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Big Tree Tourism

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 6 September 2023

Tags: Tourism, Forests

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I move -

That the House -

(1) Notes repeated survey evidence that tourists to Tasmania are primarily motivated to visit our State to experience our natural wonders.

(2) Acknowledges Tasmania could provide globally-unique experiences for tourists to visit the tallest flowering trees on Earth.

(3) Further notes the launch of the Big Tree State’s report, “The Tourism Potential of Tasmania’s Forests”, on 29 August 2023.

(4) Recognises the report espouses the untapped potential of Big Tree tourism, and proposes eight sites in regional Tasmania, in the Huon, Styx and Tyenna Valleys.

(5) Accepts the report has estimated that establishing these eight tourism sites would boost visitor numbers to local communities by 139,000 per year, and generate some $20 million and 163 jobs.

(6) Further recognises many of Tasmania’s existing Big Tree Tourism sites have now fallen into disrepair.

(7) Understands an investment of under $1 million would provide low-key infrastructure sufficient to generate Big Tree eco-tourism attractions for these eight sites.

(8) Calls on the Government to create a Big Tree Tourism Plan with stakeholders from the tourism and environmental groups, and the palawa community.

It is not news that tourists flock to Tasmania to experience the glories that we have. They are truly rare on Earth. Our forests contain the tallest flowering plants in the world, the swamp gum, or mountain ash, that can be over 100 metres high. They are not just tall, they are enormously wide and can grow 22 metres in circumference. The presence of these giant trees in Tasmania's forests makes them awe-inspiring for the people who visit. They are usually surrounded by an understory of lush rainforest and giant tree ferns accompanied by bird calls that exist only in Tasmania's forests.

People who stand in the presence of giant trees talk about them as being 'magical' and 'unforgettable'. People are drawn to giant trees everywhere they exist around the planet. They are significant tourist attractions and natural pilgrimage sites in the few countries where they exist. Because of Tasmania's natural wonders we are increasingly becoming one of the most popular nature tourism destinations on the globe. It is obvious to many people, especially people who have been in the northern hemisphere and to the great forests of Japan and California, that one of the most sought-after, awe-inspiring experiences that Tasmania has is being ignored. That is our very big trees.

Although we are home to some of the largest trees in the world there are very few places where visitors can experience the wonder of them. There are two well-known sites in Tasmania where you can stand under giant trees: the Tall Trees Walk at Mt Field National Park and the Styx Big Tree Reserve. The Tahune Airwalk used to be a popular tourism attraction but it was sadly badly burnt in the 2019 bushfires. We previously had big tree tourism sites but they have increasingly fallen into disrepair over time. There are currently no free signposted places to visit big trees south of Hobart. That is a region where we know a large proportion of our state's big trees can be found.

Last week, the Big Tree State group was formed and launched a report that aims to tap the tourism potential of Tasmania's forest, it is called 'Big Tree State: The Tourism Potential of Tasmania's Forests'. I attended the launch with a large group of people from the tourism and conservation sectors and a whole range of organisations and academics, walkers and interested people.

They made some very obvious points about the state of tourism in Tasmania. It is a major part of our state's economy. Close to one million visitors come to our island every year and spend collectively $2.8 billion a year. The tourism industry provides us with more than 33 600 jobs. That is a substantial and important workforce. It is 13 per cent of the total Tasmanian workforce and makes tourism one of the biggest industries.

One of the main reasons visitors come to Tasmania is to experience our stunning and unique nature. After COVID-19 we know that forests and National Parks became even more special to tourists to visit because of their spiritual and emotional health values. Spending time in nature as we are finding out from the research is now being prescribed for mental health, for stress relief in the workplace and for people who experience anxiety.

I find it amusing that we have to do this work to show that the benefits of nature because the palawa people in Tasmania who have cared for this country for tens of thousands of years have always walked and lived in the natural world and they speak so passionately about the values and beauties and the love they have for this island. palawa Tasmanians are especially passionate about these great forests. They were and remain spiritual places. What we are seeing is the world has come to understand very belatedly, with the pressures of modern life, that we are actually so much a part of nature and being in nature is rejuvenating for us. It feeds our soul and it is especially fed by being in the presence of these giant wonders.

