Media Releases - 04 February 2020

Ombudsman's Malbena decision damns Government secrecy

The recent decision by the Right To Information (RTI) Ombudsman to force the release of details about  the Lake Malbena lease and licence is yet another indictment against the tourism EOI process.  

On 3 February, the Ombudsman published its decision requiring the Department to release the leases between Wild Drake and the Government covering Halls Island, Lake Malbena.

Lake Malbena. Image: Rob Blakers.

"After the leases were forced to be released last week, this sober decision by the Ombudsman confirms that the Government failed to apply the law, was unnecessarily secretive and bent over backwards to find excuses not to release this information in the public interest," said Tom Allen for the Wilderness Society Tasmania. 

"What this shows is the Government shrinking from the disinfecting light of transparency and that it is far more concerned about avoiding public scrutiny than it is in acting in the public interest.

“Critically, the Ombudsman’s decision makes clear that it is in the public interest to release the EOI scheme’s leases and licences brokered by the Government. They have nothing to do with ‘commercial in confidence’, and the Ombudsman has given a clear indication that it is in the public interest to release this information. 

“The Government now has no basis for not releasing all the leases and licences agreed though the tourism EOI process that apply to public land,” said Mr Allen. 

The Ombudsman’s findings include the following:

  • On the Government's attempt to claim that the rent figure was “personal information”: "There is nothing about this figure that could possibly meet the definition of personal information contained in the Act and it is odd that is being claimed to be exempt when the names of the transferor and transferee have been released in full". 
  • "...the Department has... failed to satisfy the requirement of s.39 [of the Right to Information Act 2009 - which determines that ministerial information should be made public]
  • the leases "do not contain information communicated in confidence and their release would not impair the Department's ability to obtain similar information in future".
  • “It was agreed by the developer, Mr Hackett, that the information would be released with the exception of some business information, which he proposed to redact". 

"We suggest again that the new Premier has the opportunity to restore public confidence in the tourism EOI scheme by making it fully transparent, collaborating with the public, focusing on encouraging sustainable tourism ventures in local communities and keeping development outside national parks and World Heritage land.

"Alternatively, Mr Gutwein could simply scrap the tourism EOI scheme so that tourism developers instead simply apply for a planning permit, and apply for a lease and licence from the government, like everyone else," said Mr Allen. 

For further comment: Tom Allen, 0434 614 323