Why Tasmania's World Heritage is so unique

Why Tasmania's World Heritage is so unique

​Tasmania Campaign Manager Tom Allen explains why the state's World Heritage is so special, and why a ruling around a development for Lake Malbena is so critical.

The Walls of Jerusalem National Park in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

What if there was some measure or metric that proved just how special lutruwita / Tasmania really is, just like all those smug wilderness-loving Tasmanians keep claiming? 

Well, actually, there is. Tasmania, or at least the 20% of it that is classed World Heritage wilderness, is classified World Heritage because its Outstanding Universal Value meets several of the 10 World Heritage criteria. The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area meets six cultural and four natural criteria. 

Nowhere else on the planet has its combination of World Heritage values. It is truly unique, world class and the best of the best. And in terms of a metric or measure that proves it, the World Heritage criteria are it. The only other place that comes close is Mt Taishan in China.

The cultural and ecological descriptors of why Tasmania meets these criteria should be required reading for every Australian because they are a beautiful evocation of Tasmania’s wilderness values. 

For example, because of its rich Aboriginal heritage, it meets criteria III, which requires it “to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared”. In terms of natural criteria, it meets number criteria VII, which requires it “to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance”. 

One of the most achingly beautiful parts of this world class wilderness is Walls of Jerusalem National Park (pictured top). The name commands respect, but not for everyone it seems, for this is the location of Lake Malbena and the 10-hectare Halls Island on its serene waters. This place has become a lightning rod in a David-and-Goliath battle, with the community opposing the Tasmanian Government’s plans to privatise national parks. In Tasmania, the government has created a tourism EOI process to facilitate private sector proposals it can then fast-track. There are about 30 or so proposals in this pipeline, destined to be built inside Tasmania’s national parks. 

Halls Island on Lake Malbena. Image: Rob Blakers.

Some tourism operators, the State Government and the island’s peak tourism body, the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania, are pushing relentlessly for the commercialisation of national, World Heritage parks, despite the apparent total lack of social licence. 

The proposal is to build luxury accommodation on the island, which is located in the self-reliant recreation zone of the TWWHA, and helicopter guests back and forth, in a package aimed, according to the developer Wild Drake, “at the very top of the market”. 

Earlier this year, we lost our case in Tasmania’s Supreme Court to oppose the grant of a permit for the Lake Malbena heli-tourism proposal. However, we took the weighty decision to appeal this finding to the full bench of Tasmania’s Supreme Court. This hearing could happen in October. 

Last year we won our case in the Federal Court, which found that the Commonwealth Government did a poor job of assessing the Lake Malbena proposal under the EPBC Act and sent the decision back to the environment minister, Sussan Ley MP to remake. We are still waiting for Minister Ley’s decision. We hope she says that it should not proceed because of the impacts it would have on wilderness and natural values. But if she does decide to allow it, we would expect her to require a full environmental assessment, including the impact on wilderness values. 

We cannot allow all 30 or so private commercial tourism proposals that are in the EOI tourism pipeline that are designed for Tasmania's national parks and World Heritage wilderness to be waived through, against community wishes. Without a transparent and rigorous environmental assessment process we will risk trashing some of the world’s most beautiful and important natural and cultural environments. ‘Development’ begets more development. This is the thin end of the wedge argument.

This is why Malbena matters so much. We will never abandon Tasmania’s world class natural wonders, our shared National Parks and World Heritage areas. It’s too special. We hope, in time, that Tasmania’s government and tourism industry recognise this. If they do it will mean that in the future, tourism, conservationists and communities can work together on protecting the special places people come to see, instead of exploiting and privatising them.