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EOI Process in National Parks and Reserves

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Tags: Parks, Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, Tourism, Reserve Activity Assessments

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, who until a moment ago was the mover of the motion so I am a little bit surprised to see you in the Chair but I am sure there is no conspiracy here or anything like that. I am sure of that.

We will not be supporting Labor's amendment and we will not be supporting the original motion because we do not support the secretive and corrupted expressions of interest process for development inside Tasmania's national parks, wilderness world heritage area and other public lands.

It is not just the Greens who have a problem with this Government's approach and policy. I do not know where Mr Tucker has been. I know you are probably not reading the Mercury every day because you are living on the east coast. The Examiner is probably your local paper but, wow, Mr Tucker, there are many people right across Tasmania who are very unhappy about the expressions of interest process that your colleagues started back in 2014. I am not using these as a prop, I am simply making the point that we have had full pages of letters to the editor all of which are damning - damning of this Government's approach to Tasmania's national parks and wilderness world heritage area.

There are a few issues here. In a lot of people's minds, the issue is that the wilderness on our door step is a shared treasure. It is part of our shared common wealth. It is not the property of private developers; it is not the property of the government of the day. It belongs to the people of Tasmania, it belongs to the Aboriginal people of Tasmania, and it belongs to the world. It is our gift to the world, the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

The other issue people have with this corrupted process is the appalling, contemptuous secrecy that surrounds it. To hear Mr Tucker spout such utter untruths about transparency - it is the old trick of the conservatives. They think if you lie about something and repeat the same lie often enough, somehow or another it will morph into the truth. It is not the truth. This is the most corrupted and non-transparent process that I have seen in my time in politics, and before that in the community as an activist and as a journalist.

People are concerned about the loss of their shared wealth. They are concerned about the transparency here, and they are deeply concerned about the impact on wilderness. We know that this Government has an aversion, not only to the concept but the word 'wilderness'. The word 'wilderness' so offends them, so disturbs them, so gets in the way of their plans to exploit public protected areas that they tried to - initially when they stitched up this process - remove the word 'wilderness' from the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. That was not long after they had trundled off in a fevered state to the United Nations to try to revoke the extensions to the TWWHA that came about because there were Greens in government between 2010 and 2014.

If you want to understand why people are so concerned about the loss of wilderness, I refer people to the Tasmanian Wilderness Society's PowerPoint slide, which takes you through the scientific metric of the damage to wilderness caused by such things as huts, lodges, helicopters. I know I have waved this around at the Estimates table before, but I simply encourage members in this place to go to the PowerPoint slide, which makes it absolutely clear - by a scientifically verified and accepted metric - that if you put even one hut in a place like the South Coast Track, you have trashed wilderness values on the South Coast Track. But this Government is not talking about one hut, are they? No, they are talking about seven.

This all began with the process to rewrite Tasmania's Wilderness World Heritage Area Management Plan, which began under the then minister for State Growth - and for Environment, Parks and Heritage, totally conflicted - Matthew Groom. The rewrite of the TWWHA Management Plan was designed with one purpose, and one purpose only. That was to facilitate increased commercial development, huts, lodges and helicopters in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, which I remind the House again is the only property on the World Heritage List that has wilderness in its name.

The difference between the original 1999 World Heritage Area Management Plan is that it was an award-winning plan. It had strong protections for wilderness in it. It had explicit prohibitions on development. Then, in 2015, under the then minister, Mr Groom, a draft World Heritage Area Management Plan was put out for public comment. It allowed for logging in the TWWHA, and mining. It guaranteed the loss of wilderness protection, and it significantly ramped up and enabled the capacity for commercial and private development inside the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. There are a whole range of issues which I will come back to in our private members' time.

The 1999 plan, for example, had an over-arching management objective, which was 'to maintain or enhance wilderness quality'. What did that turn into under the Liberals in the 2016 final plan, after 7000 public submissions were ignored? It changed into 'to protect and conserve the natural landscapes of the TWWHA, particularly in areas of exceptional natural and aesthetic and cultural importance'.

The word 'wilderness', is gone from the management objective of the World Heritage Area management plan.

Then of course the 1999 plan had, 'in the Southwest National Park, development of infrastructure, including huts, is not allowed in view of the natural character of the area'. The 2016 final plan replaced this with, 'the number of commercial huts on the South Coast Track is limited to seven'.

We had other corruptions of good process in this disgraceful this management plan. It is disgraceful, it has prostituted the Parks and Wildlife Service, and it is the vehicle for degrading our wilderness.

But it has the most overt corruption of good process around Lake Malbena, for example. There is a specific cut-out in the map for the self-reliant recreation zone to allow the development at Lake Malbena, Halls Island in the Walls of Jerusalem National Park. It is cut out to enable it in a World Heritage management plan.

The other thing about Lake Malbena - and there are so many things to talk about with Lake Malbena - is that all of it has been secretive. We have here Mr Groom's note going back to 2015 - the minute to the department which was leaked to us - which approves the development to lease and licence phase, and no-one found out about it until 2018 - three years later. Of course, as we know, that development comes with in the vicinity of 200 helicopter flights each year and landings, and it comes with it a double lease handed to Daniel Hackett, the proponent of the Lake Malbena development. Not only does he have a lease over Reg Hall's hut, he has been gifted a lease by the Parks and Wildlife Service over all of Halls Island.

Dr Woodruff - Gross.

