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Parks – South Coast Track Proposal

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 9 June 2022

Tags: Parks, South Coast Track

Ms O'CONNOR - I am very happy to hear, minister, that you recognise that we could do this a lot better by having less intrusive commercial developments in towns and regions outside the TWWHA so that they can bring benefits to those towns and regions.

I want to talk about the South Coast Track proposal of a luxury lodge development and associated infrastructure by Experience Co. and Wild Bush Luxury for the South East Cape, which is located in the area that is defined as the wilderness zone in the 2016 World Heritage Management Plan, which your colleagues rewrote in order to facilitate commercial developments in protected areas.

For this development to occur, the management plan would need to be changed. Can you foresee another change to the World Heritage Area Management Plan of 2016 in order to facilitate the Experience Co. project, and if you say 'we will wait and see what happens with all the assessments', that tells me your government would be prepared to change the management plan to allow this development.

Mrs PETRUSMA - This development is already in the recreational zone, so my understanding is that it does not require a change to the management plan -

Mr JACOBI - There is no intention to change the TWWHA management plan. We have not received the final proposal as the new proponents of this development have not submitted a final RAA. The only RAA we have received was from the previous operator and that was a draft RAA. My understanding, from the earlier proposal, was that the huts were proposed within the walking track zone, so the South Coast Track itself is zoned differently from the wilderness zone either side of the track, and the plan specifically talks about the width of that zone. Several of the huts that were proposed at that time were proposed to be considered within the recreation zone, but the plan also specifically refers to the six huts being allowable activity on the South Coast Track.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, you may be aware of some of the work that is being done by specialists like Martin Hoare in what wilderness is and the degrading of wilderness values as a result of those huts. I am sure I have shown you, but if not, I am happy to. Does the minister still support more than $3 million of public money going towards the construction of the luxury lodges along the South Coast Track? This money was initially given to the previous proponent, Ian Johnston, but as we understand it, it has since been transferred to the new proponent. Do you have any line of sight to the status of this donation to a developer?

Mrs PETRUSMA - My understanding is that it is a federal government grant, so that would be federal government that you would have to inquire regarding that. That could be one to take up with the new Minister for Environment and Water. Ms O'Connor, just regarding the flight information you were talking about, I have emailed that directly to you so you have that direct link to the information that was requested that is on the department site.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. One more, chair?

CHAIR - Yes.

Mrs PETRUSMA - It has actually been available on the website for several months - the flights by the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service and commercial operates in the TWWHA. I have sent you that link.

Ms O'CONNOR - I do not know if this is kosher, minister, but if I could put a question through to you to Mr Jacobi regarding the preliminary Aboriginal heritage assessment report that was done on the South Coast Track. Is it possible to have an outline on the date that the report was received from a contractor and the date it was referred to Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania? At what point, minister, were you informed of its existence? We asked you a question in parliament and I am not sure you knew that this report existed.

Mrs PETRUSMA - That was under a draft RAA and Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania is not part of Parks.

Ms O'CONNOR - It was a contractor and, as I understand it, the work went through Parks so Mr Jacobi had this Aboriginal heritage preliminary assessment. Then it went from there, through Parks, to Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania.

Mr JACOBI - I thank the member for the question. As part of Mr Johnson's planning work to develop the required RAA for the South Coast Track huts proposal following a desktop assessment by Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania, the proponent engaged the consulting services of an archaeologist, an Aboriginal heritage officer to prepare an Aboriginal heritage assessment report.

This report was provided to AHT for review, following which Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania provided feedback to both the consultant and to the PWS in relation to a number of issues identified in the draft report. I think it was still a draft at that time - I don't believe it was finalised.

To date, no final RAA addressing these issues has been provided to the Parks and Wildlife Service for assessment in relation to this proposal. I would note that any assessment by the PWS on the final RAA for this proposal will need to consider any impacts on Aboriginal heritage along the South Coast Track.

It is also important to note that the RAA process does not negate the requirement for the issuing of a permit under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1975 if Aboriginal heritage was to be impacted. To date, there has been no application for a permit and no permit has been provided by the minister in relation to this proposal.

The new owner of the proposal, Wild Bush Luxury Experience Pty Ltd, is currently working on engaging with the Tasmanian Aboriginal people and the Aboriginal Heritage Council in relation to this proposal.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, you knew about this report when you stood up on the 10 March in parliament.

Mrs PETRUSMA - As I said, no permits have been issued by Mr Jaensch in relation this proposal. This is part of Mr Johnson's planning work which is not part of the final RAA because we haven't seen it. No final RAA has been submitted. As Mr Jacobi just said, the report was provided to AHT for review following which AHT provided feedback to the consultant in relation to a number of issues.

The final RAA will need to include assessments and permits.

Mr JACOBI - I am happy to put on the record that I was aware of the report. I was aware that it had been referred to the Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania for advice. I did not inform Mrs Petrusma who I don't believe was actually the minister for Parks at the time.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, she was when I asked the question.

Mr JACOBI - I won't go to the question but I was certainly aware of the report. I was aware it had been referred to the Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania. I let Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania provide advice back to the proponent and we have heard nothing since.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you.

Ms O'CONNOR - Is it possible now we have confirmed the existence of the preliminary Aboriginal Heritage Assessment Report for the south coast track, is it possible for the committee to be provided with a copy of that preliminary report?

Mrs PETRUSMA - As you would be aware from being a previous minister for Aboriginal Affairs, we do not disclose where that Aboriginal heritage actually is. If it is disclosed, n sadly and tragically, people will then go and visit those sites which Aboriginal community themselves do not like the disclosure of Aboriginal Heritage sites. I know from when I was Minister for Aboriginal Affairs they did not like these sites being publicly disclosed either.

Ms O'CONNOR - Rightly so too, but doesn't that highlight to you.

Mrs PETRUSMA - I do remind the House no permit has been applied for and no permit has been given. There is a long way to go in regards to this proposal. When we actually have a proposal, which outlines what sites and where it is going to be and what is involved, then a proper Aboriginal Heritage assessment will need to be undertaken and permits approved and go through the proper process through Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania and the Minister for Aboriginal Heritage.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am sure you would agree that exactly what you said before highlights the risks of this development. Can I ask, given that Experience Co is lobbying or almost trying to pick off Aboriginal community leaders as part of its consultation process is there some chance then that heritage assessment report could be made available to Aboriginal community leaders? It is their heritage we are talking about and I know you know this, one of the richest archaeological and most culturally significant places in Tasmania. If there was a request made by the Aboriginal Land Council or Tracker for that report do you think it would be granted?

Mr JACOBI - In answer to your question, I believe you have an active RTI in relation to this particular issue currently being assessed by my departmental RTI officers. When it is has been assessed and released, I would expect all that information will be made available either through our active disclosure log or through to you. If it is available through the active disclosure log it will be accessible to everybody.