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Ecotourism - Big Tree State Report

Vica Bayley MP

Vica Bayley MP  -  Tuesday, 5 September 2023

Tags: Tourism, Forests

Mr BAYLEY (Clark) - I rise tonight to talk about trees and tourism. Before I do that, I want to start by talking about awe. I do not know whether anyone else saw the ABC's Compass episode earlier, I think on the weekend, hosted by Julia Baird. She showcased awe hunters. It was largely focused on Tasmania. It showcased Tasmania and it was promotion that money cannot buy. Dr Lisa Gershwin was there, highlighting phosphorescence and the auroras. Steve Pearce was there highlighting giant trees. It was quite a show. This grab out of it is what struck me:

For awe hunters, the everyday is often the extraordinary and the smallest wonders can be transformative, at the personal level that is.

So can the big ones. I wanted to focus tonight on the work of Steve and The Tree Projects. Recently The Trees Projects, together with the Wilderness Society, an organisation that is close to my heart that I worked with for many years, published a report called Big Tree State: The Tourism Potential of Tasmania's Forests. It is a great piece of analysis that highlights what could be done with very modest investment in specific sites around the south of the state, in regional Tasmania, and tries to quantify the benefits of those attractions.

On the numbers, there are eight sites across the Huon and the Derwent Valley. Investment of less than $1 million, visitors increased by 139 000 and an estimated 163 jobs or $20 million to the Tasmanian economy. This is focused on some of those giant trees that are in Tasmania's forest estate. Some of them are reserved and listed as World Heritage, giant trees being one of the values for which the World Heritage Area is listed. Some of them are in production forests. There are three in the Huon area and another five in the Derwent.

The Government and Sustainable Timber Tasmania, previously known as Forestry Tasmania, already know the value of giant trees from a tourism perspective. Back in the 2000s there were millions of dollars spent on tourism initiatives such as the Airwalk, Dismal Swamp, Hollybank and the Eagles Eyrie. They were built at great expense with mixed success and then some of them sold to private operators.

The Airwalk, for example, built for $4 million at public expense, sold for less than $1 million. Eagles Eyrie, in the Maydena Range above the Styx, is now in the World Heritage Area. It was built for $6.5 million, then sold and is now the top station of the Maydena bike park.

The Big Tree State project is trying to compare and contrast those kinds of developments and logging in our state forests with modest investment of less than $1 million across those eight sites to promote eight outstanding areas that people can visit on any one day of the week. Some of them are protected, some of them are threatened with logging.

One of the benefits of this is to give people things to do for the day. There is a tourism strategy at the moment which is to fly people into remote places and give them an experience. The Greens support giving people self-motivated, self-funded and self-driven experiences in the forests around regional Tasmania, so that those people then go on to stay in regional Tasmania, spend their dollars in regional Tasmania.

The tourism industry has recently developed the Visitor Economy Strategy 2030. It reads very well, it has some great motherhood statements in it and we look forward to seeing how this is implemented and whether this is a change of strategy from a tourism perspective. It contains lofty statements, some of which we fully support. One is -

We are champions of our natural environment. The beauty of our landscape underpins the Tasmanian way of life. Our natural environment is finite, precious, core to our reputation and integral to our brand.

One of the other values, we are creative, another value is that we share Tasmanian culture and heritage. Mr Deputy Speaker, here is a unique opportunity to invest a very moderate amount of money into developing these sites and giving people the opportunity to find them for themselves, to stand under these trees in absolute awe. Awestruck by the size, the girth and the integrity of these trees and the forests that they sit in.

It gives me great pleasure to talk about this tonight, not least because for me it is somewhat full circle. Maybe 15 or 20 years ago, I was the one walking in those forests putting up pink tags and trying to find these trees. We were the ones who were writing self-drive leaflets encouraging people to go visit these trees. Hundreds and thousands of people did that, whether it be on open days that we hosted in the Styx Valley, or self-guided leaflets that were published and distributed around cafes all around the state, we were the ones who were stimulating this big tree tourism 20 years ago, as a mechanism to try to build appreciation of these areas, create champions for the environment and deliver regional benefits for Tasmania.

I encourage everybody to get a copy of the report and read it. It demonstrates that there is real value in promoting our big trees, in protecting them and in demonstrating that there is an alternative economic model, an alternative vision to logging them. Contrast the big tree tourism state to the big log on the back of a single rider log truck a couple of weeks ago that attracted scorn for Tasmania from all around the world.

Coming back to awe, let me just finish with Professor Dacher Keltner from this Compass episode which resonated with me. He is a professor who studies awe. He said:

It makes yourself seem small, your concerns seem small, your stresses seem less significant. Today a lot of young people and a lot of people in general are focusing too much on the self and awe takes us out of that focus, gets us to open our eyes to the world outside of us.

These trees and the big trees date could be awe-inspiring, Mr Speaker.