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Commonwealth Government Records about Tasmania


Gordon-below-Franklin

Before stage one of the Gordon River scheme that flooded Lake Pedder, the beginnings of stage two and the drama which surrounded it were appearing. Under the State Grants (Nature Conservation) Act 1974, Tasmania received financial assistance in 1976 for a survey of south-west Tasmanian resources. HEC work camps undertaking preparatory work were discovered by rafters in May 1976, who were veterans of the Lake Pedder campaign and soon after formed the Wilderness Society in Bob Brown's Liffey farmhouse. The society later played a major role in the Franklin dispute.

As the 1970s drew to a close, the damming of the Gordon River below its junction with the Franklin River to enable hydro-electric generation had begun. In 1979, the Tasmanian Government ratified the HEC's plans for the second stage of the Gordon River Power Development Scheme. Such action would flood a vast area of unique temperate rainforest. According to the HEC, it would help guarantee employment, create cheap plentiful power and support industry. More generally, as a lightning rod issue, it drew every conceivable element to it – the rise of Bob Brown, the Wilderness Society and the Greens; it placed both traditional political parties under great stress, as well as the labour movement; exposed divisions between Tasmania and the mainland states; and forced people to choose between states' rights and Australia's international obligations. Before the matter was resolved, governments in Hobart (Lowe's) and Canberra (Fraser's) fell, there was direct political action, drama in the courts, 'spy flights' over Tasmania, and deputations to Canberra and UNESCO in Paris.

Fraser

Selected items relating to the Fraser government's response to Tasmania's Gordon-below-Franklin plans
National Archives, Canberra
Development of hydro-electric power in Tasmania, 1970–83 A1209, 1980/1422 PARTS 1–10
Tasmania – Power development, 1982–83 A1209, 1982/901 PART 3
South-west Tasmania Hydro-Electricity development – Law enforcement issues, 1982–83 A1209, 1982/1337 PART 1
South-west Tasmania Hydro-Electricity development – Law enforcement issues, 1982–83 A1209, 1982/1337 ATTACHMENT 1
Financial assistance: South-west national park, Tasmania [Submission No. 471 refers], 1976 A10756, LC766
Future electricity supply in Tasmania – related to Decision No. 19422, 1982 A12930, 2130
Proposed hydro-electric developments in South-west Tasmania – related to Decision No. 19422, 1982 A12930, 2131
Commonwealth involvement in south-west Tasmania – related to Decision Nos 16803 and 16803 (Amended), 1981 A12909, 5088
South-west Tasmania – consultations with Tasmanian Government – related to Decision No. 19606, 1983 A12909, 5947
Financial assistance: south-west national park, Tasmania – Decision 1196, 1976 A12909, 471
Commonwealth position on south-west Tasmania – related to Decision No. 18746, 1982 A12909, 5693
South-west Tasmania – policy considerations – related to Decision No. 18976, 1982 A12909, 5740
Commonwealth involvement in South-west Tasmania – Hydro-Electric Development, 1981–82 A10756, LC3507 PART 1
South-west Tasmania – without submission, 1982 A13075, 18709
South-west Tasmania – without submission, 1983 A13075, 19632
South-west Tasmania – without submission, 1982 A13075, 19038
West Tasmania – without submission, 1982 A13075, 19335/AD HOC
South-west Tasmania – without submission, 1982 A13075, 19335/AD HOC/AMENDED
South-west Tasmania – without submission, 1983 A13075, 19558
South-west Tasmania – without submission, 1983 A13075, 19558/AMENDED
South-west Tasmania – without submission, 1982 A13075, 19448
South-west Tasmania – without submission, 1982 A13075, 19503
South-west Tasmania – without submission, 1983 A13075, 19578/C

Prime Minister since late 1975 and re-elected in November 1980, Fraser had been a foundation member of the Australian Conservation Foundation and was widely known as a 'closet greenie'. Both he and the Tasmanian Labor Premier at the time, Lowe, were inclined to seek compromises which balanced development with preserving the environment. The impact of an alternative flooding, Gordon-above- Franklin, was a moderate alternative to the HEC. Around the same time, the federal parliament sought to examine the environmental values of the south-west and appointed a Senate Select Committee on South West Tasmania (CA 4402) in September 1981.

