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Parks – Lake Malbena

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 9 June 2022

Tags: Lake Malbena, Parks EOIs

Ms O'CONNOR - Contained within right to information number 48 Lake Malbena proponent, Daniel Hackett, who has been basically gifted an island and a historic hut for a peppercorn, has made several requests for lease variations that include: an extension for EPBC approval to 1 December 2022; an extension to seek development approval to 1 July 2023; an extension to the date for practical commencement to 1 November 2023 and extension to the date of practical completion to 1 December 2023 and to alter the description of the development from hut accommodation to standing camp.

It looks like Mr Hackett is trying to call all the shots here. Minister, have any of these requests been approved? If so, which ones?

Mrs PETRUSMA - For those at the committee because I appreciate that Mrs Alexander may not be aware of the history in regards to Malbena, Halls Island. There have been decades of occupation on Halls Island on Lake Malbena in the TWWHA dating back to shack licence in 1957. There was a shack licence issued in 1957 to Reginald Hall, who then transferred that to Mary McQuilkin in 1979, who then transferred it to Mr Daniel Hackett. There has been a hut erected in there since 1955-56 so it has stood there for many decades and now there are applications to have go on the Tasmanian Heritage Register.

Reg Hall and Dick Reid actually built what you could describe as the perfect small highland recreational hut as per the licence over the island, which was as a shack and a recreational purposes site.

Ms O'CONNOR - Are you going to answer the question?

Mrs PETRUSMA - I am getting to it. Therefore, this is a landscape that has well established past use and the proposal to build a standing camp is in line with the historical use of the island by Mr Hall and Mr Reid. There is a public access program to the site. The Government is taking all the required steps to ensure the proposal is assessed appropriately and in accordance with all levels of assessment processes whether that be local, state, or federal and would include notification by the state party to the World Heritage Centre, if required.

I acknowledge there is a long and controversial history to this project since it was first approved to progress to lease and licence negotiations back in 2018 and the approval process requires the proponent to undertake significant work without any guarantee of an outcome. We are still way away from having all the material to consider before any informed decision can be made.

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order. I actually kept the question quite specific and perhaps the minister -

Mrs PETRUSMA - I am getting to your answer.

Ms O'CONNOR - If you want me to put it on notice. I am happy to do that.

Mrs PETRUSMA - No, I am quite happy to continue. Whilst the use and occupation of Halls Island is not new because the proponent has been to a -

Ms O'CONNOR - It has never been an exclusive use arrangment.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, if you are going to continue to interrupt I will name you.

Mrs PETRUSMA - The public can access the island, Ms O'Connor. Due to appeals processes this proposal has not been able to proceed through all assessment points as it has now been before the courts, local council and now also with the Commonwealth. It is for assessment which does demonstrate that a property assessment processes are in play as the proponent has spent over 12 months preparing additional information to inform the EPBC process. They advised they were unable to meet them at lease milestones set by the Government and sought to vary the lease and conditions subsequent for the agreement on Halls Island.

After careful and fulsome consideration of all the options available to the Crown in relation to the lease, including the department seeking advice, a deed of variation has recently been signed. The Government has taken this course of action for a number of key reasons including, that Wild Drake had demonstrated best endeavours to progress the necessary environmental approvals for their proposal in accordance with the conditions subsequent detailed in the lease, that they have been significantly delayed by a number of protracted legal appeals.

I am advised that the proponent is actively engaging with the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, in relation to progressing the requests for information under the EPBC act. Given the planning requirements and the ongoing environmental approval processes underway, termination of the lease would create uncertainty for all parties, including the Crown -

Ms O'CONNOR - Not fly-fishers, it wouldn't.

Mrs PETRUSMA - and could be considered unreasonable, given the proponent has made all reasonable efforts and significant financial investment to proceed through these processes. Importantly, issuing this deed of variation has provided the Government with an opportunity to significantly improve the lease conditions in order to deliver the Crown greater certainty for actions against key milestones, including termination of the agreement - should that be required - along with contemporising the lease in response to several issues that have arisen since it was first drafted.

Based on the advice received, the Government believes this is a reasonable and fair approach and by no way provides any green light for any approval processes. The proponent must still progress through all of the required assessment processes in order for the lease to remain valid.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, thank you. That is a five-minute answer. That will be news to bushwalkers and fly-fishers, that the Government has again in secrecy signed up to something with a developer. I will just remind you that this is not about public use because your Government has made this island an exclusive use island for Mr Hackett and wealthy tourists.

