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Illegal Fossicking - Moorina area, Weld River

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 27 August 2020

Tags: Environment

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, I rise tonight on the adjournment to talk about some fossicking along the Weld River in Moorina and on behalf of local landowner Mr Robert Dean. After Mr Dean contacted our office in late April this year, Dr Woodruff wrote to the minister responsible, Mr Barnett, and said this -

My office has been contacted by a concerned landowner, Mr Robert Dean, about illegal fossicking in the Moorina area along the Weld River. He reported that fossicking outside the designated area is widespread in Moorina and is causing significant damage to the river banks including those located within private properties.

The excavation by fossickers of river edges is causing substantially increased levels of sediment to enter the Weld River, compromising the integrity of the banks and resulting in additional erosion during high water levels.

This illegal activity has been reported to Mineral Resources Tasmania by landowners, including Mr Dean. I understand no effective investigation or enforcement has been undertaken at this point.

There is immense frustration amongst residents who have been left to clean up rubbish and close gates that have been left open by the illegal fossickers. So significant is the problem, Dr Woodruff writes, that local police were recently called to evict a large number of illegal fossickers from Sustainable Timber land. In closing, Dr Woodruff says -

The existence of designated fossicking zones is meaningless unless there is enforcement and proper signage. Would you kindly commit to ensuring Mineral Resources Tasmania installs signage to clearly identify fossicking approved areas, particularly in this district, which seems to be a hotspot, and is also available to respond in future with patrols to ensure compliance.

As we know, fossicking for many Tasmanians is something of a way of life and it is certainly an important recreational activity. Where Mr Dean has had issues, is in the use by fossickers of land that is not a designated fossicking zone and it has caused some real problems for him. Before I go to Mr Dean's statement, the minister replied on 4 May and noted that -

The Weld River fossicking area is one of 10 fossicking areas across Tasmania that is proclaimed under the Mineral Resources Development Act, fossicking or prospecting within the proclaimed fossicking area does not require a prospecting license, et cetera

Mineral Resources Tasmania was contacted by Mr Dean in March this year and went for a site visit on 26 March. The site inspection revealed signs of prospecting activities that would be consistent with those activities permitted by prospect license holders. MRT has investigated three instances of similar allegations from Mr Dean since 2017 with no other complaints from the public received. On each occasion, the claims regarding the scale and nature of the impacts occurring at Moorina appear to be inconsistent with those found during the inspections.

In response, the minister says -

To the recent inspection undertaken by MRT, it has been recommended that signage be improved. I am advised that MRT is currently working to address the issue.

That was on 4 May and Mr Dean has got back in touch with us on 17 August -

Hi, it is Robert Dean from Moorina. I hope you are well. Just an update on the fossicking at Moorina. There has been quite a lot of community backlash regarding the closing down of the illegal camp site which Sustainable Timber Tasmania went into the area and closed down. There were people camping there. With Sustainable Timber Tasmania production forest land there was an article in the local Advertiser last week outlining what has been done and maybe you could have a look at what is being said. Mineral Resources Tas contacted me last week more or less accusing me of doing mischievous things which was a total fabrication by the gemstone fossickers trying to discredit my good name. I informed MRT my thoughts. Also, I informed them I am not trying to stop the genuine people who are going to the free fossicking area and doing the right thing by the guidelines.

He told me that the rules had been tightened up regarding what and where they can go and that MRT is working on signage for all the free fossicking areas throughout Tasmania.

Now it has come to my attention that I am being talked about rather badly on Facebook, portrayed as that angry old man who thinks he owns all the land and the rivers in Moorina. Well, I am a landowner and I think if I choose to try to manage the land and rivers in a responsible way on my watch that is my call.

The take-home message here is that Mineral Resources Tasmania has made a commitment to install signage along that area of the Weld River. It has not happened to date. The minister is not in the Chamber at the moment but hopefully he will be listening. It has not happened to date, and that has caused tensions among people who feel they have been alienated from an area where they have traditionally fossicked.

If MRT wants to ensure there is no conflict over legal fossicking, it needs to get on with making sure those signs are installed so there is certainty for people who want to do some fossicking on our rivers. We also want to make sure we are not having those intrusions on private land that have caused real stress to Mr Robert Dean and have caused some people to be cranky with Mr Dean when all he was really trying to do was look after the property, look after the river and maintain the integrity of that ecosystem near his private property.

I urge the minister to make sure that the signage goes in as a matter of priority. It will protect the riverbank from erosion caused by illegal fossicking. It will make sure rubbish is not left in areas where there are no bins. I hope Mr Barnett recognises that he made this commitment in May this year to Dr Woodruff's letter. It is now August and Mr Dean is still waiting to see some signage along the river near his property.