Wilderness Society welcomes Lake Malbena appeal

Photo: Halls Island on Lake Malbena in Walls of Jerusalem National Park | Richard Webb

The Wilderness Society has welcomed the apparent announcement by the proponent that he intends to appeal the rejection by Central Highlands Council of the Lake Malbena helicopter-accessed, luxury tourism proposal. The development was approved by state and federal assessments, with the Wilderness Society challenging the federal approval in the Federal Court, but was required to also be considered by the local council.

As it stands, the state-based Reserve Activity Assessment (RAA) is a non-statutory process that does not guarantee public consultation and offers no community rights of appeal. Current intentions regarding the Statewide Planning Scheme is to remove local council engagement in development decisions in Tasmania’s reserves, if approved via an RAA.

“It is entirely within the right of the proponent to appeal this decision and we welcome the fact he has this ability,” said Tom Allen, Acting Campaign Manager.

“It serves to highlight the failure of a state-based assessment that offers no such rights to the community, and the Hodgman Government's intention to strip local council oversight from developments in parks and reserves.

“The right of appeal was something not allowed with the Expression of interest Assessment or the RAA—an internal, in-house departmental assessment from which the community was prevented from even seeing, let alone commenting on. And now we’re being told that communities shouldn't have a say with their councils either. It’s scary.

“Rights of appeal lead to better, more rigorous decisions because it effectively crowd-sources solutions from local knowledge. The RAA ignored or didn’t even seek the advice of the government’s own expert advisors, three of whom are now explicitly opposed to this proposal.

“This isn’t about opposing development; this is about doing wilderness tourism properly, transparently and responsibly. Yesterday in Bothwell, even the councillors who voted in favour of the proposal did so not because of its merits but because of the possible financial impact an appeal could have on the Council’s financial position.

“The proposed planning scheme provisions leaves councils and local communities worse off and, if the State Government gets its way, the planning role of local councils will be entirely removed so that any shonky development simply gets up without any sort of community input,” said Mr Allen.

Here’s a summary of how we got here:

  • The Tasmanian Government approves Lake Malbena development via a secret, non-statutory Expression of Interest process (EOI).
  • On the basis of this assessment, the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Management Plan is secretly and specifically changed to facilitate this proposal.
  • The Parks and Wildlife Service works with the proponent to complete Reserve Activity Assessment—with no assessment of impacts on World Heritage values like wilderness, no advice from the State’s own statutory advisory bodies (who oppose the proposal) and no opportunity for community consultation—and this assessment was not publicly accessible until it was leaked. Approval is granted on the basis of compliance with the amended Management Plan.
  • The Federal Government waves through the development as not needing approval under Federal Environment law, against the advice of three statutory advisory bodies, the National Parks and Wildlife Advisory council, the Australian Heritage Council and Tasmanian Aboriginal Heritage Council.
  • Local council rejects the Development Application, lamenting the failure of previous government assessment processes and citing non-compliance with the planning scheme.