Minister, this project has been mired in a secret re-zoning scandal, a secret super cheap lease arrangement, shoddy practices from Parks and the proponent. It has failed to achieve any level of approval, it has been rejected by the Full Bench of the Supreme Court and has resulted in enormous public backlash. How can a project that will degrade nearly 50,000 hectares of wilderness, provide only 2.5 full-time equivalent jobs, that has been rejected by bushwalkers and fly-fishers and other recreational users of the TWWHA, be considered appropriate for the Walls of Jerusalem National Park? Surely, it is time for you to exercise your ministerial power and pull the pin on this divisive project.

Mrs PETRUSMA - As I said before, Ms O'Connor, there has been decades of occupation on the Halls Island dating back to 1957 -

Ms O'CONNOR - That was public use, this is an exclusive use arrangement -

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Mrs PETRUSMA - As per the licence over the island at the time, it was to be a shack and recreational purposes site. It is a landscape that has a well-established past use as a shack site -

Ms O'CONNOR - Not as a heli tourism site.

Mrs PETRUSMA - In case Ms O'Connor is interested, the Government will continue to ensure that the proponent fulfils all of the assessment requirements, as we would for any proponents seeking to deliver a commercial project within our reserve estate. We will respect the decision of the new minister for Environment and Water when it is delivered.

Now, the new milestones have been included in the deed of variation. it is to make all necessary referrals under the EPBC act by the 30 June, 2022, noting that, if after 30 June, the operator is responding to request the further information from the Commonwealth and those requests are being responded to within a reasonable time frame without due delay, an extension can be granted -

Ms O'CONNOR - I am sure Parks will be very helpful.

Mrs PETRUSMA - However, they must also submit an application for development approval with the Central Highlands Council by 30 April 2023. Within three months of obtaining the above-mentioned approvals, lodge a revised and completed RAA, taking into consideration all information gained over the last four years and any conditions so imposed under the EPBCA and DA process. They must substantially commence construction within six months of an approval RIA and achieve practical completion within 12 months of the date substantial commencement.

The deed of variation also provides for significantly improved termination provisions in relation to these amended milestones, providing the Crown with greater certainty, should it be required in the future. In the interests of public transparency, we can make that lease publicly available on our disclosure log. We will put it up so that we will ensure that -

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, that is fine. I do not need to hear from Mr Jacobi. You just say that and hopefully it will happen.

Mrs PETRUSMA - I will ensure that. I will make sure that the deed of variation as well as the lease of 2018 will be publicly available so that you can compare the two.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, can you confirm that, as it is right now, if someone goes on to Halls Island at Lake Malbena, they can be arrested for trespass and face penalties?

Mr JACOBI - If a person were to commit an offence, under the Nature Conservation Act, then the department would take action, but in terms of -

Ms O'CONNOR - What do you mean by an offence? Trespass on a private island?

Mr JACOBI - No. The department would not take action for trespass, that is a police matter. The department would take action if it was an offence against the Nature Conversation Act -

Ms O'CONNOR - That was not my question.

Mr JACOBI - Such as, taking or interfering with natural or cultural resources or causing damage to the island -

Ms O'CONNOR - That was not my question.

Mr JACOBI - But the actual trespass matter, which I believe was your question, is a matter for police. It is a matter for lessee.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is right. A member of the Tasmanian public, who for generations has accessed this island now, if they set foot on it, is subject to potential trespass charges because your Government privatised an island inside the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area. Thanks Chair.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, the previous federal government submitted a state of conservation report to UNESO in February this year and in it there were myriad mistruths of the Lake Malbena development. These included describing the development as a standing camp, which it is not, suggesting the development was subject to an environmental impact assessment, which it had not been and saying that the development was in line with protecting outstanding universal values of the property, which it's not, given the impact of helicopters on wilderness.

Do you as minister stand by this record to UNESCO? Are you aware that the chair of the World Heritage Committee is following up with Australia State Party on these discrepancies?

Mrs PETRUSMA - I wasn't aware that the chair of the World Heritage Committee was following up with the Australian Government on those inconsistencies.

Ms O'CONNOR - Inconsistencies? Straight up misrepresentations, minister.

Mrs PETRUSMA - Has it been raised with the state party?

Ms O'CONNOR - It says, it is following up with Australia State Party on the discrepancies between what's fact and what's not.

Mrs PETRUSMA - What date is that?

Ms O'CONNOR - This is from February 2022. The report went in in February this year and the follow up has happened since.

Mrs PETRUSMA - The World Heritage Committee did clarify through the State Party as to what their expectations were and provided information, for example in reports that were made last year in regard to what is a major development and which ones have to be reported by the State Party. It is the State Party who does report to the World Heritage Centre in their reports.

Ms O'CONNOR - Presumably they got the information from Tasmania.

Mrs PETRUSMA - Tasmania provides it but the Australian Government is very much aware of what is happening in regards to these developments.