Selected items relating to Parliamentary committee interest in south–west Tasmania
National Archives, Canberra
Papers of the Reference: South-west Tasmania AA1985/283
House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation – report on South-west Tasmania and Hydro-Electric Power Development, 1980–83 A1209, 1980/1400 PART 1

Others, such as the Wilderness Society and the Australian Conservation Foundation, sought their own counsel and wanted no flooding anywhere in the south-west. As a further idea to break the impasse of clashing opinion, in October 1981 the Commonwealth elicited a request from the Tasmanian Government to apply to UNESCO for nomination of much of south-west Tasmania for listing with the World Heritage Committee.

In December 1981, a state referendum offered Tasmanian voters a choice between dams above or below where the Gordon and Franklin rivers met. Most of those who expressed a view supported HEC's preferred site, but many voted informally or simply wrote 'No dams' on the papers. In May 1982, the Liberal Party in Tasmania, led by Robin Gray, defeated the ALP government and work began in earnest. The World Heritage listing idea was now openly opposed. The Commonwealth refused to desist, though it did still have choices: denounce the World Heritage Convention; allow the dam to go ahead and tell the World Heritage Committee that under the Australian federal system it was a matter for Tasmania; or try to stop the dam by offering to fund an alternative power source and acquire the land on which the dam was to be built. The Attorney-General's Department advised that the Commonwealth clearly did have legal responsibilities under the convention.

Selected items relating to Fraser and World Heritage listing of south–west Tasmania
National Archives, Canberra
Australian Constitution – External Affairs power – Relations between Australian Government and Australian States [including papers on Tasmanian representations to the DEA [Department of External Affairs], 1979–80 A1838, 1490/5/53/5 PART 8
Australian nominations for World Heritage List, 1980 A1209, 1982/44 PART 2
UNESCO – World heritage – south-west Tasmania nomination – ministerial correspondence, 1982 A1838, 862/11/11/2 PART 1
UNESCO – World heritage – south-west Tasmania nomination – ministerial correspondence, 1982 A1838, 862/11/11/2 PART 2
South-west Tasmania – World Heritage Convention – related to Decision No. 19422, 1982 A12909, 5833
South-west Tasmania – proposed High Court action – without submission, 1982 A13075, 18070
Decision No. 19486 – World Heritage Properties Bill 1982 – handling in the House of Representatives – without submission, 1982 A13075, 19486
World Heritage Properties Protection Bill 1982, 1982–83 A1209, 1983/745 PART 1

The dam became a major national issue. A blockade of the Gordon River by conservationists began in November 1982 and saw more than 1000 people arrested. In December 1982, the World Heritage Committee accepted the nomination but asked that south-west Tasmania be placed on the list of world heritage sites in danger. On 13 January 1983, the Fraser Cabinet decided that the Commonwealth would not attempt to coerce Tasmania over the dam or intervene in state affairs by exercising powers that might be available to it under the Constitution. A week later, an offer of $500 million was announced to fund a coal-fired power station of equal capacity.

Hawke

Selected items relating to Hawke government's response to Tasmania's Gordon–below–Franklin plans
National Archives, Canberra
South-west Tasmania – Alternative projects A1209, 1983/622 PART 10
Development of hydro-electric power in Tasmania, 1983–84 A1209, 1983/768 PART 1
Development of hydro-electric power in Tasmania, 1983–84 A1209, 1983/768 PART 2
Development of hydro-electric power in Tasmania, 1983–84 A1209, 1983/768 PART 3
Development of hydro-electric power in Tasmania, 1983–84 A1209, 1983/768 PART 4
South-west Tasmania plan of management, 1983 A1209, 1983/1154 PART 1
South-west Tasmania – Interim Financial Agreement, 1983–84 A1209, 1983/1327 PARTS 1–5
South-west Tasmania – economic implications – Decision No. 75/EP, 1983 A13977, 18
Tasmania – alternative electricity schemes and employment proposals – Decision No. 151/EP and 184, 1983 A13977, 32
South-west Tasmania – financial assistance to contractors (lump sum payments in final settlement of claims) – Decision No. 2456/EP and 2497, 1983 A13977, 506
South-west Tasmania – report on discussions, 10–11 August 1983 – Decision No. 1902, 1983 A13977, 373
South-west Tasmania – possible Commonwealth initiatives – Decision No. 1881, 1983 A13978, 264
Tasmania – employment generation schemes – Decision No. 75/EP, 1983 A13978, 9
Tasmania – alternative employment proposals for Gordon-below-Franklin dam workforce – Decision No. 562/Ad Hoc and 626, 1983 A13978, 101
South-west Tasmania – some supplementary issues – Decision No 1799/Ad Hoc and 1844, 1983 A13978, 253
Tasmania – hydro-electric options and co-generation – Decision No. 151/EP and 184, 1983 A13978, 13
South-west Tasmania – situation report, 25 July 1983 – Decision No. 1800/Ad Hoc and 1845 A13978, 243
South-west Tasmania – situation report, end-November 1983 – Decision No. 2635/INF and 2688, 1983 A13978, 318
Future electricity supply in Tasmania – options and environmental impacts – Decision No. 60, 1983 A13978, 6
South-west Tasmania – progress report, 10 July 1983 – Decision No. 944/EP and 1266, 1983 A13978, 164
Management arrangements, Western Tasmania Wilderness National Park World Heritage Area – without submission, 1983 A13979, 2535
Future management arrangements – Western Tasmania Wilderness National Parks World Heritage Area – Decision No. 2486/INF and 2505, 1983 A13977, 484

