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In the 1980s, ACF celebrated a moratorium on commercial whaling and the declaration of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Peter Garrett became president and the decade closed with ACF recognised as the leading national advocate for the environment.
The eighties were the dawning of a new era in the conservation movement and the decade started dramatically, and happily, with the 1981 declaration of a moratorium on commercial whaling.
In the same year, the ever-expanding ACF community celebrated another victory when Queensland's Great Barrier Reef was saved from oil exploration and declared a marine park – a campaign that had begun on 3 May 1969 when ACF recommended a joint advisory committee on the Reef to be established by the Queensland and Australian Governments; on 5 May 1970 the setting up of the Commonwealth and Queensland Royal Commissions into drilling on the Reef was announced.
In 1983, the Australian environmental movement's most public, and successful, campaign to date was launched: stopping the damming of the Franklin River, one of Australia's last remaining wild rivers. ACF’s community mobilised resources behind the campaign that went all the way to the High Court to prevent the damming of the river.
In Beverley Broadbent's 1999 book Inside The Greening: 25 years of the Australian Conservation Foundation, she cites the National Conservation Strategy Conference, in June 1983, as a landmark in conservation history:
For the first time selected people from four sectors of the community reached agreement on a document spanning all aspects of living resource conservation in Australia"
With President Jack Howson, Executive Director Geoff Moseley and other councillors among the 40 conservation delegates, ACF was well represented and played a constructive role in developing a National Conservation Strategy for Australia.
A pervasive theme in the 1980s was the fight for Australia's native forests. In 1987, ACF and other environment groups pushed forests into the spotlight. The Daintree's tropical rainforests finally gained World Heritage listing in 1988, despite the vehement opposition of the then Queensland Government. In 1984, the National Woodchipping Summit was convened by release of ACF’s Forest Industry Strategy for Tasmania.
Kakadu's cultural and natural qualities were again under threat from uranium mining during the eighties and ACF played a lead role in securing Stages 1 and 2 of the Kakadu National Park in 1984. Stage 3 of Kakadu National Park was proclaimed in 1987.
In 1985, the Honourable J.H. Wootten was elected president (until 1989) seeing ACF make a major effort to redress Australia's massive land degradation problems. In 1986 Phillip Toyne became ACF’s director until 1992.
In 1989, a historic alliance between ACF and the National Farmers Federation (NFF) called for the establishment of a national Landcare program. Landcare provided a vision for the transformation to ecological sustainability that was embraced by all major political parties. Former Aboriginal Land Rights lawyer and ACF Executive Director (1986-1992), Phillip Toyne said:
Landcare has been overwhelmingly successful and is now looked back on as one of the ground-breaking initiatives
Prior to establishing Landcare groups, ACF had not really focused on the production parts of the Australian environment but it's worked really well. The objective initially was to get something like 300 Landcare groups established by the end of the first decade of Landcare. Instead, it was well past 2000 groups."
Phillip developed the National Landcare model with the NFF's head, Rick Farley. The Government declared the 1990s the 'Decade of Landcare'.
One of the most important environment decisions in global terms was the Australian government's rejection of mining in Antarctica in 1989. A policy of protection for Antarctica had been developed by ACF in the mid-seventies and it was ACF's persistence with its vision and the success of its public awareness campaign that eventually convinced the government to act. In global terms, many regard this event as one of the most important environment-related decisions made. For the ACF community, it was a sign that persistence can pay off.
In 1989, Peter Garrett became president of ACF. Peter brought to the organisation his passion and commitment to a wide range of issues including anti-uranium, Indigenous rights and Northern Australia.
ACF played a major role in the World Heritage Listing of Queensland’s Wet Tropics Rainforest in 1989 – a move that now protects about 900,000 hectares.
In 1989, ACF negotiated with both the government and the opposition during the Greensborough by-election to ensure bipartisan support for an early phase out of CFCs by 1995. ACF also joined the International Coalition against Biological Warfare, adopting a pledge which called on scientists and teachers to oppose the use of their research in any military application, and to undertake not to engage in research or teaching that will contribute to any preparation for war, especially biological, chemical or nuclear.
Throughout the eighties ACF had developed into an organisation that was more professional, more strategic in its alliances and more politically sophisticated. The decade closed with environmental issues high on the political agenda and ACF recognised as the leading national advocate for the environment, with its membership trebling in size.