Ms O'CONNOR - Exactly, Dr Woodruff. Halls Island has, for generations, been used primarily by fly-fishers and bushwalkers. Now, they are the people that Mr Tucker would like to call the elite, but Halls Island is a treasured, traditional place of recreational enjoyment for generations of fly-fishers and bushwalkers. They will no longer be able to access Halls Island because, for all intents and purposes, the place belongs to Daniel Hackett in a lease arrangement which has not been made public. We do not know how long the lease over the island and the hut are for. We do not know what, if anything, Mr Hackett has paid for that lease. All of it done in secret, as it is with the reserve activity assessments. All done in secret.

I do not know if the minister for Parks is going to come in on our Private Members Time and explain himself. I understand that this motion that we are debating today has one purpose, and one purpose only, and that is to try to wedge Labor. We know that. We understand that and it is highly regrettable.

Ms Haddad - That is what Private Members Time is all about.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, that is right, and that is what it has been reduced to. But if we are going to discuss the shared public treasure that is the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and our national parks, let us be honest about it. Let us be honest about the fact that this is a privatisation agenda. Halls Island has been privatised.

Mrs Rylah, if you cannot see what hundreds of fly-fishers, bushwalkers and everyday conservationists can see, then you are wilfully delusional. Halls Island will be closed off to traditional users, fly fishers and bushwalkers, because it will be reserved for the actual elite, Mr Tucker, the people who can afford to fly in on a helicopter for a three-night and four-day experience - that is what is happening - privatised for exclusive use for the elite.

There has been nothing put on the public record by this secretive government about the terms of the Lake Malbena leases, just as there is nothing on the public record about the Three Capes Walk. No deal that is stitched up through the Office of the Coordinator-General and the EOI process has any level of public transparency about it whatsoever. The only place where there is a true capacity for public comment is when a stitch-up is happening on a management plan to enable a development, or if in an internal and secretive process Parks and Wildlife Service determines that a development is a level-4 reserve activity assessment and sends it to the Commonwealth, then there is another opportunity for public comment.

Madam Speaker, as we found out in Lake Malbena, even when you have 1300 submissions made to the Central Highlands Council in opposition to the Lake Malbena development, even when a council responds, as it should in a democracy, to the objections that have been raised by the owners of that property and says no to a development - on the grounds, mind you, that it was not compliant with the Central Highlands planning scheme and potentially even with the World Heritage Area dodgy management plan itself- a decision is made by council, people are finally given a say three years after then minister Matthew Groom signed it through the lease and licence negotiations, it goes off to the Resource Management and Planning Appeals Tribunal and the tribunal basically overturns it, only because it sees its jurisdiction is limited because once there is a stitch-up in place there is not much else you can do, whatever planning authority you are under this regime.

The people spoke, they made their view clear on Lake Malbena, they thought they had an outcome and a council that had responded to those concerns and the evidence of being in breach of planning schemes and the World Heritage Area Management Plan. It goes off to RMPAT and is overturned because what we discover is that if there is a management plan in place, nothing else matters. That is the problem with this process, when you can have a rewrite of a management plan and more than 7000 people say, 'You can't do that, this is our shared common wealth, you can't degrade wilderness and cultural values like that'. More than 7000 representations were made and every one of them ignored. That is why there is no public faith in this process.

Outside the Liberals and Luke Martin, I have not spoken to any everyday Tasmanian who thinks this is a good process. People sense that this is an act of thievery. It is taking away from them something that they have shared and treasured and tried to look after and trusted their Government to look after. People are angry about the expressions of interest process, and I think the Liberals know that. The reason they are trying to wedge Labor here is that they want Labor to attach themselves to the Liberals on the EOIs so it gives a bit of a whiff of legitimacy about it.

Dr Woodruff - As if that would make it legitimate.

Ms O'CONNOR - You are absolutely right, Dr Woodruff, but if they can get Labor to stand with them on the EOIs, then they can share the public opprobrium of this distorted, destructive and disrespectful to a globally significant wilderness and other natural cultural areas process.

We do not support the amendment. I was very unsurprised to hear the Leader of the Opposition barely talk about the wilderness and natural values and cultural values. We do not support the amendment. The amendment says - a globally significant wilderness and other natural cultural The House supports sensible, sustainable and appropriate tourism development in national parks, reserves, and on crown land, in accordance with management plans and consistent with Tasmania's brand values.

When you have stitched up a management plan so it enables a development and shuts people out, that is the problem we are dealing with here - an absence of statutory process, a secretive reserve activity assessment process, and no referral back to the owners of the land, the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people of Tasmania, none whatsoever. There are behind-closed-doors negotiations through the Office of the Coordinator-General, and that is why people are angry. We know they are angry because they get in touch with us. People from across the political spectrum, from across the social, cultural, professional and political spectrum - people realise this is an absolute stinker of a process that does not have legitimacy. I hope you get it at some point, minister.

Mr Tucker - We were hoping that you might actually get it.

Ms O'CONNOR - So you can come in on my contribution. Minister Gutwein, I hope you get it.

Mr Gutwein - Let me have a couple of minutes.

Ms O'CONNOR - But you will say what you have said before about this.

Mr Gutwein - Let me have a couple of minutes and I will put some facts on the record and the House will be aware of it.

Ms O'CONNOR - All right, I will let you have a couple of minutes. In closing I thank not the former premier of Tasmania, Jim Bacon. I thank the conservation movement for fighting to defend these beautiful places that allow us to say that we are the only World Heritage property with the word 'wilderness' in its name.