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Research Guides

Commonwealth Government Records about Tasmania

4. The environment

There always seems to be a Tasmanian environmental issue generating political and media interest. In recent years, the names Gunns Ltd and Wesley Vale come instantly to mind, and in 2012 it was the terms of an intergovernmental agreement for the supply of logs to Malaysian-owned veneer maker Ta Ann that were in the news. As this guide was being compiled, there was also strong media focus on the 40th anniversary of the formation of the United Tasmania Group, described as the world's first Greens party. The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were indeed significant decades. They saw conservationists become environmentalists and ecologists; when Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring and the Club of Rome's report Limits of Growth were galvanising people not otherwise inclined to political action. It was a time also when hydro-industrialisation and the dominance of Tasmania's HEC began to be questioned.

For these specific factors, as much as for broader ones, it is difficult to underestimate the significance of the environmental element of Tasmanian–Commonwealth relations. Because of it, the traditional understanding between premier and prime minister reached a low point, coinciding with a more critical attitude from Canberra to seemingly endless requests to support dams and forest-based industries. This period also coincided with the appearance of machinery of government explicitly focused on the environment. In May 1971, Prime Minister William McMahon added the responsibilities of the environment to the Department of Aborigines and the Arts, and although the functions bracketed with it changed, there has been a federal minister responsible for environmental matters almost continuously ever since.

But for political heat and long-term implications – and indeed the production of Commonwealth records – nothing today or historically can compare with what for convenience we will term Lake Pedder and the Gordon-below-Franklin.


Chapter 4
The environment