News - 29 August 2018

Leading the way at Freycinet

In May, several full-house meetings in the East Coast town of Swansea debated the emergent proposal to develop a massive new foreign-owned town on its northern outskirts. Transparency was low. Concern was high.

Last week in Hobart, hundreds overflowed the Town Hall in open defiance of the idea of the Glamorgan Spring Bay Council changing the area’s planning scheme with a Specific Area Plan, an amendment written to allow the proposed hotel, restaurants, cafes, villas, golf course, palliative care unit and crematorium to be built across thousands of hectares of rural/agricultural-zoned land.

This meeting directly questioned Premier Will Hodgman’s vision for the East Coast and the leadership void that inappropriate developments like Cambria Green then exploit.

In response, Premier Hodgman and his ministers hid, and instead rolled out Liberal Senator Jonathon Duniam, with remarkable time to spare on the day of his failed leadership vote for Peter Dutton.

In a shallow, cliched attack on everyone in attendance and the many others who harbour concerns about over-development, Senator Duniam branded the crowd “anti-everything”, demonstrating an alarming contempt for the views of others and a stunning lack of awareness.

Community concerns are valid and both developers and politicians are well advised to listen to them.

Indeed, history demonstrates that community concerns are ignored at one’s own peril. Moreover, genuine engagement and a preparedness to listen, hear and change one’s perspective can deliver win-win outcomes for all involved.

Case in point is this week’s launch of the revamped Freycinet Lodge.

Owned by the RACT, it enjoys a privileged, waterfront position on a legacy lease inside one of Tasmania’s premier conservation, recreation and tourism destinations, Freycinet National Park.

At the invitation of the Hodgman Government to stake a claim for access to more public land within the park, like so many other tourism operators, the RACT saw an opportunity to invest, expand and diversify its business.

Why wouldn’t it, when government offers exclusive access to prime, publicly owned—and, until then, protected—real estate? This land is priceless.

RACT proposed to expand its lease into adjacent bushland to construct parking bays for motor homes and 12 brand new cabins.

The government approved the proposal through a secret process and moved to change the national park’s management plan, disregarding natural and Aboriginal heritage protection to prioritise development and clear the way for this and other private infrastructure.

This is a common theme that’s being replicated elsewhere. In the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, tourism projects that would damage values like wilderness have been secretly approved, the management plan is then changed as these proposals bulldoze-on with government grants and behind-closed-door assessments.

But at Freycinet, the paradigm changed.

The RACT not only opened its doors to an alternative opinion, it listened and—more importantly—it heard.

In a win-win-win, the RACT withdrew its original proposal and, in consultation with a range of stakeholders, reworked it.

It didn’t seek the privatisation of additional, protected land. It didn’t require such significant change to the longstanding park management plan. It didn’t compromise the protection of natural and Aboriginal heritage values.

The RACT decided to work entirely within its existing lease footprint and refurbish the lodge and some of its accommodation outbuildings, including building on an little-used tennis court.

It did require significant financial investment. It still represents a fresh, new product for the lodge to offer. Better still, it improves some of the visual impact issues the existing development had when viewed from Coles Bay.

This is a win for the national park, its values and integrity. It’s a win for the RACT, its asset and its standing within the community and its members. And it’s a win for the public, who were heard via an open, respectful and meaningful dialogue with a developer.

How refreshing.

As such, having been part of that dialogue, we’re both proud and satisfied participants in yesterday’s celebration of the completed first stages of the RACT’s Freycinet Renewal Project.

And why not?

When so much of Tasmania—its wilderness, wild places, iconic landscapes and its way of life—is under pressure from corporate interests, some local, some national and some foreign-owned, it’s incumbent on us as advocates to push back and stand up for what so many people love.

Equally, when a proponent conducts itself with credibility, when the outcomes are acceptable and when the special things that we love are protected, it’s on us to offer our support.

Whether it be Freycinet Lodge, the RACT’s new boat on the Gordon River, commercial rafting on the Franklin or the myriad of other businesses that build on Tasmania’s identity as a modern, progressive community that protects and respects what we have, we are more than supportive.

Sophie Underwood has a background in science, conservation, politics and environmental campaigning. She formed the Freycinet Action Network and has 25 years’ experience in planning issues on the East Coast. Vica Bayley is Campaign Manager for Wilderness Society (Tasmania).