Monday 22 June 2009

Estimates Committee B (O'Byrne) - Part 1


Mr FINCH - Minister, as you talk about the new initiative, I know there are some people I deal with who say that if you put up a new building or if you do something new, you then have the issue of maintaining it, which becomes a problem.

Ms O'BYRNE - That is why we would be looking at private investment around this.

Mr FINCH - What about the current tracks we have, that visitors comment on, where people have been highlighting the fact that our tracks are not maintained to as good a standard as they would hope for?

Ms O'BYRNE - The sustainable model that we have, the one that effectively hypothecates directly back into the Mt Nelson track, the one thing that actually works is the Overland Track.  That is the one whereby the money that the people are paying is the cost of running the track.  That is the sort of model we would look at for the peninsula. 

Every other track we have is a cost impost upon us that we need to find money to manage.  That is why we have on the priority asset management ‑ and tracks are an asset for us ‑ some 250 jobs identified to do.

Mr FINCH - Are park entry fees used?

Ms O'BYRNE - Yes.  One of the few absolute hypothecations are park entry fees, but they go nowhere near to the cost of maintaining the parks.

Mr GADD - The Overland model we have is virtually to sustainability.  If you want to walk the Overland Track in the peak season, you will pay a $150 fee on top of your park entry fee, and that goes back into maintaining the track and also into staff resources on the track.  We think we have just about got that to a point where that is the absolute self‑sustaining model, so we would roll out a similar model for the Three Capes.  If you want to do it during the peak season, there would be an add‑on fee, and that would support the whole equation.  This model would not be an ongoing impost on the consolidated fund on a recurrent basis.

Mr FINCH - Could it be a model that might apply to all tracks, if you did that?

Ms O'BYRNE - We would have a charge a fair bit more for that.

Mr GADD - Would we prepared to go to the length of charging a fee per track?  I suspect not.  I suspect there always has to be the bulk of the asset available to the populace on an equitable basis, if you know what I mean.

Ms O'BYRNE - Buying in mind we have people who complain about park fees, full stop, let alone any additional impost that would actually cover the entire cost of the park.

Mr GADD - On the Overland Track we still allow access in the off season.  If you are a local and you really don't want to pay the money and you are prepared to go in the shoulder or the off season, you can still do it for nothing.

Ms O'BYRNE - Can I take up a point.  There was a piece of media late last year in relation to walking one of our tracks, by a journalist, who said that he went up to Cradle Mountain and got up there a bit late, and the Parks guy said, 'No, don't do that walk, there's not enough time, it will be a bit dark and you're not prepared.'  The journalist wrote a story about how they actually went and did it anyway; they raced up and they nearly broke their ankles.  But they did it anyway, so why on earth was there a problem about doing it? 

Can I hasten to add that the reason we put advisories on tracks and the reason we have Parks officers and the reason we have rules is that there are safety implications.  I do not get enough opportunity to highlight that.  If someone says, 'Don't start a walk, it's too late and you won't get back until it's dark,' people should not do it.  I do not have an opportunity to say that much.  It was a report in our local newspaper that really disturbed me.  There was a story, 'It was okay, we went up in our sandshoes and we were fine.'  That is actually not the case and that is why we end up with terrible stories on occasions, because there are people who do not sign in and do not check.  I just needed to say that.  Thank you.

Mr FINCH - On the subject of tracks, obviously there is a limitation on resources for track improvements.

Ms O'BYRNE - We have to focus on those that have the primary use.  For instance, we have spent a lot of money on the Wineglass Bay track recently because we have a lot of people going up there.  We also have a lot of people going up in inappropriate footwear.  We have to make decisions based on the usage, the need and the risk associated.  That is how we prioritise it.  We have done that one recently.  However, there are a number of tracks that are on the list.

Mr FINCH - Like the northern end of the Overland Track, where walkers are discouraged from using the horse track in favour of the section through Crater Lake?

Ms O'BYRNE - Peter Mooney probably has more familiarity with the actual walk.

Mr MOONEY - I suppose what you are really describing is Tasmania as a whole.  We have more walking tracks in our reserves per hectare than any other state in Australia.  It is a phenomenon of Tasmania that bushwalking has been a very active pursuit in our reserves.  With that legacy is an enormous number of tracks.  What has happened with a lot of the tracks is that they are repetitive, they going from point A to B, but you have several tracks.  We have been trying over a number of years to consolidate that and reduce the number of tracks that still leave from A and get to B, but you do not have a choice of three or four tracks.

The Cradle Mountain region is a classic example.  On the cirque and the plateau there are a lot of old horse trails, a lot of old access tracks and a lot of old grazing access routes, and we have been trying to consolidate them over quite a few years.  We are not there yet but we are not far away.

The Overland Track itself, the main route, is now pretty sustainable, as Mr Gadd and the Minister mentioned, but there are many other tracks we have to work on.  A lot of this is a cultural change, an education process with the users.  A lot of users like to use the traditional track that their grandfather used, but they are beginning to realise that there is only so much resource available to maintain everything and the only way you can successfully do it in the long term is to reduce the amount of tracks you have.  We are on that process but it is slow.