Documents just released reveal the proponent of a standing camp at Halls Island (Lake Malbena) would initially pay $6000 per year to rent ten-hectare Halls Island. The documents were released almost simultaneously by both Wilderness Society Tasmania (WST) and the project proponent Wild Drake. The sum – consisting of $4000 for the key land lease and $2000 specifically for the Halls Hut site – was described by The Greens (see below) as ‘bargain basement’.
“A lot of people would like to pay just $4,000 dollars a year for 10 hectares of pristine World Heritage land, but most don’t get that opportunity,” said Tom Allen, WST Campaign Manager. “The Government must explain how it managed to calculate such a low annual rent when a single Wild Drake customer would pay $4,500 for a three-night stay. The rent wouldn’t even cover the costs of Parks and Wildlife helicoptering in once a year to inspect the development.”
Daniel Hackett, project developer, did not comment directly on the figures. “It has become apparent over the past few months that transparency is an issue of growing interest to Tasmanians,” he said in a statement. “We can understand this. In a time of growth and opportunity, we all have an interest in protecting the Tasmanian way of life first and foremost, and from this, maintain healthy social and natural environments, and vibrant economies.”
The project has been the subject of much opposition since it was first mooted. The development application was initially rejected by the Central Highlands Council. After an intensive seven days of appeal hearings, the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal ruled on 21 October 2019 that the development can proceed.
WST also took issue with the timeline of the approval. “The main lease was signed on January 2018, well before the three main assessment and approvals processes – the Council’s Development Application, the State Government’s Reserve Activity Assessment (RAA) and the Federal Government’s decision about whether approval is required under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act – were finished,” said Allen.
Premier Peter Gutwein is now the Minister for Tourism. In October, as Parks Minister, he stated that tourism EOI proposals do not receive lease and licence agreements ‘after the fact’.
The Federal EPBC Act decision still has not been finalised, almost two years since the lease and licence were issued, after the Federal Court sent it back to the Minister to be made again under the EPBC Act after a successful legal challenge by WST.
The lease amount of $4,000 for Halls Island is for when the project is completed and operational. In the interim, a rent of $1000 per year applies plus a $1 licence fee ‘if demanded’. Rental increases of 2.5% per annum are built into the contract, although objections can be made on the basis of ‘current market rental value’.
There are a considerable number of conditions written into this lease regarding noise and disturbance, helicopter traffic and the construction of a helipad, a walking route and most notably the construction of three twin share accommodation huts and communal kitchen hut on the site.
A separate fee of $2,000 per year applies to the Halls Hut site. This fee is reviewable every 3 years by the Minister. The lease is subject to a 10-year term.
The lease has no special conditions beyond ‘applicable legislation, regulations and requirements of statutory authorities’ other than that it may not be used for residential accommodation or holiday letting.
Documents released relate to the Wild Drake lease, the Halls Hut lease, the positioning of a rowing boat for island access and correspondence objecting to a protest action in December by opponents of the project. There are redacted parts of almost all documents.
Meanwhile the Tasmanian Greens called for the leases for all EOI projects in public protected areas to be released immediately.
“Tasmanians have a right to know what their government is doing on their behalf – especially when it comes to public lands,” said Greens leader Cassy O’Connor. She suggested that rather than wasting the resources of DPIPWE and the Ombudsman, the Premier should read the writing on the wall and simply direct the Department to release all information about EOI proposals.
“The Liberals have been hiding behind the veil of ‘commercial-in-confidence’ for years, but this decision shows this justification is complete hogwash,” she said. “Tasmanians deserve to know what deals are being made to privatise their public protected areas, apparently at bargain basement prices and for the exclusive use of the wealthy few.”
For comments please see our Forum topic on Development in National Parks.
CASSY O’CONNOR: Liberals Must Release Details of All EOI Proposals.