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Estimates Reply – Minister Jaensch

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Tags: Parks EOIs, Climate Change, Native Forest Logging, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Deputy Chair, I rise to talk about the conversations we had across the table with the minister for far too many portfolios - State Growth, Local Government and Planning, Environment, Aboriginal Affairs, Heritage and now one of the most, if not the most, important portfolio in government, the portfolio of Climate Change.

I will make the point that there is an inherent conflict between having a minister who is the minister for State Growth on the one hand and the minister for Environment and Climate Change on the other. If you have a government philosophy which is any and all developers are welcome to roll through the door of the office of the Coordinator-General and negotiate potential access to protected areas or Crown land, it is in conflict with the portfolio that should be about protecting nature, and making sure, for example, that the state is meeting its statutory obligations to prepare a state of the environment report - it has missed two deadlines to do that so far - and also to take meaningful action on climate.

This is a minister who, when I once had a crack at him about native forests, made the blithe response that, 'Oh well, trees grow back'. Yes, of course, trees grow back, but the carbon that is lost in the native forest that is logged, chipped and burned takes, according to the scientists, about a century to recover the carbon that was lost in the process of clear-felling, chipping and burning. Hopefully, Mr Jaensch, who once was a member of the Tasmanian Climate Action Council, will refresh himself on some of the science.

This was our opportunity as Greens, to ask the minister with the Coordinator-General at the table, what is happening through the expressions of interest process, which not only the Greens describe as opaque; it is felt to be opaque by a broad cross-section of Tasmanians from anglers to bushwalkers, to conservationists, to tourism business operators.

We wanted to know how many expressions of interest have gone before the Coordinator-General, and how many are now to lease and licence phase. Four are at lease and licence in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, three of which are operational, and the fourth one is the disastrous proposal to privatise Halls Island at Lake Malbena - which has effectively already been privatised but I will get to that in a minute - and allow for heli tourism. That so far has not progressed.

As I said at the table at the time, I don't think the Government is going to win this one. I pointed out to the minister that Mr Hackett seems to be under a profound delusion about the status of Halls Island, which he was given an exclusive lease over, Halls Island and Reg Hall's hut for the grand sum of about $80 per week. Mr Hackett, on the proposed heritage listing of Halls Island talks about it is one of the most important huts and he says:

As custodians, we will use income from the standing camp to assist in covering the significant maintenance and upkeep of our historic hut which is available for no cost public visitation by simply contacting us.

The good thing at the table was we got clarification from the minister that it is not Mr Hackett's hut. Mr Hackett is the lessee. The hut does not belong to him. It is an effective privatisation because it is an exclusive use arrangement, but there is a fair bit to go on that one because it is now before the federal government.

I know that the Liberals want to bring in their anti protest laws to stop people from defending places like Lake Malbena and Halls Island but it will not work for fly fishers and bushwalkers who are determined to defend their right to access those places, as they have for generations, and to enjoy them without having to book it through the Hacketts or organise helicopter access into the TWWHA, which damages the wilderness experience for everyone else who happens to be quietly enjoying the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area at the time.

We also asked questions about the $3 million in public funding from the Commonwealth that has gone originally to Ian Johnston's company which had the Maria Island Walk but also had two expressions of interest lodged, one for a walk along the South Coast Track with half a dozen huts and the other one at South East Cape. Then there is the proposed Darlington expression of interest on Maria Island. We got no clarity at all, Mr Deputy Chair, about that $3 million; whether or not Experience Co, which has bought Ian Johnston's business, has that $3 million. That is extremely worrying. For heaven's sake, it is only public money, I know.

Mr Jaensch - Federal.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is federal public money and the minister had no idea what had happened with the $3 million that went to a private developer to facilitate that expression of interest process.

Then we were into a back and forth discussion about how the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area master plan was rewritten in 2015, finalised in 2016, and it gave specific carve outs to those expressions of interest process which had already been flagged with Government, the most notorious of which is the carve out of the wilderness zone that allows for the development at Halls Island in Lake Malbena.

I also asked the minister, as did Ms Dow I guess for very different reasons - about the proposal to build a cable car at Cradle. It is part of a bigger concern that the Tasmanian National Parks Association, the Wilderness Society, other bushwalking groups and the Greens have about the commodification of wilderness.

It is a difficult area of public policy. You need to be able to provide people with equitable access to places that are protected for their natural and cultural values but you also need to protect the values that draw people to those places in the first place. We don't think that this Government has the balance right. It went full steam ahead in 2014 with an expressions of interest process that was most certainly conducted behind closed doors, that required us to go through a prolonged process of right to information and then to seek review from the Ombudsman and then, five years later, get any details over the leases and licences.

We know this has been stitch up from the very beginning. The issue here is we will lose wilderness values, natural values and cultural values if, as a state, we do not get this right. People come here from all over the country and all over the world because we have something that the world is rapidly losing and that is wild, unspoiled, unmechanised nature.

When I talk to minister about heavy infrastructure inside protected areas these huts, cabins and things that have never been allowed in there before - he took issue with me describing it as heavy infrastructure. He said that's just our view. No, there is really solid science around the impact, for example, of a single hut on wilderness values in the world heritage area. You can map it, you can see it. There are metrics there. This is not about the Greens making something up. This is information that has been put on the public record by the Environment Defenders Office, by incredible wildlife ecologists like Professor Martin Hawes, by the Wilderness Society, as examples.

Again, I ask the minister to have a good, long hard think about the kind of infrastructure, for example, that we are putting in at Cradle Mountain which, when I was there three weeks ago, was so hefty and garish, right there near Dove Lake. It changes, and not for the better, the experience of going to Cradle Mountain.

There are many parts of the world that understand the way to manage parks is not to put more infrastructure and more commercial buildings in there so you can stuff more people in. It is to have really management and from time to time introducing visitor caps on people going into parks. We know that even the Government's own study has told us that at the height of summer within a few years there will be 6000 people a day on the Bay of Fires walk. We cannot sustain that. We need to recalibrate this policy so that it is about the protection of natural and cultural values, and get the balance right, actually get it right, so we can look after this place, which is our job.