In 2022, visits to natural places in Tasmania went up by 18 per cent compared to the previous year and we attract twice the number of nature-based tourists and eco tourists then the average of visitors across the rest of Australia. Eco tourism is already big business here and almost all of our tourism campaigns feature animals, forests and wilderness as the drawcard because that is what operators know tourists want to experience. Big tree tourism would fit perfectly into the Southern Tasmania Destination Management Plan 2022-25. That plan advocates for accessible, natural wilderness experiences. It specifically proposes improving and showcasing the tall tree experience as what they call a 'catalyst project'.

Big tree tourism also aligns with the Government's own recent report, the Tasmania 2030 Visitor Economy. That report focuses on increasing the length of visitor stays, rather than just increasing visitor overall numbers. To make this happen in regional areas, as I know so well from the Huon Valley, we need to have more quality nature experiences on offer that are close to regional towns.

It is so important to look at what a visitor can do with a short to medium drive from regional communities rather than a long distance. We need to be looking at the middle band of tourism that we do not well focus on, that is people who are families, individuals who are on driving holidays. The US is home to the California Redwood, the tallest tree species on Earth and big tree tourism is a huge industry in California and it provides enormous benefits to their regional communities. The Redwood National Park attracts around half a million visitors a year. Mr Speaker, that Redwood National Park generates A$53 million for the regional economies and provides over 400 jobs to their local communities.

The report proposes eight big tree tourism sites which would be located in Southern Tasmania, where the majority of our state's big trees are found. Those sites have been chosen because of their outstanding value and the quality of the trees and they are located in the Huon, Styx and Tyenna valleys. This report goes into quite a lot of detail about the big tree vision for these regional areas. The Huon Valley has three areas that they propose: the Grove of Giants, the Hopetoun Grove and what they call Shield Maiden, which has one of Tasmania's most impressive trees. It is the largest by volume and towers over 86 metres tall. The Hopetoun Grove is a beautiful patch of forest that is one of the few areas in the southern forests that was not affected by the 2019 fires. It is close to Dover which is far south, making it an ideal location, and particularly for regional communities like Dover and Geeveston in the south, it is having extra experiences for visitors to go to and increasingly people are looking to having experiences in nature.

In the Styx and Tyenna valleys there are already walks that include the Mount Field National Park, the Tall Trees Walk, the Styx Big Tree Walk and Twisted Sister. There are many extra sites that could be expanded to boost visitor numbers and experiences. They have mentioned the Tolkien Track, which already has an informal walking track that has been established for about 20 years. They say it has the best example of ancient Eucalyptus regnans growing above a huge rainforest understorey. It has other trees, particularly the world-famous Gandalf's Staff and notable trees such as Fangorn and the Cave Tree.

The Andromeda Stand is home to the second-tallest tree in Tasmania, Icarus Dream, which stands at 97 metres tall. That stand of trees is the tallest in the southern hemisphere with 10 trees in that stand exceeding 90 metres in height. The Andromeda Stand used to be tourist site in the 1960s but unfortunately the infrastructure has been left neglected and it has since rotted away.

Also in the Styx and Tyenna valleys is the Carbon Circuit, another informal walking track that was established by grassroot organisations and contains many giant trees and spectacular and scenic rainforest understorey. There is already a one-kilometre circuit walk established there which wanders through those enormous trees.

The Lake Binney Forest Reserve provides access to a grove of stringybark trees. It is about a 750-metre long walking track. It is very scenic and an easy walk close to the township of Maydena.

The last area they mention is Home Tree, which is a short distance from Lady Binney and one of the widest stringybark trees ever recorded, also a short informal walking track that leads through a rainforest understorey of leatherwood trees.

You can see that the scale of what is being proposed by the big tree tourism report is modest, but they are those sorts of short accessible walks which we do not have in Tasmania. We have many extraordinary wilderness areas - and hear, hear to that, and I am a bushwalker and love to go off track for many days at a time. Most people do not have that time or do not want to do that or they do not have the physical ability to do that, so these short walks provide people with an opportunity to experience nature for a very small cost.

The Big Tree State report estimates the infrastructure would cost around $745 000 to build some low key tracks, signage, maps and mobile phone apps, et cetera. There would be a little bit of extra funding for ongoing maintenance that would be needed, so the payback for such a tiny investment would be enormous. They estimate the eight reserves they propose in their report would draw in 139 000 visitors per year. That would provide $20.2 million to regional communities and around 163 jobs. That is enough investment based on the experiences of other countries to help put Tasmania on the map as a big tree tourism location. It is a very small amount of money.

