Three Capes Track

The eastern section of the Three Capes Track on the Tasman Peninsula was officially opened on 17 September and immediately received a flurry of bookings and self congratulatory comments from the state government that it provided a world class experience. This half of the 3CT starts near Port Arthur before heading to Cape Pillar and Cape Hauy and finishing at Fortesque Bay.

Totally swamping this publicity was the criticism of the $500 fee ($400 concession) and that camping was restricted to one site with six tent capacity. This phenomenally high fee even muted some of the ridicule of the promotion of the Three Capes Track being a walk to two capes, Cape Hauy and Cape Pillar, and a view of Cape Raoul – a brave attempt at preserving the concept of a three capes track.

Despite intense media attention and criticism by the Labor and Greens no one has even asked how the fee was calculated. The government belatedly made reference to the high quality of hut accommodation (undoubtedly better than those on the Overland Track) and the cost of the boat trip at the start and bus at the end of the walk. But journalists did not ask what the process was, who was responsible and the criteria used? Did the tourism industry, under the new Parks 21 agreement, play a key role? Was it bench marked against the Overland Track ($200) – do the people responsible really think three capes is that much better? What was the exopected impact on walker numbers of this high fee?

The TCT’s primary concern with 3CT is the environmental harm of clearing bushland in a National Park for the 40 kilometres of new walking tracks and the five accommodation nodes. We are also concerned that we are incurring this environment harm at massive financial cost to the taxpayers, when other less harmful options were ignored, and that the economic benefits have been exaggerated. Transparency and public involvement have been lacking in this highly politicised project, and perhaps this has been the root cause of these other problems. We are not per sa against new developments in national parks but when government’s control the process we find it hard to support.

We still have a chance to convince the state government to think again about the western section from White Beachto Port Arthur.

The focus of media debate on the walker fee has obscured other concerns related to the failure of the Parks and Wildlife Service to properly inform the public and parliament about critical safety issues and the capacity to cover operational and maintenance costs. If the state government wanted to abandon the western section it has numerous very important reasons, other than the $20 million prices tag.

Recommended cost vs actual cost

Media commentary has focused on how the fee is much higher than the $200 originally proposed. The $200 fee was for the full 3CT (5 nights/6 days) and the eastern section (3 nights/4 days) was costed at only $120. So we should be asking why the increase from $120 to $500?

Maintenance cost and income

On 3 October 2012 the Parliamentary Public Works Committee heard from the Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) that 10 full time equivalent staff would be required to operate the eastern section of the 3CT (page 4-5,

PWS said it would require around 6000 walkers doing the entire track (at $200) to cover this cost, with some left over to pay other costs such as emptying toilets. They estimated that 2000-3000 walkers per year were expected for the first few years (page 10), so they were expecting tax-payers to subsidise the operational costs for some years. More would be required to cover maintenance costs such as regravelling the track.

With the higher fee and assuming the same operating costs I estimate an operating short fall for the eastern section of the 3CT of $350,000 per year that will be covered by the tax-payers (this doesn't include the cost of track maintenance). I calculated this by assuming 2000 walkers (reduce this by 10% because there is still no commercial operator) paying on average $450 and allocating 20% of takings for the bus and boat operators (my guess).

Camp grounds

The same parliamentary committee was told by PWS they had allowed for three camping grounds (page 13) but we now discover that there is only one. Who decided this, why and who was consulted? And what will the Public Works Committee think of it?

Use by day walkers

In response to the criticism that the 3CT is expensive and will be used by an exclusive minority, the state government has said that walkers doing a day walk to one of the capes will benefit from the new tracks without paying the $500 fee.

But this ignores the fact that large sections of the track are new tracks constructed only to connect the three capes. On the yet to be constructed/funded western section, there is proposed to be 20 kilometres of track that is not required to access Cape Raoul. You will actually be prohibited from using this track unless you pay the fee to walk the entire 3CT.

Safety ignored

Three years after the Cape Hauy section of the 3CT was opened by the then Federal Minister Anthony Albanese, the safety rail recommended for the lookout has not been installed.

The September 2012 ‘Cape Hauy Visitor Risk Assessment’, approved by PWSGeneral Manager Peter Mooney, recommended that installation of a handrail at the end of the track is a ‘minimum’ requirement (page 10), is ‘urgent’ (page 9) and failure to do so will increase the risk that walkers ‘would die’ (page 7).’

Thousands of walkers have been exposed to unnecessary risk because the PWS has failed to follow its own safety procedures at Cape Hauy. The Cape Pillar section probably has a greater number of safety concerns and there will be no time to address them prior to it opening on 23 December 2015.

This is depite assurances to the Parliamentary Committee, whose approval was required to release state budget funds for the construction of the Cape Pillar stage. The Committee report expresses considerable concern regarding safety issues. It concludes that:

-       the committee is ‘particularly concerned that the new track will provide easy access for a much larger number of visitors to extremely dangerous cliff faces’ (page 29)

-       ‘Mr Mooney assured the Committee that the PWS were “extremely conscious” of the risks and that some of the people walking this track will be “people that may be on their first two-hour venture”.’ (page 29).

-       ‘The committee accepts the assurances Mr Mooney has made in relation to both the risk assessment strategy and subsequent safety installations’ (page 30).

Funding was approved by the Parliamentary Committee on the understanding that the safety concerns would be addressed. The TCT believes that the Committee has been mislead in regard to this critical safety issue and perhaps other issues such as the the camp grounds, walker fees and the capacity to cover operational costs.

The former committee chair Paul Harriss failed to respond to the TCT's request in 2012 that the committee reconvene to address these concerns. We have informed the current committee of our concerns and hope that it is more willing to act.

Peter McGlone