The dam was a significant issue in the 5 March 1983 federal election. The ALP had resolved to oppose the flooding at its 1982 National Conference and Hawke campaigned vigorously on the issue. The ALP failed to win a single seat in Tasmania, in total contrast to the national trend which ended seven years of coalition government and ushered in the first of five successive election victories for Hawke and then Paul Keating. Even so, less than a fortnight after gaining power on 16 March, Cabinet decided that if the Tasmanian Government refused to stop the Gordon River project, the Commonwealth Government would invoke its external affairs power. Demonstrations and arrests continued.

Selected photographs of protests against the flooding of the Franklin River
National Archives, Canberra
Anti dam protesters in Hobart, 1983 A6180, 18/2/83/2
Aerial photographs of proposed dam site in south west Tasmania, 1983 A6180, 3/2/83/25
Aerial photographs of proposed dam site in south west Tasmania, 1983 A6180, 3/2/83/26
Anti–dam protesters in Hobart, 1983 A6135, K18/2/83/10
Anti–dam protesters in Hobart, 1983 A6135, K18/2/83/11
Anti–dam protesters in Hobart, 1983 A6135, K18/2/83/12
Anti–dam protesters in Hobart, 1983 A6135, K18/2/83/13
Anti–dam protesters in Hobart, 1983 A6135, K18/2/83/14
Anti–dam protesters in Hobart, 1983 A6135, K18/2/83/15
Anti–dam protesters in Hobart, 1983 A6135, K18/2/83/16
Anti–dam protesters in Hobart, 1983 A6135, K18/2/83/17
Anti dam protesters in Hobart, 1983 A6180, 18/2/83/3
Anti dam protesters in Hobart, 1983 A6180, 18/2/83/4
Anti dam protesters in Hobart, 1983 A618, 18/2/83/7
Tasmanian dam protesters at the dam site, 1983 A6135, K16/2/83/1
Tasmanian dam protesters at the dam site, 1983 K16/2/83/3

Politically, determination met intransigence. Then the Hawke government did two things. On 30 March, it used the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 to pass the World Heritage (Western Tasmania Wilderness) Regulations. The regulations required that all clearing, excavation and other activities within the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area cease. And during April–May, using its external affairs powers under section 51 of the Australian Constitution, it secured passage of the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983. The Act formally adopted the UNESCO World Heritage Convention 1972, to which, as noted, Australia had become a signatory in 1974. The government claimed that the Act gave effect to an international treaty to which Australia was a party. None of this had any effect in Tasmania, necessitating a High Court injunction to direct that work stop. (The injunction had cited photographic evidence obtained in early April when Attorney-General Gareth Evans arranged for the RAAF to fly surveillance missions over the dam site, prompting accusations of misuse of the RAAF for domestic political purposes.)

