Lake Malbena and Halls Island in Tasmania. A state body raised concerns about a proposed tourism development that’s been given the go-ahead. Photo: Richard Webb

By Adam Morton
16 October 2018

(The Guardian) – One of the first acts of the Morrison government was to greenlight a private tourism development with helicopter access in Tasmanian world heritage wilderness against the recommendation of an expert advisory body.

The decision, signed by an environment department assistant secretary on 31 August on behalf of the environment minister, Melissa Price, signalled the luxury camp on remote Halls Island in Lake Malbena was not a threat to matters of national environmental significance and did not need approval under federal laws.

The plan – including a communal building, three accommodation huts, walkways and toilets – is strongly supported by the Tasmanian government. It is at the centre of a debate over the extent to which tourism developments should be allowed in the state’s national parks and the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, which makes up about 20% of the island.

But a leaked letter tabled in Tasmanian parliament by the state Greens leader, Cassy O’Connor, shows the National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council, a state body appointed to give independent advice to the state and federal governments on protected areas, did not support the camp going ahead.

In advice dated 13 July, the council’s chairman, Malcolm Wells, raised concerns about allowing private commercial use of a world heritage area, a plan to erect permanent structures masquerading as standing camps, the impact of frequent helicopter flights and the potential for conflict with others using the area.

The council said although the project was described as a small standing camp, in reality it would involve several buildings, putting it at odds with the area’s “self-reliant recreation” zoning. It challenged claims by the proponent, Wild Drake, that the site would be “rested” in winter to allow sensitive vegetation in the area to recover.

“This appears to be a pretence at suggesting that the proposed buildings are a ‘standing camp’ that is not accessed all year. However, this is undermined by the next statement that up to five commercial trips (a total of 20 days) may run over this ‘resting’ period,” Wells wrote.

The Wilderness Society Tasmanian campaign manager, Vica Bayley, said it was gobsmacking that Canberra would not fully assess a proposal in a world heritage area when a statutory body had recommended it not go ahead. He said national environment laws were transparently inadequate.

“The evidence that the government has ignored its own experts makes a mockery of commitments to meet world heritage obligations,” Bayley said. [more]

Morrison government greenlights luxury camp in Tasmanian world heritage area despite expert advice

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