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Development in Protected Areas

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 1 July 2021

Tags: Parks EOIs

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, before I move onto the subject that brings me to my feet, today I also want to acknowledge the outstanding service that was provided by church leaders from across the Christian faiths at the start of parliament last Tuesday. As Mr Ferguson knows, there was a whole range of readings and contributions but it was Bishop Condie's contribution which I read part of into the Hansard last week that really struck a chord with me about the potential to do things differently.

I did have a bit of a crack at one of my favourite church leaders, the Reverend Richard Humphrey, at another church event I attended last Friday night which was put on by the Baptist community about the role of religion and spirituality in Tasmania's future. Although I immediately confess I am not a Christian, I found it an incredibly moving and engaging conversation. However, I did say to Reverend Humphrey on the night that it was a shame there were not more women giving presentations at that opening ceremony at the church. He quipped, because he is a very funny man, that he was wearing a dress.

Mr Speaker, I move -

To table a document that was provided to the Greens this morning by representatives from 18 community and environmental groups.

It has been circulated to Government and Opposition members and the Independent member for Clark. It calls on the Government to stop the secrecy around development in protected areas. This is the statement that I will now read into the Hansard:

Stop the Secrets

Thursday 1 July 2021

Community calling for transparency and integrity. Stop the secrets.

Statement to the honourable representatives of the fiftieth Tasmanian Parliament.

Tasmanians are tired of being kept in the dark by their elected representatives and the public service, be it issues related to health, welfare, planning, our national parks, our marine environment, aged care, disability, et cetera. We deserve transparency in the processes with which information that is in the public interest is handled.

Our primary request to the new parliament is to amend the Right to Information Act 2009 to ensure transparency and development proposals for certain environmentally significant areas. This amended act may be cited as the Right to Information (Developments in Parks Public Protected Areas) Bill 2021.

Section 33 Division 2, 'exemptions subject to public interest test' public interest test of the principal act 2009 is amended by inserting the following subsection in section 33(4):

The exemptions contained in this Division shall not apply to information that relates to a proposed use or development in a conservation area, national park, nature recreation area, nature reserve, public reserve, reserved land or state reserve.

Mr Speaker, I pause at this moment to remind the House that we have tabled a bill which was provided to us, which we have improved, because the original bill did not allow for exemptions around personal information and information relating to culturally and environmentally significant sites. The bill that we tabled this morning is a very robustly drafted bill. I continue with the statement -

Guaranteeing all processes involving restriction or privatisation of public lands and public goods are genuinely transparent and mandate authentic public consultation is a bare minimum expectation of public representatives. The secrets must stop. Truth is transparent.

Yours sincerely, Fishers and Walkers Tasmania, the Tasmanian Wilderness Guides Association, the Florentine Protection Society, the North East Bioregional Network, the Grassroots Action Network, BirdLife Tasmania, Bird Lovers of Black Sugarloaf, Freycinet Action Network, Tasmanian National Parks Association, Restore Pedder, Neighbours of Fish Farming, the Wilderness Society, Residents Opposed to the Cable Car, the Tree Projects, Blue Derby Wild, Forestry Watch, Friends of the Earth Australia, Farming Matters Alliance.

Mr Speaker, I formally move that I am given permission to table this document.

Leave granted.

In the few minutes I have left, if you want an excellent example of why we need to support amendments to the Right to Information Act, look no further than the situation where, in 2015, then member for Franklin, Nick McKim, sought through Right to Information information in the public interest about proposed sites for the Government's expressions of interest process. The Department of Parks, Primary Industries, Water and Environment - the Parks and Wildlife Service - rejected that request for information, citing commercial in confidence.

Senator McKim, who was Mr McKim MP at the time, appealed to the Ombudsman - and that Ombudsman's review, which came back five years later, made it really clear that Mr McKim should have been provided with the information at the time by the department, and that there is no argument for citing commercial in confidence over private developments on public lands. We would hope that the Government would heed the Ombudsman's finding in that case, and move to ensure that members of the public are not denied information that they have a right to have, or are left waiting for years for a review from the Ombudsman's office in order to find out what is happening in their own public protected areas.

It is not much to ask, Mr Speaker, for there to be transparency around private developments in lands that belong, first of all, to the palawa pakana and, secondly, to all the people of Tasmania, and, thirdly, to future generations globally.

What we have here is one of the most remarkable wilderness areas in the world, on the planet. We have a responsibility to look after it, and an increasing number of groups and members of civil society have had enough. They are sick of being treated like mushrooms, they are sick of seeing secrecy over their own public protected areas.

They are sick of, for example, hearing situations like the Parks and Wildlife Service doing a flight survey that it provided to the developer of the Halls Island proposal, Mr Hackett, who was then able to release that Parks survey to the media - when in fact it was dishonest about the impact on wilderness of Mr Hackett's proposed development.