There is a battle underway over the control of a recreational reserve in a corner of Tasmania. The story deserves to be more widely known, as the issue of the privatisation of public assets affects all of us.
At the tip of South Arm in Southern Tasmania lies the Gellibrand Point Nature Reserve, a beautiful coastal area known as ‘Arm End’. Since its acquisition by the State of Tasmania in 1995, the former grazing property has been enjoyed by locals and visitors for its natural and heritage values. Now there is a proposal to transform the area into a golf course, with a 50-year lease to the developer.
See: “Golfers ready to light up long-awaited Arm End course, south of Hobart ” in The Mercury, 22 September 2014.
Naturally, this proposal to effectively privatise public land is controversial. The proponents argue that the golf course will bring jobs and tourism, the public will still be able to continue to use the land as a recreational area, and that the land will be better managed. These assertions are contested by Friends of the Arm, Inc. (FOTA), a community organisation which aims to preserve and maintain the unique and beautiful character of the Arm End Reserve. FOTA has also raised other concerns, such as public safety around golf courses, which are largely being ignored by the proponents. (For more information see the FOTA website here)
In a recent article on the controversy, “Golf course plan stirs ire ” The Mercury (11 January 2014) gave most space to the claims of the proponent without including responses from Friends of the Arm. Nor did it choose to publish a follow-up letter from FOTA, which made the following points.
The underlying issue is that this is public land. It is the ‘commons’ if you like, set aside as a recreational reserve for us all to enjoy. History has shown consistently who benefits from any enclosure of the commons and it has never been the ‘commoners’. The proposal here is to lease all but a small section of this very valuable strip of land giving effective control to the lessee for 50 years. Irrespective of the proposed purpose, this virtual gifting of public land should be questioned and open for broad public debate.
The proposal for the golf course also raises a number of concerns that have not been satisfactorily addressed. These include the potential overuse of ground water and the resulting salinity of the local aquifers; the increase in road traffic on roads that are already suffering from overuse; safety issues, the fact that golf balls and people don’t mix; and the potential for access to become restricted.
It is claimed in The Mercury article that there is ‘no-one there’. On the contrary the land is constantly used by many recreational groups and individuals and the local Coast Care group and school have put much effort into weed eradication and regeneration. This land lends itself to continued public ownership and FOTA has suggested that, rather than becoming a golf course, the land be managed by a partnership of interested community groups, Parks and Wildlife and Clarence Council in order to achieve continued and unfettered access by all. Indeed with political will and imagination and with its unique location, Arm End could become an inspired showcase of publicly owned and managed recreational reserve for all to enjoy.
Alternatively it could ultimately become an exclusive domain for wealthy golfers. As a Tasmanian, what would be your vision in fifty years?
FOTA welcomes new members. See our website here