Selected items relating to Hawke government's legal strategy and High Court case
National Archives, Canberra
South-west Tasmania – obtaining of Photographic Evidence by Royal Australian Air Force Aircraft, 1983 A432, 1985/5518
Commonwealth versus Tasmania (South-west Tasmania) – Crown privilege, 1983 A1209,1983/787 PART 1
Executive council office – papers relating to Franklin Dam case, 1983 A1209, 1986/965 PART 1
World Heritage Properties Conservation Bill 1983 – Memorandum LEG/2, 1983 A13979, 166/LEG
World Heritage Properties Conservation Bill 1983 – Amendments – Memorandum LEG/16,1983 A13979, 305/LEG
World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983 – (An Act relating to the protection and conservation of certain property, and for related purposes), 1983 A1559, 1983/5
World Heritage Properties Conservation Bill 1983, 1983–84 A11116, CA155 PART 1
World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983 – Correspondence with the states, 1983 A1209, 1983/1098 PART 1
South-west Tasmania – legal strategy for stopping the Gordon-below-Franklin Dam – Decision No. 61, 1983 A13977, 7
Western Tasmania Wilderness National Parks – placing of property on 'List of world heritage in danger' – Decision No. 563(Ad Hoc) and 627, 1983 A13977, 146
Future management arrangements – Western Tasmania Wilderness National Parks World Heritage Area – Decision No. 2486/INF and 2505, 1983 A13977, 484
South-west Tasmania – Legal strategy for stopping the Gordon-below-Franklin Dam – Decision No. 61, 1983 A13977, 7
South-west Tasmania – Legal matters, 1983 to South-west Tasmania – legal matters, 1983–84 A1209, 1983/827 PART 1 to A1209, 1983/827 PART 6

The Tasmanian Government refused to stop work on the dam and the issue went to the High Court on 31 May 1983. Commonwealth v Tasmania (1983) quickly became known as the Tasmanian Dam Case, though the Victorian, New South Wales and Queensland governments also opposed the Commonwealth's action. The core issue in the case was the constitutional validity of the World Heritage Act. The division of powers between the Commonwealth Government and the individual state governments is defined mainly by section 51 of the Australian Constitution. As noted, the federal government had taken a range of actions, which it claimed were authorised under specific sub-sections of section 51. On 1 July 1983, the High Court ruled 4–3 in favour of the Commonwealth on most of the Act's provisions.

Compensation

Cabinet's attention turned to delivering a large compensation package to Tasmania, including two 'compromise' hydro-electric schemes on the King and Henty rivers. In time, funds were also provided for a range of road, rail and tourist development works. They included support for the reconstruction of the old Mount Lyell Abt Railway between Queenstown and Regatta Point into the West Coast Wilderness Railway, and assistance in the management of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Ideas for the use of outstanding compensation were still being suggested more than a decade later, for example, by Peter Nixon in his 1997 report arising from the Commonwealth–state inquiry into the Tasmanian economy.

Selected items relating to compensation following the failure of the High Court challenge
National Archives, Canberra
Conservation and environment – Prime Minister Hawke and Robin Gray sign compensation agreement for dam, 1984
Also 10/7/84/5–7
A6180, 10/7/84/4
South–west Tasmania – Commonwealth undertaking for damages – Decisions 561/Ad Hoc and 625, 1983 A13978, 102

Sidelights

In popular imagination, Bob Brown and Tasmanian environmental activism are almost synonymous. After moving to Tasmania in 1972, Brown was involved in the Lake Pedder protests and was an early member of the United Tasmania Group and Tasmanian Wilderness Society. In the 1970s, he also campaigned for homosexual law reform and against the visit of nuclear-powered ships, famously fasting for a week on Mount Wellington in 1976 when the USS Enterprise visited Hobart. In the 1980s, he entered the Tasmanian Assembly and between 1996 and 2012, represented Tasmania in the Senate.

As noted in Chapter 8, the National Archives holds two series of records created by Bob Brown (CP 971) as a Commonwealth person. TAHO also has several series of records created by Brown (NG2029), including material on Lake Pedder (NS1228).

Selected items relating to Bob Brown
National Archives, Sydney
[Bob Brown On The Mountain Segment], 1976 C475, ARCH 10F/1037
[Bob Brown On Mining Segment], 1980 C475, ARCH 10F/1155
[Bob Brown HEC Figures Segment], 1982 C475, ARCH 10F/1393
[Bob Brown On Pollies Pay Segment], 1983 C475, ARCH 10F/1037
[Bob Brown News Conference Segment], 1983 C475, ARCH 10F/1066

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Chapter 4
The environment