, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 43-53

Gordon below Franklin dam, Tasmania, Australia: Environmental factors in a decision of national significance

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Summary

In Tasmania's rugged south-west, the Gordon River Power Development, Stage 1, with several dams and one power station has been in operation since 1978. A Committee of Enquiry severely criticised environmental aspects of the scheme. The Gordon River Power Development, Stage II, with the construction of another dam and power station on the Gordon River, was put forward by the Hydro Electric Commission of Tasmania to satisfy the electricity demand growth rate expected. Many objections were raised.

A Senate Select Committee on South-west Tasmania received many submissions disputing the need for the dam, objecting to its intrusion into the World Heritage Wilderness area and disagreeing on several scientific aspects. Simultaneously, extensive debate was carried on in the media and in technical and scientific journals. A popular protest movement against building the dam grew throughout Australia and a blockade against the work of the Hydro Electric Commission was successfully maintained. Elections, influenced by the popular movement against the dam, changed the Government of Australia in March 1983. In July 1983, the High Court of Australia determined that construction of the Gordon below Franklin Dam was illegal and work by the Hydro Electric Commission in the area had to be terminated.

This case illustrates that the importance of environmental implications of water structures must never be under-estimated. In special cases, popular support can be gained, to bring about political and legal action to counteract transgression of environmental principles. It is to be hoped that in future the kind of situation which developed in this case will not recur.

“We will be judged, not by what we built, but by what we destroyed.”

Mr H. Bandler is a civil and environmental engineering consultant operating from Sydney, Australia.