How not to protect nature

Protests against a Joh Bjelke-Petersen government proposal to build a road through rainforest abutting the Great Barrier Reef in the mid-1980s attracted so much national attention that the Daintree area became a huge tourist attraction overnight.

Federal Labor put the area up for World Heritage Listing but rapacious real estate agents and developers moved in, and by 1994 Cabinet was shocked to learn the planning process showed the development rush was threatening World Heritage values in the Daintree's lowland rainforests.

The minister for the Environment, John Faulkner, told Cabinet much of the privately owned land "was fragmented into more than 1000 separate parcels", mainly in a real estate sale publicised internationally in the late '80s and many development approvals had been approved for resorts in particularly sensitive locations, where major losses of rare native fauna could occur.

In April 1994 ministers released $11.5 million - on condition of matching Queensland funds - to purchase privately owned land on the margins of the Daintree World Heritage Area.

Treasury opposed the move as a bad precedent. Why not use existing regulatory instruments to manage land left in private hands? But the Wet Tropics Management Authority and the local council seemed worth backing.

This story How not to protect nature first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.