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The nation is losing the political will to protect our pristine places

The Franklin would be dammed today

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robert99 robert99 Sweden Posts: 1360
1 30 Jan 2018

What if the Franklin river hadn’t been saved?

Stopping the Gordon-below-Franklin dam was one of the Australian environment movement’s great victories: in the late 1970s, the state-owned Hydro-Electric Commission wanted to flood one of three last temperate rainforests in the southern hemisphere to create a power station.

About 33km of the Franklin, a pristine wild river home to breathtaking ravines and rapids, and surrounded by untouched Huon pine and myrtle beech forest, would have drowned. After years of heated debate, pro-dam Liberal Robin Gray took power in 1982 and passed legislation allowing construction to begin. What happened from there was partly down to luck and timing, but could not have been achieved without one of Australia’s most successful acts of mass civil disobedience.

An estimated 6,000 people headed to the town of Strahan to join the protest, and nearly 1,500 were arrested on the river. Rallies and newspaper ads helped build an extraordinary level of buy-in throughout Australia. At a byelection for the Victorian federal seat of Flinders, 41% of voters scribbled “No Dams” on their ballot paper.

The momentum was such that the incoming prime minister, Bob Hawke, pledged in March 1983 to stop the dam, a stance narrowly backed by the high court. In economic terms, the arguments for the dam now seem thin – the 180 MW plant would have increased energy capacity by only 14% while leaving the state with a disproportionate debt.

Yet it is easy to imagine circumstances in which the damming would have gone ahead. For instance, if the fight over the Franklin was happening not 35 years ago, but today.

Guardian Australia interviewed 20 campaigners and political veterans and found broad – though not unanimous – agreement that a project similar to the Gordon-below-Franklin dam in scale and impact would be near impossible to stop now.

Legally and politically, they say environmental protection is harder to win than at any time since before the wave of landmark 1980s decisions to recognise the Daintree rainforest and Kakadu national park and to block mining in Antarctica.