By Bill Mason
BRISBANE — Fraser Island and the nearby Great Sandy Straits on Queensland's central coast will be nominated for World Heritage listing under the recommendations of the long-awaited Fitzgerald Report, tabled in state parliament on May 22.
Conservationists have welcomed this finding, while expressing concern at the proposal for a six-month phasing out of general logging on the island.
A recommendation for a five-year extension of blackbutt timber harvesting appears economically unviable, which means that all forestry activity should soon cease. It is unlikely that sand mining will recommence under restrictions proposed in the report.
World Heritage listing for Fraser, the largest sand island on the planet, is a victory for conservationists who have campaigned over decades to save the area. John Sinclair, founder of the Fraser Island Defenders Organisation, said he felt vindicated by the inquiry's findings.
Political victimisation by the Bjelke-Petersen government forced Sinclair to leave the state for Sydney after the federal government ended sand mining on the island in 1976.
"The first inquiry 14 years ago put the island as the first area on the National Estate list and the environment minister said it would be World Heritage-listed", Sinclair said. "The Queensland government's attitude was the stumbling block. At last we have got their recognition."
Rainforest Conservation Society president Dr Aila Keto welcomed the proposed World Heritage listing of Fraser Island, in addition to the Great Barrier Reef and the northern wet tropics region. She said logging should be phased out as quickly as possible. Dr Keto represented the Joint Conservation Groups at the Fitzgerald Inquiry.
The Goss government, which has publicly supported the findings of the report, now faces the challenge of finding alternative employment for Fraser Island timber workers and others in the Maryborough and Hervey Bay region. n