Mr Speaker, this motion is about encouraging and offering tourists the opportunity to visit places that Tasmania is custodian of that no-one else on Earth is responsible for and that exists nowhere else on the planet. We are already on our way to becoming a world-leading travel destination and that is why an alternative economy should be explored in sustainable big tree tourism. It is the sort of thing that the tourism industry is looking for. There is a sense of saturation being reached. That view is sometimes expressed and tourists are always looking for new opportunities and new things to explore.

We understand that the reason the Tasmanian Government does not yet recognise and elevate the tourism value of our big trees is because it is seen as in direct conflict with native forest logging. At the moment there is a Government priority to resource logging forests rather than a priority to develop a sustainable tourism industry in our forests. I would hope that the Labor and the Liberal parties would be genuinely interested in exploring the benefits to regional communities of sustainable big tree tourism. After all, if the motivation is genuinely about supporting regional communities to be viable into the future that would be reason enough to sit up and take notice of this report and the opportunities it provides. We can make a decision about how we support regional communities. At the moment there is money poured into Forestry Tasmania to provide regional jobs, but that is not the case with what is being offered for sustainable big tree tourism. It would be a money-making venture.

This motion calls on the Government to create a big tree tourism plan with stakeholders from the tourism and environmental groups and of course with the palawa community. It is simply calling on the Government to undertake the work involved in a plan and I understand that there is already a lot of support in the community to go down this track. It would be a very positive step for the Government to take. It would be a low-risk approach and an investigation of the benefits would send a positive signal to people in the community who are looking for a change in the way we approach the future for regional Tasmania and the job opportunities for regional Tasmania that we look at true sustainability.

We have a climate emergency. We have the real carbon storage of these giant forests as well as their incredible beauty and to have the opportunity to preserve and share the awe-inspiring experience of being within big trees would be something that the Greens hope the Labor and Liberal parties and other members will support.

I commend the motion to the House.



Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, that is extremely disappointing and I suppose some people would say, I told you so. We deliberately designed this motion to try to bring the parties in the room together on this.

The Labor Party is clearly seeing this as a fight about forestry. I was very clear that this is obviously in native forests. Obviously, forestry is an issue, but Tasmanians really want to see members of parliament working together on issues where that is possible. This is a genuine possibility where there is space to work together for the betterment of regional communities. At the moment the Government, the Liberals, and the Labor Party have an all or nothing approach to native forests and it is just logging all the way.

The facts speak for themselves. We know that native forest logging under Forestry Tasmania, trading as Sustainable Timber Tasmania, is a loss-making venture. Tasmanian taxpayers are paying for every single log that comes out of our forest. The way Labor and the Liberal Party justify it is that is for jobs in regional communities. Here we are pointing out the blindingly obvious: there are other jobs in regional communities, jobs that are viable into the future as native forest industry is not.

The reactiveness of the member for Franklin, Dean Winter, and the minister's failure to grapple with it at all, says to me that you both understand you have your backs against the wall. You have a level of defensiveness because there is a ticking timeline on native forest logging. It is not going to be here in the future. Which year? I do not know. The Greens are working towards that happening as soon as possible, but it is a finite industry. It will not continue. What have we got on offer? What is the Labor Party offering for those regional communities? What are your jobs for regional communities, when there is something that is sitting there on the table, a beautiful opportunity for people to have an experience of nature like nowhere else on earth, to be utterly connected with awe-inspiring giant trees?

We have to see what happens. People go to the Grove of Giants and they go in droves because as soon as one person saw it and told other people what was there, they could not stop them coming. Even the American ambassador flew in there to have a look and was utterly moved. What they drove through was a clear-felled site. That is not going attract people to Tasmania because people want see the forest. They do not want see what is happening: the damage.

Mr Winter - They are working forests.

Dr WOODRUFF - The working forest stuff is garbage and you know it, Mr Winter.

The Transformer, I want put on the record, is going to go ahead and instead of killing a heritage railway station, the Ida Bay Railway, the Greens councillors made sure it was a win win. Both the MONA project and the heritage railway will exist, and thank you MONA, it is over to them to get on with the development. Like every other development in Tasmania, it is taking a while, is it not? We supported it and negotiated and made it happen, Mr Winter, thanks to the Greens councillors. That is why the Dark Lab Project is going ahead with the support of the community.

We commend this motion. We point out that the clean green brand in case the minister has forgotten was a Greens brand. It was the Tasmanian Greens, Christine Milne and Peg Putt, who have created that brand and we support sustainable tourism.