Like most observers of the State Government, the TCT was completely surprised by Premier David Bartlett’s statement in the State of the State Address on 3 March, ‘I am pleased to announce today the intention of this Government to establish the Bay of Fires National Park’. From what we can gather this was the Premier’s idea alone and even the Department of Primary Industries and Water and its minister David Llewellyn (who has responsibility for reserve declarations), had no role. The script of the Premier’s address makes it clear that the national park proposal was inspired by the Lonely Planet Guide’s acknowledgement of the Bay of Fires as its must-see destination of 2009. It appears the Premier wants to take advantage of the benefit national park status brings for promoting the area as a tourist attraction, but failed to consider any other issues.
The initial response from the Tasmanian Aboriginal community was they had not been consulted and they requested a meeting with the Premier to discuss the proposal. Then, on 25 May, in a front page article in the Mercury, ‘Bay of Fires battle’, the Tasmanian AboriginalCentre’s Michael Mansell said the Bay of Fires ‘region should be given back to its original owners because of its cultural significance’. He said the ‘area had rich Aboriginal heritage and late Premier Jim Bacon had promised its return’. If the Premier ‘reneges on that promise, we don’t exclude taking over the land’ he said, in reference to a practice used by Aboriginal groups in the 1980s and 1990s of setting up protest camps to symbolically take back land.
In the context of these statements the TCT believed the launch the following day by Environment Tasmania, the Wilderness Society and the North-east Bioregional Network of their Bay of Fires national park proposal was poorly timed, to say the least. The following letter to the Premier outlines the TCT’s position on the proposal. It has been copied to the groups listed above as well as the Break O’Day Council and Minister David Llewellyn. The TCT now believes the national park proposal is doomed unless the Premier changes his approach. We await the Premier’s response.
National Park Proposal
The Tasmanian Conservation Trust strongly encourages you to put on hold the State Government’s proposal for a Bay of Fires national park and re-start negotiations with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community to determine if they want a national park and, if so, under what conditions. The Government should also ask the Aboriginal community if they want part or all of the Bay of Fires area transferred to their ownership and, if so, what management arrangements they would consider.
The Government and other supporters of a Bay of Fires national park appear to have taken for granted that the Aboriginal community will support it. It is unacceptable for the government and some in the community to assume that Aboriginal concerns can be assessed and incorporated, by the State Government, into the management of a national park when some Aboriginal groups had not been asked if they wanted a national park. While we understand some sections of the Aboriginal community support a national park for the Bay of Fires, all Aboriginal groups should have been consulted before the government formed a firm policy and certainly before making public pronouncements.
Recent media comments from Aboriginal groups – notably comments in the Mercury by Michael Mansell representing the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre – show they want the issue of land transfers to be dealt with as a priority and the current approach being taken by the government to the creation of a national park may stimulate protest action and community conflict. If this eventuates then the TCT cannot see how the government could possibly proceed with a national park.
Our understanding from media reports is that, while the TAC are interested in discussing land transfers, they do not appear opposed to the idea of a national park. If the government is able to address their interests in a fair and consultative manner, a national park may still be possible.
Changing the name of the area to a national park without first addressing more substantial issues such as the concerns of the Aboriginal community and other interest groups, land management requirements and visitor services, would be a retrograde step that the TCT cannot support. The government seems to be placing too much importance on changing the name of the existing reserves in the Bay of Fires area to a National Park, perhaps to take advantage of the benefit this brings for promoting the area as a tourist attraction.
The TCT supports a Bay of Fires national park as one option for the area but only if the Aboriginal community is involved from the outset and its needs (including land transfers) are addressed where possible, and only if substantial additional resources are provided for improving management of the area.
There are many threats to the natural and cultural values of the Bay of Fires, including uncontrolled off-road vehicle use, poorly planned camping areas, coastal shacks, fires, weeds, dogs and tourism developments. Prior to considering a national park the government must work out which ‘traditional practices’ will be banned and which will be allowed. With other national parks these decisions were not made before their declaration and pre-existing problems have never been satisfactorily dealt with. The government should commence consultation with recreational users, Break O’Day Council, local and state conservation groups and Aboriginal groups regarding these management issues.
The TCT welcomes considerable involvement of the Aboriginal community in management of the Bay of Fires area and believes that the government should offer financial support to assist with their participation in managing the area.
We remain hopeful the government can negotiate a deal where all parties get what they want and can collaborate in the management and protection of the Bay of Fires.