In June 2014 the state government advertised in Tasmanian newspapers for expressions of interest (EOI) for tourism developments in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, national parks and other reserves. The very brief publicly available questions-and-answers document, ‘Tourism Investment Opportunities in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, National Parks and Reserves’ (Q&A document), makes for disturbing reading.
On page 2 of the document it is stated that the government ‘has not ruled anything out’. Page 3 provides potential developers with advice that ‘a participant is not excluded from lodging an EOI for a proposed development that is not fully compatible with current statutory and regulatory framework’. Also on page 3 it states that ‘For suitable proposals that meet the assessment criteria, the Government may consider options to amend management plans if required’. What is being flagged here is the possibility that if a development proposal were not permitted in a reserve because of zoning prescribed in a management plan or because it was not permitted at all in a national park, then the government would change the management plan or revoke the national park, or part of it, to open areas up to development.
One point that has been missed in media coverage is that the state government is breaking an election promise. In response to the Liberals’ ‘unlocking national parks’ policy announcement, the Examiner reported on 19 February 2014 that ‘Mr Hodgman said the normal planning permits, including environmental approvals would still be required’. This has been repeated in the recently released EOI document but is clearly contradicted by the suggestion in the Q&A document that management plans and legislation may be amended if they are inconsistent with a particular development proposal. Revoking a national park, or part of one, or changing the zoning in a management plan to open areas up to development would constitute changing the approvals process, so the Q&A document is contradictory and breaks Mr Hodgman’s election promise.
The Premier needs to either admit to breaking an election promise or rule out changes to legislation and management plans.
The other frustrating aspect to this process is that, despite requests of the minister, the government refuses to explain to the general public what constitutes a ‘sensitive’ proposal. Given the offer to amend management plans and legislation, ‘sensitive’ could mean anything that suits the developer.
The Q&A document states that ‘Nearly 200 operators are already licensed to operate within Tasmania’s parks/reserves/World Heritage Areas and Wellington Park’, so what is the problem that the state government is attempting to fix? It has not identified any problem, only that ‘The new process will demonstrate that Tasmania is open for business and aims to stimulate interests from private investors from Tasmania, nationally and internationally’ (page 1, Q&A document).
The TCT’s position on development in reserved land
The state government’s call for more tourism developments in reserved land has led the TCT to consider more carefully its policy position. While we are yet to develop a formal written policy we have identified some of the key issues to be addressed and put down general criteria about what we do and do not like.