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State Development, Construction and Housing – Parks EOIs

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 7 June 2022

Tags: Parks EOIs

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I am very interested in an update on the highly unpopular except amongst commercial developers - expressions of interest process for development inside public protected areas which is overseen through the Office of the Coordinator-General. I have up here the Coordinator General website on the EOIs and, again, we have companies land banking, effectively, for proposals that they submitted five or six years ago that haven't gone anyway. Are you able to update the House on the EOI process? Has any consideration been given to a shift in policy, which the Greens have been advocating for for a very long time, to encourage private developers to develop their accommodation in towns and regions outside protected areas so that we can deliver those economic benefits to those towns and regions, which I am sure, if you were thinking about it, you would support?

Mr BARNETT - I do thank you for the question. I can update you and the committee.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can you, really?

Mr BARNETT - I can. To say we are blessed in Tasmania with our beautiful natural environment, picturesque locations, gourmet food and wines, iconic heritage and distinctly seasonal climate and our tourism industry. We want to leverage off those exceptional and natural advantages that we do have. Our Government's expression of interest for tourism opportunities in national parks, reserves and Crown land process has been enhanced to ensure a continuous pathway for private operators to develop sustainable, sensitive and appropriate tourism attractions across the state, and further improve its operations following the 2020 Auditor General's report, taking into account further input on its operations.

We take our responsibility for managing Tasmania's parks and reserves very seriously. We also understand the importance of our tourism industry to our economy, local communities and families. Tourism remains one of our biggest industries. The Government remains committed to delivering the tourism EOI process and the important role it plays in delivering job-creating tourism projects of the state, while upholding the natural and cultural values.

The commercial developments that have been undertaken in the parks and reserves for many years and until the EOI process, have been assessed solely by parks and wildlife service. The principles of the EOI process ensure that the merits of every proposal are carefully considered before it is approved to move forward for assessment, and is far more rigorous than that which existed under the previous government.

Ms O'CONNOR - We did not have a policy of allowing wholesale commercial development inside protected areas, which your Government does, to be fair.

Mr BARNETT - Thank you for your interjection. I will continue. The tourism EOI process incorporates a first level filter of projects at concept stage to ensure that an accessible equitable consistent and statewide approach is maintained in the assessment of commercial tourism propositions on public land. Since then our tourism EOI 2014, it has made a valuable contribution to delivering the Tasmanian Government's vision to grow tourism and deliver on jobs and economic development.

We have delivered investment of more than $85 million in attracting more tourists to Tasmania, creating an estimated 274 jobs for Tasmanians. Maydena bike park in the Derwent Valley, which I have enjoyed very much. The Blue Derby pods ride, which I have done as well, in the north-east. It has been great seeing these projects get up and have success. A comprehensive review has been undertaken of the tourism EOI process. It has included recommendations from the Auditor-General, September 2020 report, and incorporated input from the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania, the EOI assessment panel and the Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

The Auditor-General's review of the tourism EOI process showed that it is effective, consistent and transparent. We committed to further improving the process and implementing all the Auditor-General's recommendations, alongside other changes, including the following:

(1) Increasing accessibility by ceasing any potential land banking by conducting a review of existing proposals to identify stalled projects and provide short term time frames for significant progress or otherwise the proposals from the process. Further, it will continue to set milestones for all future proposals, with proposals to lapse if milestones are not achieved.

(2) Reshaping the membership of the tourism EOI and assessment panel to include the appointment of further members with no direct professional or commercial ties to the tourism industry.

(3) Seeking further early stage advice on proposals from relevant Aboriginal organisations, extending the current practice of seeking advice from Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania.

(4) Increasing the amount of information made publicly available on existing proposals.

Through the continuation and enhancement of the tourism EOI process we are helping to revitalise regions by attracting more visitors, helping to ensure more visitors stay longer, spend more and travel more widely.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Minister. That sounds to me, while there are some improvements being made around the margins, that the Government is still committed to facilitating commercial development, including lodges, inside public protected areas, despite the fact that it has generated strong opposition from people across the community or demographics, all voting persuasions, who find this EOI process offensive and an insult to the concept of Aboriginal and public ownership of protected areas.

