News - 19 May 2020

Submission to the Tasmanian Government's Major Projects Bill 2020 public consultation

Lake Malbena. Image: Rob Blakers.

If a project, major or not, fails the social licence test, it can and should be impossible for it to proceed. Major projects ideally rely on social licence if they are to be successfully completed. Tasmania’s planning landscape is littered with the carcasses of failed projects that governments have sought and failed to impose upon communities that didn’t want them. 

From Wild Drake’s helicopter-accessed, luxury tourist accommodation proposed for Lake Malbena inside Walls of Jerusalem National Park, to the Bell Bay pulp mill, Ralph’s Bay marina, Dover woodchip port and the cable car proposed for kunanyi/Mount Wellington, the record shows that unpopular proposals consistently fail and that government and developers sideline the community at their peril. 

Failures to fully and properly engage the community in planning and development decisions can be very costly and also excludes important opportunities to improve projects.

Unfortunately, the Tasmanian State Liberal Government's Major Projects Bill lays the groundwork for future major projects to fail. If the Bill became law, it would further sideline local communities, who are already unhappy with Tasmania’s rigid, unfair and unconsultative planning system. There is unlikely to be a local community anywhere in Tasmania that isn’t already incensed by the current planning scheme ‘requirement’ that when the clock on a development application is started, it can't be stopped. 

This isn’t an immutable law of physics, it’s a planning law passed by Parliament that favours developers over the public and has made planning worse, not better. The Major Projects Bill will be like taking this unpopular requirement and supercharging it. The Major Projects Bill proposes to fast-track projects, large or small, not towards success, completion and long-term successful operation, but into contestation and acrimony through the lack of social licence it is likely to create by bypassing local communities. 

The Major Projects Bill is wildly inconsistent with the emerging trend of better consultation with local communities emerging the world over. It will hardwire greater ministerial power, less transparency, weaker environmental assessment and reduced public involvement in projects which, if they are genuinely major ones, should require more scrutiny not less. 

This would also prove disastrous to Tasmania’s already weakened environment. If it became law, the Bill would worsen the prospects of the island’s growing pool of more than 600 threatened, endangered and at-risk plants and animals because there are weakened environmental assessment provisions. Another pulp mill, a new woodchip mill, all the multiple Tourism EOI proposals waiting to privatise public World Heritage land - any project like this could be fast-tracked out of the normal planning system. 

This submission sets out some of the reasons why this Bill is bad news for Tasmania’s environment (communities, landscapes and ecosystems) and why it should be rejected in favour of Tasmania’s existing planning system. The current system already allows for major projects to proceed, without doing away with public consultation, public appeal rights and local councils’ involvement.