Updated: June 23, 2010
The Franklin River Campaign - Part 4 - World Heritage Protection Bill passed
Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of this landmark High Court decision, writes William J. Lines.
On July 1, 2008 we celebrate 25 years since the High Court decision
that 'Let the Franklin run free'. In this Four Part series on the
Franklin river campaign, Author William J. Lines charts the rise of
Australia's conservation movement - and a famous win for the environment.
Part 4 - World Heritage Protection Bill passed
On December 14 the Democrats’ World Heritage Protection Bill passed the Australian Senate. The Bill gave the Governor General the power to issue proclamations for particular places. Meanwhile, the World Heritage Commission accepted the nomination of the South West for heritage listing. On the same day, the blockade began with a cordon of protestors’ duckies stretched across the Gordon River. The padlers raised their oars in the air. The image received saturation media coverage across Australia. Other blockaders appeared at the dam site. Forty-three people were arrested. Supporters held rallies in Sydney, Bendigo, Hobart, Launceston and outside Parliament House in Canberra.
Further actions and protests followed over the next several days and through the next couple of weeks. There were arrests nearly every day. TWS announced a moratorium over Christmas but the blockade resumed in January. Arrests continued. They included internationally famous botanist David Bellamy, Hobart millionaire entrepreneur/businessman, Claudio Alcorso, federal and state politicians including former Tasmanian Environment Minister, Andrew Lohrey, and Bob Brown.
From prison to parliament
Brown, along with many other arrestees refused to sign the bail conditions - which prohibited a return to the blockade site - and spent three weeks in prison. In protest at the blockaders’ treatment and at state parliament’s careless contempt for democracy, Norm Sanders resigned his seat. A recount confirmed that Brown was entitled to take Sanders’ place. In less than 24 hours he went from prison to parliament, celebrated his fortieth birthday, and was named Australian of the Year by The Australian newspaper.
Early in February, against a backdrop of continuing protests, Fraser announced a federal election for March. On the same day Bob Hawke replaced Bill Hayden as leader of the Labor opposition. Although the federal Labor Party had already adopted a no dams policy, Hayden was much firmer in his support of the position than Hawke. But, once Hawke became leader, he pursued a strong pro-Franklin campaign. The next day 20,000 people rallied in Hobart for the rivers.
Elsewhere, wilderness supporters bought out a music album, Let the Franklin Flow by Gordon Franklin and the Wilderness Assemble, a pseudonym for the group, Goanna.
By March, over 1200 people had been arrested on the Franklin blockade. The TWS now concentrated on the election with help from the ACF. Hundreds of volunteers fanned out across the country, letterboxing houses, distributing leaflets and speaking to electors, especially in marginal electorates. On election day some 13,000 volunteers staffed polling booths in support of the Franklin.
Premier Gray described the Franklin River as ‘nothing but a brown ditch, leech-ridden, unattractive to the majority of people’.
The TWS and the ACF also took out full-page colour advertisements in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, featuring Peter Dombrovskis’s picture of the Franklin River’s Rock Island Bend. Under the caption, ‘Could you vote for a party that will destroy this?’. The text asked voters ‘to put Australia’s heritage above party politics’ and urged a vote in favour of the Franklin by endorsing the Labor Party in the House of Representatives and the Australian Democrats in the Senate.
Hawke narrowly won the election. Later analysis showed that the conservationists’ campaign had delivered crucial votes in marginal electorates. On accepting victory, Hawke announced that the dam would not go ahead.
A landmark case in Australia’s environmental and constitutional history
Ever defiant, Premier Gray pressed ahead. The Federal government then introduced legislation empowering the government to issue proclamations stopping the work. Gray, with support from Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, challenged these in the High Court.
Hearings began in 1983 and the Court ruled on July 1, by a majority of four to three, that both the Act and the Proclamations were lawful. This implied that the Federal Government did indeed have the power to stop the dam. Gray withdrew the bulldozers and the Franklin continued to run free.
The case, a landmark in Australia’s environmental and constitutional history, confirmed the federal government’s power to intervene and protect sites of world heritage value. These powers were later used to protect Queensland’s Daintree rainforest and Tasmania’s Lemonthyme forest.
The Wilderness Society as we know it today
In 1984 The Tasmanian Wilderness Society changed its name to The Wilderness Society. Brown resigned as director and later helped formed the Tasmanian Greens in the state’s parliament. Later still, he helped form the Australian Greens Party and became a member of the Australian Senate.
The Wilderness Society, meanwhile, took up the fight for Tasmanian old growth forests as well as becoming a truly national organization - seeking the protection and restoration of wild and beautiful places across the Australian continent.
For more information, please contact:
The Wilderness Society Tasmania Inc
130 Davey Street, TAS, 7000 Australia
Phone: (03) 6224 1550 | Fax: (03) 6223 5112