God knows there’s enough political angst on social media already, so with the occasional exception, at FlyStream we’ve made a conscious decision not to add to it. But with the looming Malbena crisis in our beloved Western Lakes, Tasmania, we have no choice but to temporarily reverse that policy.
If you haven’t already heard, the scenario goes something like this. Imagine you had a favourite campsite or fishing spot within a National Park wilderness, and then one day, you were suddenly banned from going there – unless you paid the new private ‘owner’ to use their newly-built accommodation, having flown in by previously-outlawed helicopter! Not only that, but this new development was likely to be the first of many in this wilderness: one loved spot after another, you were going to find yourself locked out.
A nightmare like this is unfolding right now in Tasmania. Read Brett’s article below to find out more, and what you might be able to do to stop it.
Philip Weigall & Andrew Fuller
WHY LAKE MALBENA IS IMPORTANT – Brett Smith
Halls Island, Lake Malbena, is part of Western Lakes wild trout fishery, situated in Tasmania’s remote and revered Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA). It is now a battleground for the State Government’s push to allow a private development inside the TWWHA boundary. The development proposal includes a luxury standing camp, dozens of helicopter flights a season, and the full lease and privatisation of Hall’s island. All against opposition from users and the general public.
To go to the heart of the story, one must go back in time. Around 4 years ago, the Hodgman Government unilaterally changed the popular and community-endorsed TWWHA management plan, into one which has now raised the ire of so many. The new plan allowed rezoning of National Park to a newly-concocted ‘self-reliant recreation zone’, and the issuing of new private leases to developers, without any credible public consultation. It is only now, as private developments are rearing up through purpose-built cracks in the new plan, that the public understand the enormity of what was done some years ago behind closed doors.
We are expected to accept that this process is legitimate. Furthermore, we are expected to believe the government ‘spin’ that the Malbena development ticks the boxes, but what they fail to mention is it wasn’t allowed under the previous community-endorsed plan. They redesigned those boxes to be ticked. Before the public even knew what was going on, we were locked out of the discussion, removing any legitimate social licence for the new plan.
A belated ‘public consultation’ period for the Malbena development was announced well after these management plan changes were made. Over 900 submissions were sent to the Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price via the EPBC process, almost all in opposition of the Hall’s island development. It was approved anyway with no conditions, suggesting the EPBC consultation was just window-dressing, not a real attempt to listen to the public’s genuine concerns.
It has also been revealed that during the approval process, submissions from many top advisory bodies were discounted, including those from the National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council, Tasmanian Aboriginal Council, Australian Heritage Council and Anglers Alliance, to name but a few. All were against the development going ahead.
Details of the private leases can be kept from the public under ‘commercial-in-confidence’ rules. This makes it hard to find out how, when and why they are issued. We aren’t told until well after they’re rezoned and leased. The leases permit the lease holder to exclude whoever they want from the area for their own private interests, on land that once belonged to everyone, inside a national park.
Anglers, walkers and the general public are well within their rights to assume this is a precedent for more developments to come, as many people have reported that other private operators have been seeking out other historical leases in the TWWHA. The threat of a large number of private lodges, and helicopters buzzing around wilderness is real. The Western Lakes could very well be lost to corporate greed.
The Tasmanian government has also said that the Malbena development has the support of UNESCO, but in fact UNESCO are waiting on a mandatory tourism plan to be drawn up in 2019. The government seems hell-bent on rushing development through first.
A broad range of people love the TWWHA, especially the Western Lakes. It’s not only green-tinged environmentalists who are up in arms about the proposed private incursion into core wilderness, but fishers, walkers, rafters and photographers. These groups don’t agree often or have much common ground, but all agree that the Malbena development and other similar incursions must not compromise the wilderness values of TWWHA for future generations. Flyfishers are generally quiet and peaceful, but now find themselves as unwilling activists, pushed into a corner by a government that seems intent on crushing their spirit and taking away the remote-area recreation that they love so much. Many of them agree that wilderness tourism can still be achieved with more sympathetic ideas on the fringes. The proponents of the Malbena development have successfully operated a series of huts near Lake Ina on private land adjacent to the WHA. The clients walk in, the same as locals and other visitors do to access these areas. Why the change?
What can we do?
The last part of the approval process will undertaken by the Central Highlands Council, which has recently received a ‘development application’ for Malbena. The CHC would possibly be the most contacted council in the country right now, and it has acknowledged the huge amount of public backlash for the development. They have recently announced that they will accept public submissions on Malbena when advertised (keep an eye on media and newspapers). This is the most transparent part of the process to date, and offers the best chance of having the development stopped.
- The Central Highlands Council seems to have a policy of upholding wilderness values in national parks within its jurisdiction.
- The council will need to define the difference between standing camps and permanent structures (the proposed Malbena buildings seem more permanent than a ‘Standing camp’.)
- Permanent structures will need to be built to tough bushfire standards, and this will inevitably conflict with the aesthetics of the huts and the natural values the council has vowed to upkeep.
- What mitigation requirements will be mandated in case of fuel spills and the like?
- There are numerous occupational health and safety issues with regard to specialist activities (including boating) and the huts.
It is also important to continue pressure on the Tasmanian government and the Labor opposition, especially the Premier and Minister for Parks and Tourism, The Hon. Will Hodgman. Important points and questions to ask could be:
- Will you support reverting back to the popular community-endorsed TWWHA management plan?
- Will you work to change the way leasehold titles are issued in national parks so that leases cannot be issued without overwhelming public support?
- Will you embark on a genuine public debate on the future of tourism in the TWWHA?
It is important not only to be heard, but to encourage your friends to be heard as well. Most of us are peace-loving recreational users of the Western Lakes, but the threat of having our solitude and access taken away is real. The soothing song of currawongs drowned out by a serenity-destroying private helicopter. The land or lake you once loved over the next hill being privatised because a developer sniffed out a tiny historical lease nearby and got the government to excise more land around it. Nobody wants that. Certainly not us unwilling activists.
Click here for further reading.
Halls Island lease explained (Greg French)
The original ‘lease and licence’ for Halls Island on Lake Malbena, issued in 1957, applied only to the footprint of the hut, an area of just 36 square metres. The current developer obtained a promise to take possession of this lease in 2015, or thereabouts, but in order to gain possession of the island itself, an entirely new lease had to be drawn up. This was not possible under the community-endorsed management plan, so the government changed the plan and in September 2015, Matthew Groom (then Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage) ordered the Director of the Parks and Wildlife Service ‘to assess the proposal for granting of a lease and licence to progress negotiations with RiverFly’.
The public has been encouraged to believe that the Malbena development will be on land that has been a private lease for decades. In truth, the government essentially ‘excised’ Halls Island from the national park, without so much as announcing its intention to the public, let alone debating it in parliament.
Then it approved the use of helicopters. (Virtually no one supports helicopter access in core wilderness, which is why it was banned under the community-endorsed management plan previous to the new one.)