkine (27 November 2014), says the Tasmanian Minerals and Energy Council's CEO, Wayne Bould.

We believe that it will benefit the region’s tourism industry and we reiterate that mining and tourism can successfully co-exist.  In addition, we are of the firm belief that all industries and Government need to work together to create essential long term social and economic benefits that jobs provide in ensuring the ongoing viability of regional areas in Australia.

We agree with Cradle Coast Tourism manager, Ian Waller, and fully support their plans for the Tarkine Drive experience.  It is pleasing that the Cradle Coast Authority has recognised the potential importance of mining tourism with the Mining Heritage Experience Strategy, for example.

The historian Dr Nic Haygarth has estimated at its height there existed between 500 to 600 mines in the Tarkine. It includes the Mt Bischoff tin mine discovered in the late 1800s, for instance.  Tin at the time was the metal of choice.  The riches from that mine alone underpinned the rise of Launceston from a provincial town to a city and that’s why the tin symbol is still contained in the city’s Coat of Arms.

The Savage River mine sits in the middle of the Arthur Mobile Belt.  It started in the 1960s and has at least 20 years of known life left in it, with plenty of exploration upside to extend it even further.  When you consider it’s sustained a workforce of five or six hundred people for fifty years and may do likewise for another twenty, it’s a worthwhile operation in a regional area.

As with other industries, mining has played, and has the potential to play an important part in the future of the area.  It is recognised as one of the most mineralised areas in the world for its size. 

 The Tarkine region is vast.  It covers some seven per cent of the Tasmanian land mass.  We understand that even if all the proposed mines proceed it will be no more than one per cent of the region.

It is a misdemeanour for Tarkine Trails manager, Rob Fairlie, to state that “95 per cent of the Tarkine is a free-for-all for the mining industry.” This is not true. Almost all of the Tarkine region is in multiple use reserves established under an Act of Parliament and revised with the intergovernmental Forestry Agreement.  In addition, the region includes the Savage River National Park which preserves the largest undisturbed area of temperate rainforest in Australia.

The reserve objectives are two-fold - to allow for the extraction of mineral resources and to conserve nature. The two things are not mutually exclusive. The key is to openly acknowledge that the area has environmental significance (that's why it's a reserve) but to also acknowledge there are mineral deposits there and to allow the regional community to benefit from them.  It also means if you want to get a project up in that area, it will need to be top-of-the-class in terms of environmental planning and operational performance, or it won’t get through the EPA approvals processes.

The Tarkine area is partly in a natural state and partly it is not.  It is not pristine, as former Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, acknowledged in his reasoning when he decided  to reject a heritage listing of the area in February 2013.

“I've met with local mining and industry groups to understand the economic development issues of the region and camped in the Tarkine with environment groups,” Mr Burke said.

“There has never been an issue in my time as Environment Minister where my views have changed so fundamentally after a site visit. I was expecting to see a pristine area pretty much covered in rainforest. The truth of the industrial history and current industrial activity in the Tarkine is quite different to these images.”

The Tarkine has a history of grazing, forestry, mining and recreational use in various forms, along with a growing opportunity to further leverage tourism for the more adventurous.  The Tarkine includes little towns like Corinna and Waratah, lots of roads and tracks, shack settlements, mines and tourism.  It’s a rich patchwork of historical places and landscapes. 

Mr Fairlie claims that tourism operators can be told to move out of the area with just four weeks’ notice, which he claims has happened to him twice in the past 10 years. The only specific example we are aware of took place in 2005 when Tiger Trials were moved from their walking area, an old exploration track at Mt Ramsey in the Mt Meredith Regional Reserve due to the approved work program for an explorer, which included approval for works only after consultation with the land managers, the Parks and Wildlife Service.

We understand that this type of situation could have been and can continue to be avoided if the land managers were and are aware of the existence of tourism operators such as Tiger Trails and that with prior discussion access times can be negotiated. That said, collaboration and communication is a two way street.

At TMEC we believe this can be achieved by the different industries working together for the best outcome for all in the use of our public lands.