23 June 2008

Estimates Committee B (O'Byrne)
Parks and Wildlife Management

Cradle Mountain- Lake St Clair Maintenance
Mr FINCH - Could we go back to the standard of tracks again?  This is about the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair area and is anecdotal evidence from someone who was working on the Queen's Birthday weekend this month.  They saw signs of imminent work with this stockpiled material on the side of the track at the early stage of the overland track to Marions Lookout, but he said that the old split-timber sections were in an appalling state, with walkers leaving the track to avoid sinking in the mud and consequently creating more environmental damage.  I am just curious as to what progress we can expect on these deteriorating sections perhaps in the coming year. 

Mr MOONEY - I suppose that it comes back to the efficiencies of air transport.  With a lot of these issues with the remote tracks what we tend to do now is take in materials when there is an opportunity with air transport in a cost-effective process.  For example, there might be a helicopter up there doing other projects and other works, and it could be a Hydro helicopter, Forestry or anyone.  We take that opportunity to put the actual material in the spot but it does not mean we are going to do the work the next day.  It often means that the timber will stay there for a couple of months at a time until we have the work program organised, but at least the timber is in there ready to go.  It is a sign of the times with air transport being so expensive now that we have to be able to utilise aircraft when they are in the vicinity, so at times we do have stockloads of timber sitting there for months at a time.  On the overall lifespan of the timber which would be between 25 and 30 years in that type of terrain, it is not a high cost. 

Perhaps we could explain it better by having a sign on the timber, I am not sure, but the point of issue that a lot of people do have is that they see the timber sitting there but no work being done.  Often we have been using an opportunity that wasn't there normally to get it in at a cost-effective rate.  The split timber, the old cordwood, which is I think what your constituent was referring to, has deteriorated.  When we had the cordwood put in about 40 years ago it was actually under the unemployment relief program.  They called it the Red Scheme - I do not know if you remember that long ago - in the late 1960s, early 1970s.

Mr WING - The Whitlam Government scheme.

Mr MOONEY - That's it, and that is when a lot of that cordwood was put in place, so at the moment is quite a few kilometres of the same age and deteriorating all at once.  That is something that we are addressing at the moment with treated pine.  At the end of the day we can only do what we have resources for.  I am quite confident that all that timber that is stockpiled will be certainly laid next summer, the end of this calendar year.  Of the 58 kilometres of the Overland Track, 42 kilometres is boarded now and when you think about the effort and time involved and the inconvenience of a little bit of mud on people's shoes, I think it is a pretty good job.

Mr GADD - Our track workers only work through the warmer months.  It is pointless putting them there at this time of year.

Mr FINCH - Yes, I understand that.  If it is done by next summer, the work is going to be taken care of.  Most reports say that the shuttle bus service to Dove Lake is working well but someone raised concerns about the cut-off time for the last bus back from the lake.

Ms O'BYRNE - On the individual day?

Mr FINCH - Yes.  I think it is 4.30 p.m.  Certainly over the Queen's Birthday weekend it was 4.30 p.m., but it seems pretty hard to time a walk to catch the last bus.  If somebody gets stranded at the car park with the last bus gone, and they are tired after a long day, how do they get on?

Mr GADD - There is a beautiful boardwalk we have constructed from the car park back to the visitor centre.


Mr FINCH - Okay.

Mr MOONEY - There is actually a last run done to the Dove Lake car park by a staff member just on dark, which covers all the off-shoots as well.  We do that as part of our management regime.

Mr FINCH - Just to check to make sure that everybody is in?

Mr MOONEY - Yes, to check for any stranded persons.

Mr FINCH - Okay.  That was an observation somebody made and thought, 'If I miss the bus, how will I get on?'.  With the traffic control measures on the road from the visitor centre to Dove Lake, you are obviously calming traffic, but there has been some criticism that it can cause minor accidents.  Have any accidents been reported on that road?

Mr MOONEY - No.  It is actually quite amazing because the reason the road was redone was because of the horrific accident we had with the bus, where there were multiple deaths.  Since then there have been no major accidents.  There have been scrapings because there are narrow sections of road where only one vehicle can go through and the other vehicle must wait, but there are some impatient people who believe they get through the gap.  Rear vision mirrors are the big by-product - 

Mr WING - And that was predicted by the Joint House Standing Committee on Public Works, which had reservations about that whole system.

