The few minutes it took the World Heritage Committee to reject the federal government’s wind-back proposal for Tasmania’s forests left Australia isolated and embarrassed, conservationists claim.
Green groups say the country’s international reputation has been tarnished by the Abbott government’s unprecedented move to delist 74,000 hectares of the state’s wilderness.
Former Greens leader Bob Brown called the move a “diplomatic fiasco” while Environment Tasmania observer Phill Pullinger said the Portuguese committee member had delivered a blunt rebuke.
“They were quite miffed that they’d approved the World Heritage extension last year and then the government’s come straight back and asked for it to be taken back off,” Dr Pullinger told AAP.
“Essentially it was pretty embarrassing.
“Australia looked pretty isolated and it looked pretty stupid and caused a lot of damage to Australia’s reputation.”
But federal government forestry spokesman and Tasmanian Senator Richard Colbeck declared himself far from embarrassed.
“I think the embarrassment is that (former Labor minister) Tony Burke put up a nomination in 2013 despite the warnings of the then opposition that we shouldn’t go ahead with this,” Senator Colbeck told reporters in Canberra.
“We’ve said all along that we think areas that have been logged back into the 1800s, and more recently on an industrial scale, diminish the genuine values of the Wilderness World Heritage Area.”
Senator Colbeck said the speed with which the proposal was rejected did not mean it had not been up to scratch.
“Most items went through the committee very quickly, that is not an indicator,” he said in a statement to AAP.
“We did our best to ensure a good understanding of our case.”
The cost to taxpayers of the exercise was yet to be determined, he said, and another attempt to delist in the future had not yet been considered.
The government has ruled out ignoring the decision and logging the area.
Senator Colbeck said federal and state election results in Tasmania had shown a majority in the state supported the move to delist.
“I don’t apologise for doing what we were elected to do,” he said.
“The Greens took an absolute pounding at both of those elections in Tasmania.”