National park eco-tourism developments taken to court, with states watching closely

December 17th, 2019 | | news

A desire to cash in on the popularity of eco-tourism has resulted in some state governments seeking and approving private tourism developments in national parks.

Key points:

  • Protesters are concerned about the lack of public consultation when it comes to building in national parks
  • A recent proposal to a build a private heli-fishing development in Tasmania’s Lake Malbena was taken to the Federal Court
  • The court told the Federal Government to reassess the application, with state and territory governments watching the case closely

It’s forced those fighting against such ventures to take their cases to the courts and the protesters are having some success.

A development at Halls Island on Lake Malbena, in Tasmania’s Walls of Jerusalem National Park, has become emblematic of the fight over development and will likely set a precedent across the country.

Last weekend protesters showed their opposition to the helicopter fly-fishing development at a rally on the Central Plateau, with more than 150 people braving cold, wet and windy conditions to have their say.

An aeriel shot of Lake Malbena, half in sunlight, half in shade. A beautiful still lake surrouded by green forests.

PHOTO: A private heli-fishing development at Halls Island in the Walls of Jerusalem National Park has been met with fierce community opposition. (Supplied: Rob Blakers)

Adrien Butler from the newly formed Tasmanian Wilderness Guides Association told the rally the proposal was misguided.

“Our current State Government has a particular vision for Tasmania, and we believe that this vision is short-term, self-serving, and neglects wilderness values,” Ms Butler said.

Dan Broun has a rugged beard, raincoat and beanie. He's standing in front of a white gum tree trunk with an open plain behind.

PHOTO: Tasmanian nature photographer Dan Broun is concerned about a lack of public consultation of private developments in national parks. (ABC News: Jess Davis)

Wilderness photographer Dan Broun organised the rally, which was followed by a number of protesters walking into Lake Malbena to symbolically “reclaim it for the Tasmanian people”.

“This development, unfortunately, while it seems small scale will actually set a precedent that will open the floodgates to development in our parks,” Mr Broun said.

Federal Court win

Last week the Federal Court ordered the Commonwealth Government to reassess the application, as it found the original decision that no approval was required to be flawed.

It’s a win of sorts and has been touted as a precedent setter, with other states and territories carefully watching the case.

A group of protestors all wearing colourful rain jackets, orange, red blue and green, trees on a hill in the backdrop.

PHOTO: Bushwalkers, fishers and environmentalists braved the rain and wind to protest against a proposed private development at Lake Malbena. (ABC News: Jess Davis)

Leading the challenge on behalf of the Wilderness Society was principal lawyer for the Environmental Defenders Office, Nicole Sommer.

“The law doesn’t deal with how we should develop national parks and that’s because national parks were there to be protected — we didn’t expect to have development,” she said.

“The Halls Island project will be a test for how the Commonwealth Government deals with development in World Heritage Areas. It will say whether it’s going to wave through development.”

A woman with short brown hair and round glasses looks directly into the camera.

PHOTO: Lawyer Nicole Sommer says the Lake Malbena case will set a precedent for how governments deal with private development proposals in national parks. (ABC News: Jess Davis)

In a statement to the ABC, Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said she accepted the decision by the court and it will be re-assessed in due course.

“We balance any commercial opportunities within our parks with strengthening the resilience of our ecosystems and the benefits for Traditional Owners,” the Minister said.

Booming industry

While private developments do exist in Tasmania’s national parks, they are rare.

But with the popularity of eco-tourism on the rise, governments and businesses are beginning to recognise the potential to cash in.

In Tasmania, Queensland and South Australia, state governments are not just accepting applications, they’re actively seeking them through Expressions of Interest (EOI).

A partner company of AWC has built private 'huts' along the Overland Track at Cradle Mountain-

PHOTO: The Australian Walking Company runs private walking tours with luxury accommodation in pristine wilderness areas, like Tasmania’s Overland Track. (Supplied: Australian Walking Company)

The Australian Walking Company (AWC) has been running a private walk with luxury huts on Tasmania’s Overland Track for more than 30 years and is now rapidly expanding — benefitting from the EOI process.

“We’ve recognised a growth in the market, more opportunities coming online and we think there’s an opportunity for sustainable growth within this niche tourism sector,” general manager Heath Garratt said.

The company now has six walks available in Tasmania and Victoria and a further eight applications underway across the country — including at Uluru.

A head shot of Heath Garratt looking into the distance with blurred out forest behind him.

PHOTO: Heath Garratt believes private development in national parks can be appropriate and sustainable if done right. (ABC News: Jess Davis)

“It’s so important for the Government and also the tourism industry to ensure that that growth is sustainable and managed really well,” Mr Garratt said.

“And I think that’s what we’re hearing from the community a lot, there’s some concern that that might not be the case.”

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow