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Estimates Reply - Petrusma

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Tags: Lake Malbena, Parks, National Parks, Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, Aboriginal Heritage, Parks EOIs

Ms O'CONNOR - Chair, today I will mostly focus on the Parks area of minister Petrusma's multiple portfolios.  I know Dr Woodruff will be speaking on some other areas. 

I listened carefully to Mr Tucker's assessment of what happened at the table last week when we talked about the management of Parks.  He talked about this Government's goal of maintaining the integrity of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.  Of course they should.  The issue the Government has is the expressions of interest process for commercial development inside public protected areas, including the TWWHA.  This process has a taint around it and a stink, and by its very nature it degrades wilderness values and cultural values. 

The two emblematic examples of that are the wilderness values that would be lost should Daniel Hackett's heli-tourism proposal be successful at Halls Island in Lake Malbena and the cultural values which Aboriginal Tasmanians tell us are rich and ancient and embedded in the landscape throughout the TWWHA, but most recently that conversation has centred around the cultural heritage along the South Coast Track.  Until this Government gets rid of the expressions of interest process, which is unpopular, it cannot be taken seriously on effective management of the TWWHA, because commercial industrial tourism is anathema to the values for which this remarkable part of the world was set aside.

The EOIs have seen a corruption of process where World Heritage and national park management plans were written to favour developers; where wilderness zones were rezoned for recreational purposes, otherwise known as allowing a commercial enterprise hut/lodge or infrastructure around it. 

We have had this Government sign exclusive-use agreements and hand over an entire island - Halls Island at Lake Malbena - to Mr Hackett for a peppercorn rent.  The island has never been leased before.  The lease before was over Reg Halls Hut but this lot, this Government, gave Daniel Hackett a peppercorn lease and exclusive use over an entire island in the TWWHA. 

Then we found out at the Estimates table that on 2 June the minister re‑signed a deed variation agreement with Mr Hackett, who has already been defeated by the Central Highlands Council, the Supreme Court of Tasmania and in the court of public opinion. 

This developer now has the Liberals so clearly in his back pocket that every single thing he asked for is now in the very deed which I have here.  The area was rezoned because Mr Hackett wanted that rezoned a not wilderness area.  The lease was extended three times because Mr Hackett wanted that.  We have not quite got to the bottom of what these words were, but words were removed from the lease because the developer wanted those words removed.  This is a set of words that the previous Parks minister, Mr Jaensch, said to Mr Hackett in correspondence:

I have taken advice on this matter.  It is the Government's position that the removal of the requested clause will not, in its own right, provide you with the ability to proceed with construction as asserted.  In any event, I have given consideration to your request and determined that it is not appropriate to remove the clause. 

So, it was not appropriate to remove the clause under the previous minister but it was appropriate to remove it in the variation on the deed that was signed on 2 June.  We would like to know if Crown Law advice, which is presumably what minister Jaensch was acting on in the earlier correspondence, advised against the removal of that clause or that set of words that Mr Hackett wanted removed? 

Why have they been removed from this new agreement?  What changed about the Crown Law advice?  You can be absolutely sure we will be pursuing that.

I also noted at the table that we had an acting secretary and Director of Parks, who must have taken his lesson on how to behave at the Estimates table from the former secretary of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment, Mr Tim Baker, who made a habit of hopping in to answer a question when he had not been given the call, presuming that he had an authority at the table other than as an adviser to the minister.  I pulled up Mr Jacobi.  I asked a question about the fire management officer for the TWWHA, whether or not there was a fire ecologist position yet in place.  Mrs Petrusma said:

I know the Government invests a lot of money into fire management and the TWWHA, but in regard to -

I interjected - this is on the Hansard - and I said:

It is about the specialist expertise.

Mr Jacobi piped up:

Through the minister -

I said to him:

With respect, Mr Jacobi, you were not given the call yet.

And Mrs Petrusma said:

I did give him the call. 

I do not think the minister did.  I did not hear the minister give him the call at the table and the Hansard record does not reflect that he was given the call.  I remind bureaucrats who sit at the table with their ministers that they are there at the mercy, or the pleasure if you like, of the committee table.  If the minister wants them to assist with an answer they have to be given the call.  They cannot just presume to insert themselves into an answer.  Mr Jacobi needs to learn that lesson and if we need to help him the hard way we certainly will.

We also raised the issue of the acting secretary, again Mr Jacobi, directing Parks and Wildlife to compile information for Wild Drake Pty Ltd to inform their Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act review into the Halls Island Lake Malbena project.  We understood and were told that representatives from Fishers and Walkers Tasmania and the Tasmanian Wilderness Guides Association met with the minister to discuss their concerns about Lake Malbena and development in general in public protected areas.  At that meeting, the minister committed to provide the same information that was given to the developer to those organisations, and now we have been advised that the department then denied them access to the information. 

Who is running this portfolio?  Is it minister Jacquie Petrusma, is it Mr Jacobi, or is it in fact property developers?  That is an open question at this point.  We have a minister who said the information would be released and we now have an acting secretary of that agency who is saying it will not be released. 

I ask the minister, when she rises to respond today, to give an explanation for why she looked those groups in the face and said she would provide them with the same information she provided to the developer.

There is something wrong with the process when the resources of our public Parks department are devoted to supporting developers get through state and federal environment laws, but groups defending our wild places and cultural landscapes are effectively given the middle finger by the secretary of that same department who seems to be undermining the authority of the Minister for Parks.  I know Minister Petrusma takes this portfolio seriously and cares about it.  That is why we are getting a statutory process for reserve activity assessments, that is why we finally saw a fire management plan for the World Heritage Area, that is why there is a renewed focus on cultural burning practices in the TWWHA, but I will say this to the minister:  do not just pay lip service to the palawa pakana people, the Tasmanian Aboriginal people, do not just engage them in cultural burning practices.  If they tell you their cultural heritage is embedded deep within that ancient landscape, listen, and do not sic some Queensland-based developer who wants to exploit the South Coast Track for profit onto Aboriginal people to try to divide and conquer them through some fake consultation process which does not stand up to scrutiny.

Finally, Chair, I want to raise the issue of the proclamation under the Nature Conservation Act 2002, which includes those areas of future reserve forests under renewed tenures in the TWWHA.  This is very problematic because the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania wrote to the previous premier and made a formal claim on part of that land, yet there has been no response throughout and there has been no recognition of the legitimacy of that claim.  Instead what we have is a proclamation which effectively undermines and indeed ignores that land rights claim, and I call on this minister to do better by Aboriginal people.