No dams in south-west Tasmania

c. 1981

Donated by Peter Stanley

Museum of Australian Democracy collection

This badge documents a popular protest that resulted in the most influential environmental law case in Australian history.

In 1972 Tasmania’s Lake Pedder was flooded for a hydro-electricity scheme, despite protests from environmentalists. In 1978 the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission announced its intention to build another dam on the Gordon River in the southwest wilderness of Tasmania. This dam would flood the Franklin River, a place of great ecological and cultural significance.

Spurred by the Lake Pedder campaign, a coalition of environmental groups led by the Tasmanian Wilderness Society under the direction of Dr (and future senator) Bob Brown mounted a public campaign against the proposed Gordon-below-Franklin dam. The campaign was active between 1980 and 1983 and culminated in December 1982, with a three-month blockade of the dam site that saw at least 2,300 people participate and more than 1,000 arrested. Many campaigners were imprisoned.

The campaign gained national and international attention, with rallies attracting tens of thousands of Australians held around the country. Individuals took action by writing ‘No Dams’ on their ballot papers in various state and federal by-elections.

In 1981 the area in which the dam was to be constructed was nominated for listing under the World Heritage Convention, and in 1982 it was declared a World Heritage site by the World Heritage Committee. The new Labor government of 1983, under Bob Hawke’s leadership, passed the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983, which gave the Commonwealth government the power to halt the dam’s construction. This action was challenged in the High Court by the Tasmanian state government, which considered the legislation unconstitutional.

In July 1983, after a complicated case involving considerations of the powers of the Commonwealth under the Constitution in areas previously considered as being under state control, the High Court largely upheld the validity of the legislation. Construction on the dam was stopped.

The donor of this badge, Peter Stanley, writes:

I bought this badge in 1983 and wore it (on my shoulder bag) to express my support for the opposition to the Gordon-below-Franklin dam.