From a policy perspective the state election was most notable because the victorious Liberal Party failed to release a single environment policy, i.e. a pro-environment policy. The closest it got was the announcement of funding for the Three Capes Track, and South Coast Track but both were made alongside tourism industry representatives and were framed as investments in tourist development.
The Liberals announced a number of policies that may prove to be very damaging to the environment but generally it lacked specific objectives and for many their implementation process is yet to be established and we may have a chance to influence it.
The Liberal policy to establish one planning scheme for the state was perhaps a distraction from more worrying policies as it is arguably impossible to deliver, is not required and has little support. All new planning schemes are said to be 90% the same, with differing local provisions making up the remaining 10%. So the Liberals have little room to improve planning scheme integration and uniformity – unless they want to remove local provisions and upset all 29 local councils. It is also likely that most business groups, who have just participated in the ongoing review of the existing schemes, do not want more wholesale changes.
More worrying is the Liberal proposal to weaken third party-rights of appeal to the Land Use Planning and Approvals Tribunal by limiting them to those who are directly affected. Until legislation is drafted that defines what ‘directly affected’ means, we will not know the full implications. As we have pointed out to the Liberals, restricting rights of appeal may lead to more delays to developments as concerned community groups seek tribunal rulings to determine whether they are affected. The Liberals might see sense and scrap these changes, realising they can live with the current low level of appeals.
The Liberal policy to tear up the Tasmanian Forests Agreement was another promise that lacked detail and only now is the new government working with the industry (but no other stakeholders) to determine what tearing it up means and what alternative it may propose. This could be a dangerous and retrograde move in which the Liberals dismantle all environmental protection mechanisms and it is easy to see this damaging the environment and the forest industry. Or the new government might consider a lower level of forest protection which allows for forest practices standards to increase as well as making more wood resources available to allow the industry to develop. It may also consider that Forestry Tasmania deserves serious structural reform, to ensure it delivers a better commercial return, as opposed to the Labor-Green approach which left FT unchanged apart from removing reserves and other non-commercial responsibilities.
During the election the TCT kept a low profile, not wanting to put up policy ideas that would just provide ammunition for Laborial condidtates. Instead we helped organise the ‘Alternatives to a cable car on Mt Wellington’ forum in Hobart and helped the Southern Beaches Conservation Group to prepare a survey of political parties regarding waste management. We also made media comments about a few particularly bad announcements – mainly by the Liberal party.
Here’s a summary of some of our statements during the election.
Unlock parks and World Heritage Areas
The most worrying announcement during the election was the Liberal policy to ‘unlock parks and World Heritage Areas to create new tourism jobs’.
The TCT issued a media statement warning that this would not only put the natural and cultural heritage of our reserves under threat but local Tasmanians may be shut out of their favourite recreational areas to make way for commercial operators.
Interestingly, this led to the Examiner asking Will Hodgman whether Tasmanians would have a say in new developments in reserves; he replied that ‘the new system would not replace existing planning processes but would send a strong message to investors’ (Examiner 20 February 2013). We will attempt to keep the new government to this promise and make sure that there is no fast-tracking of developments.
The Tasmanian Liberals declined an invitation to participate in the ‘Alternatives to a cable car on Mt Wellington’ forum on 25 February. In a letter published in the Mercury (28 February 2014) the TCT wrote that: ‘…While the Liberals have repeatedly said they support a cable car to the summit of Mt Wellington they have not committed to keeping the road open. At the forum, a number of Denison voters said they wanted the summit road to remain open to the public and could recall the previous cable car proposal which relied on the road being closed to make a profit. Can the Liberals spokesperson and candidate for Denison, Elise Archer, please state whether she supports or opposes closing the road from the springs to the summit?’
But of course the Liberals declined to clarify their policy which we will claim means they have not obtained a mandate to support the road closure.
Waste management strategy
We were disappointed that neither the Labor nor Liberal parties attended the very successful Waste of Tasmania ‘politics in the pub’ event held on 4 March. The event was organised by the Southern Beaches Conservation Group to put political parties under scrutiny regarding their waste management policies.
On the night we heard that, when asked to support the establishment of a waste management strategy that focused on helping industry to find alternatives to landfill, especially for hazardous waste, the Liberals responded, ‘No’, the Labor Party had not responded and the Tasmanian Greens supported a waste strategy – well done to the Greens.
This event corresponded with the announcement that Tassal had obtained approval for a facility on the east coast which would receive all the fish waste from the entire state’s aquaculture industry and convert it into valuable products for sale. This new business was assisted with a grant from the Australian Government.
A waste strategy would attempt to encourage environmentally sound and profitable reuse and recycling of wastes from all industries – but apparently the Liberal Party dois not support this and the Labor Party did not have a view on it.
Liberal Party policy to reopen tracks in the Arthur Pieman Conservation Area
The Liberal Party’s policy to reopen the 15 tracks in the Arthur Pieman Conservation Area (APCA), which the current government closed two years ago, is absurd because all four-wheel-drive groups accepted these closures.
Contrary to what conservation groups asked for, the state government only closed tracks that were non-essential for vehicle access, including duplicate and dead-end tracks.
The closures did not limit vehicle access to any shack, campground or fishing spot. Opening the tracks is an expensive political exercise which will only succeed in damaging cultural and environmental heritage.
The Liberal policy did propose a new consultative process to review recreational use of the APCA, which, we feel, is where they will want to drive more worrying changes – including opening up access to the entire APCA coastline south to Pieman Heads.
Forestry opinion survey
The Tasmanian Forests Agreement Special Council commissioned an opinion survey in late 2013 regarding the TFA and forestry generally. The Special Council decided to release the results of the survey during the election to just one media outlet, the Examiner. To our knowledge, the survey report has never been made public. To the Examiner’s credit it published this letter.
Letter to the Editor
4 March 2014
I am suspicious of opinion surveys that produce results close to 100% (‘Big majority sick of forest war’, Examiner, 1 March 2014), especially on complex issues where the information provided with the survey may be critical to the results. The article points out that the survey was commissioned by the Special Council, who were the signatories to the Tasmanian Forests Agreement (TFA), but fails to provide any of the critical analysis which this should have prompted.
What precisely were the questions and background information provided to respondents which resulted in the finding that 90% were sick of the forest conflict and two-thirds thought the TFA would deliver peace?
Most importantly, the Examiner should have questioned what the respondents knew about forest conservation, forestry and the TFA, and whether this would affect the results. Just because a majority of people believe in the TFA does not mean it will deliver peace.
I wonder if the respondents knew that the reserves were selected mainly to protect wilderness areas and other large and primarily unlogged forests (on public lands) and make little contribution to protection of threatened species and other biodiversity values (found mainly on private land).
And that biodiversity is put at greater threat by a clause in the TFA legislation which prevents the Forest Practices Code being strengthened if, in the view of the Special Council, it might restrict wood supply.
The TFA can be amended to provide for the needs of the forestry industry without putting key forest values at greater risk. Hiding from the TFA’s inadequacies will not produce a comprehensive conservation outcome nor a lasting resolution to this conflict.