Ms O'BYRNE - Only scrapings, though.

Mr MOONEY - As far as personal safety goes, it is an impeccable record.  The safety side has improved dramatically but it is still fair to say that some people will push the limits as far as going in those narrow lanes is concerned.

Mr FINCH - An automatic boom gate has been installed at the visitor centre - that is at the beginning of the Dove Lake Road.  What is the function of that boom gate?

Mr WING - To go up and down.  Boom, boom! 


Mr MOONEY - The whole intention of management of the road is to reduce the amount of vehicles on the road at any one time, therefore reducing the number of vehicles parked at the end point, which is Dove Lake, because it only has a certain capacity.  That is why we introduced the shuttle bus which has improved things significantly, but there are still a number of private vehicles that wish to go in.  We will never restrict those totally because people who are impaired or have disabilities need to have their own apparatus to go in and they cannot get onto a public shuttle bus, for example.  The idea of a boom gate is to allow vehicles to go in once there is a space available at the end of the road so that they do not get into a situation where they go in and there are no spaces available and so they start parking off the road and destroying the environment or get bogged.  That is the whole function of it.  It has an electronic recording system that records the amount of vehicles that are at the end of the road at Dove Lake and as soon as there is a space available the boom gate rises and the vehicle goes in.

Mr FINCH - That is probably why there was difficulty understanding what it was doing there and the function it performed.

Ms O'BYRNE - Can I quickly add to an answer from before?  The work on the Melaleuca track, that you are all very interested in, was completed.  I am advised that a lift has also been done recently for some additional work that might happen there as well, so it will be a much more comfortable walk next time. 

Mr FINCH - We will bring that up at the Budget Estimates next year.

Ms O'BYRNE - Fantastic.  We will make sure we have a running commentary on Melaleuca.

Mr FINCH - Thanks for that explanation.  There is a fairly hefty fee to walk the Overland Track now for the high season.  I am wondering what that is expected to raise in this coming year.  Did I get the inference, Minister, that the money that is raised on particular operations are spent back on those operations?

Ms O'BYRNE - We hypothecate all the fees back into Parks and they will pretty much go directly into the park that they have been collected from.

Mr GADD - And in this case it goes directly to the Overland Track.

Ms O'BYRNE - Yes.

Mr FINCH - How will that be spent?

[3.30 p.m.]
Mr MOONEY - The money that is raised from the Overland Track fee goes directly back into the total management of the Overland Track, and that is comprised of quite a few different components. Track maintenance is number one and also track information.  We have track rangers that walk the track regularly and provide information to persons about all sorts of issues - safety, fauna, flora, where they can gain access to water, all those sorts of things.

Then we have maintenance of the huts which is a high commodity for that track.  It is also keeping in place, I suppose, the experience that we always want to provide.  Since the track has been in place with a permit system, the one-way walking system has drastically increased the experience level of every person walking the track.  We have had people who walked the track 20 years ago and who have come back and walked it in the last year or so and then said they had a far better experience and feel less crowded now.  Yet the number of people walking the track in totality has increased.  So that is a good sign that what we have done in our management regime has worked.

The permit period is only for a set period.  After that we tend to find that especially Tasmanians line up the day after the permit period is finished and they are on the race track.

Ms O'BYRNE - Local knowledge.

Mr MOONEY - Yes, and that works quite well because it gives all Tasmanians the opportunity to walk the track at no cost.  We do regular surveys and the feedback we get from people is actually that they want the fee raised.  They want the charge to be higher so that they know that it will always go back into the management of the track.  They are happy with what has been happening so far and they want to come back in another 10 years and see a more improved service.  They can see that it works.

Ms O'BYRNE - Currently it is effectively cost recovery because the money that goes in is paying for the overall maintenance of the Overland Track, apart from major infrastructure projects that may come up during the time.  In terms of its general operation it is all paid for out of the fees.

Mr MOONEY - The whole intention to make it self sustainable so that it was not an impost on the taxpayer to manage the Overland Track when many taxpayers may never use it. That was the whole principle - user fees - and it seems to have worked quite well.