During the state election the Liberal Party promised a 12-month moratorium on fracking across Tasmania. In the last newsletter we told you that the TCT had written to the new Liberal government requesting details about when the moratorium would commence and what it intended to do in terms of studies and policy reviews during the moratorium. On 26 August 2014 we received a letter from Minister for Resources Paul Harriss informing us that the moratorium had commenced four months earlier. Not only had nothing occurred during the four months but the government had notified no one about it until it wrote to the TCT.
Recently I met with Jeremy Rockliff’s advisor and was informed that the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment will be undertaking a review of fracking and other unconventional types of mining and Minister Rockliff will be the minister responsible for the review.
The discussion paper will be released for public comment sometime before Christmas. Importantly it will canvass the broader issues related to unconventional mining and not just fracking.
The TCT strongly opposes the state government’s Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Bill 2014, i.e. the proposed anti-protester laws. We have recently supported the United We Stand rally held in Hobart, attended a meeting of like-minded groups chaired by the Civil Liberties Council of Tasmania and joined the Yes2Democracy alliance (which is a national pro-democracy organisation).
The TCT also supported a Civil Liberties Council drafted letter to all Legislative Councillors opposing the Bill. Importantly the letter noted that the amendments proposed by the state government are insufficient to address the very serious flaws in the Bill and instead recommended the proposed legislation be abandoned.
For a copy of a fact sheet regarding the Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Bill 2014 and other information go to http://yes2democracy.org/
The state budget for 2014–15 included few positive initiatives for the environment but one which has potential for significant benefits is the allocation to the PWS of $4 million for 2014–15 and a total of $28m over the coming four years for fuel-reduction burning on reserved land, other public land and, potentially, private land. If appropriately planned and directed, this funding can assist in reducing fuel loads in bushland areas, with benefits for human safety and environment health.
It is notable that this funding is being allocated to the PWS, which indicates that the government intends it to be the lead agency for the fuel-reduction program.
The largest proportion of the $28 million is allocated in the third and fourth budget years, which allows time for proper plans to be developed and expertise and equipment to be acquired. This is a cautious and commendable approach.
Significantly, at budget estimates on 8 September 2014, the Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage, Matthew Groom, made a clear departure from the Liberal election policy which focused solely on a target of burning ‘up to 60,000ha of public land each year’ to a more sensible target based on reducing risks around settlements and infrastructure. While not backing away from burning up to 60,000ha per year, the minister stated (Hansard, 8 September 2014)
Mr GROOM - Yes, and this is what I am committing to. In the Victorian experience, the initial concept was that it be 5 per cent of public land but the more recent advice has been that it is better if it is more strategic and based on tenure-blind landscape assessments.
World Heritage Area management plan and expressions of interest for developments
The budget estimates hearings also revealed that the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area
(TWWHA) management plan revision has been delayed by the new government and it now expects to hold a public comment period over the Christmas holidays. The public comment period was previously advertised as commencing in July and this was later changed to October. This delay may be because the government wants to wait until after the 21 November deadline for expressions of interest for developments in the TWWHA, national parks and other reserves and then make specific changes to the draft plan to accommodate particular development proposals.
The tourism industry has recommended tourism development precincts in the TWWHA and these might be expanded to accommodate specific proposals.
Minister Groom has only committed to the statutory 30-day minimum for public consultation on the management plan and avoided responding to concerns regarding consultation being during the Christmas and New Year period. Nick McKim tried to extract an explanation from the minister about the delay and whether it was linked to the expressions-of-interest process, but he refused to respond, although he did clarify that latter is a formal tendering process and that the statistics previously quoted, regarding numbers of projects and interested proponents (87), were only indicative of the numbers of people seeking information and that no one knows the number of actual projects lodged (the tender box is locked until 21 November).
Wilderness World Heritage Area ‘Reimagined’
We are right in being a little paranoid regarding the tourism industry’s push for developments in reserves.
In September the tourism industry released a vision document, entitled ‘Reimagining the Visitor Experience of Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area’ – available from the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania website: http://www.tict.com.au
These proposals vary widely, with some of them posing greater concerns than others. The proposal to upgrade the Strahan airport, increasing the opportunities for adventure activities and improving interpretation of Aboriginal heritage are welcome. But proposals that involve the creation of new accommodation within the TWWHA and greater air access, including float-planes and helicopters are of great concern.
Perhaps the World Heritage Area is under-utilised and there is room for more adventure experiences. We want to encourage people to enjoy it in an appropriate manner. However, if proposals require major new infrastructure such as additional roads and involve increased helicopter access or building of resorts in wilderness areas, the tourism industry can expect a strong negative response from conservation groups and the general public.
Overview of project proposals:
- South Coast Track to receive a halfway-point standing camp at Prion Bay, wilderness lodge development at Recherche Bay and enhanced light-aircraft access.
- Overnight stays on Maatsuyker Island for tourists to witness ‘Muttonbird Runway’ phenomenon.
- Mountain-bike trails between Cradle Mountain and Strahan, as well as shorter tracks proposed for Cradle Mountain, Mount Field and Tarkine areas.
- New accommodation development for the Gordon River.
- Multi-day walks at Walls of Jerusalem.
- Developing Cradle Mountain shuttle bus services and greater access to the Overland Track.
- Focus on developing luxury, adventure, youth and schools markets, including an ‘Ashram in the wilderness’ experience.