Mr BARNETT - This is a substantial reform. This will enhance the tourism EOI process. It backs in all the report and recommendations of the Auditor-General and takes into account the advice and feedback from the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania. It is a reshaping of the tourism EOI panel, to provide independent advice and feedback. It includes terms and conditions on these proposals that exist now and proposals into the future. It does take into account Aboriginal heritage and further information will be made available on the website and the public will have access to that information.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Chair. Minister, back to the expressions of interest process. I was very much interested because we've raised this issue a number of times at Estimates, about the examination of land-banking potential. Can you confirm that will examine existing EOIs such as, for example, Tas Walking Co. which is effectively banking land at the Walls of Jerusalem National Park, Cradle Mountain National Park for their base-camp proposal and at Frenchman's Cap? Would those three be considered land-banking given that they are EOIs that were submitted at least four years ago and I think possibly five years ago? Also, would Lake Malbina be captured as a stalled proposal? This is the site, as you know, of a potential blockade from your friends in the angling sector who are very angry about the privatisation of an island inside the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Mr BARNETT - Both existing and proposed EOI proponents will be subject to the new arrangements that will be implemented.

Ms O'CONNOR - Are you able to give the committee a time frame on this work? And can you confirm that that process would potentially give a company like Tas Walking Company a period of time to significantly progress their developments? What's the time frame? And what are you going to say to proponents who are currently on the Office of the Coordinator General's list who have sat there banking land for the best part of five years?

Mr BARNETT - Thanks for the question. We want to get on with the job, so in terms of the communication of the new arrangements that will apply, I'm pleased to advise that that communication will be in the not-too-distant future. And all relevant proponents will be advised.

Ms O'CONNOR - You are well aware of the controversies surrounding the proposed Lake Malbena heli-tourism proposal. That proposal has substantially stalled, in significant part due to strong public opposition. What would this process look like for Daniel Hackett, for example, who has a lease over a whole island in the TWWHA for a peppercorn rent but has shown no signs, thankfully, of being able to progress his intrusive heli tourism development?

Mr BARNETT - Thanks for the question. In terms of the detail and response, it's obviously related to one proponent but to the extent that we're able to respond, I'll ask the Coordinator-General to respond to that question.

Ms O'CONNOR - Just before you go on, Mr Perry, I ask you this genuinely because of the concern about this specific proposal.

Mr BARNETT - Yes, that's fine. We're happy to take the question and I've referred it to the Coordinator-General.

Mr PERRY - As the minister advised, very shortly we will be writing to proponents who have not made significant progress in relation to those projects. There's nothing specific I can raise in relation to the project you've identified. It would be fair to say that there's been quite a lot of activity by the proponent in relation to that project. But as to the specifics for what the contents of the letters and what will be said, that's still being developed.

Ms O'CONNOR - Is it possible to have a time frame? I know you're going to write soon but is it possible to have a time frame on when there'll be a public statement, for example, about the new profile of EOI proponents through the Office of the Coordinator-General?

Mr PERRY - The new profiles - sorry, what do you mean?

Ms O'CONNOR - I'm trying to understand, to give some comfort, if you like, to people who are really concerned about this process, what the time frame will be for the cleansing, if you like, of the EOI profile. But also whether there'll be - and I don't think this is a question you can answer, Mr Perry - whether there'll be a public statement from the minister that clarifies where it's at now once you've gone through this process of communicating with proponents?

Mr PERRY - In relation to the communication with proponents, we expect that to occur in a matter of weeks. In relation to the minister's position, I defer to him.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay. Thank you. You talk about transparency and on this one, I think maximum transparency is very good.

Mr BARNETT - We have to go through a process and I can't pre empt the process. I think the Coordinator-General has made it very clear. Those arrangements and the guidelines that I've outlined at a high level need to be communicated to the relevant proponents, those going through the planning and approval phase. Obviously, they've got to continue with that work. But with respect to any accessing by proponents of any potential land banking that may be taking place, in terms of conducting a review of existing proposals to identify any stalled projects to provide a short time frame for significant progress, for example, or otherwise withdraw from the process.

We are setting up an arrangement which I hope will give the public great confidence that we are getting on with the job. We are making these assessments and we are reviewing the applications. They just cannot sit in terms of any potential land banking effort that may or may not be occurring. We want this process to go through in an open and transparent way. We are implementing all of the recommendations of the Auditor-General's report and we have received feedback from the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania, which we are likewise taking on board, and we are very grateful for that input. It is definitely a fresh start and a new approach. We are continuing with those that are there but these new arrangements will be communicated in coming weeks by the Coordinator-General.