23 June 2008

Estimates Committee B (O'Byrne)

Parks and Wildlife

Tim & Archana Brammall’s Eco Business
Mr FINCH - Minister, I just wanted to get on to the subject of the Brammalls, Tim and Archana, who established a commercial standing camp at Bryans Corner in the Freycinet National Park after responding to expressions of interest by the former minister in April 2005.  They established a business.  They were described as visionary and they started the Freycinet Escape tours in March 2007.  Then after just a few short months of operation, and in fact only weeks after an official Parks and Wildlife Service environmental audit of the camp assessed the camp as exemplary, the minister ordered the immediate suspension of All4adventure's lease in July 2007.

I am curious about the state of play in respect of the dispute that they now have with your department.  It was suspended because a sea eagle's nest was found in that particular area, but it is believed to be unused.  There has been knowledge forthcoming that that nest was known about before they responded to the expression of interest to establish that camp.  They are feeling very disenfranchised, as you probably realise.

Ms O'BYRNE - I have met with Tim and Archana in some of their other roles and I have known Tim for some years, so I do have sympathy for the position that they are currently in.  Before I make any comment I want to say that I do want to fix this issue.  The reality is that there are in fact two sea eagle nests in that region, one 300 to 500 metres away and one partially completed sea eagles' nest very close to where the standing camp was.

Mr GADD - Above it.

Ms O'BYRNE - Yes, pretty much above the standing camp.

There is a view that that would not be enough to preclude activity around this eagles' nest.  The experts on sea eagles say that they construct a number of nests and have them in varying stages of construction.  So the fact that they have a partially constructed one can be part of their breeding pattern and that is significant.  There was confusion, I think, in people's minds about which sea eagles' nest people were talking about, but it did become clear afterwards that there was some knowledge within the department of the eagles' nest.

I am happy to table, if the committee would like, an investigation that was taken internally and an internal response to that investigation.  The only thing that is not in there - and these are documents that have been applied for by the Brammalls, so it is not information that they do not have - are the names of individuals.  Because of privacy reasons we have removed those.  I am happy to have those tabled for the committee if that would be of interest.

Where we stand now is that there has been an ongoing discussion about how to resolve the issue.  There were management level meetings and there is a disagreement about the use of clause 22 within the lease to resolve the issue.  The Brammalls believe that the dispute process within clause 22 is an appropriate mechanism to use.  Our advice from the Solicitor-General is that clause 22 was designed for disputes about the lease, which are small things that could be managed internally.  The reality is that this is a dispute about whether or not the lease should have ever been granted and the obligations around that.

We have suggested mediation.  There has been some discussion about what the mediation might look like.  I am currently in receipt of a letter from the Brammalls that they have asked me to act upon and I have undertaken to get back to them in the early part of next week.  I do not want to do anything to undermine what I am hoping might be a resolution to the issue but, as it stands, if the issue cannot be resolved prior, then we still have an offer of mediation that we will pay for.  They do have a right, if they are not satisfied with the outcome of that, to take legal action.  I am hoping that it does not get to that, as it is an expensive process for them that I would not want to see them go through.  I am hoping that we still will have a resolution to this issue.

I am happy to table the internal report and the actions that have been taken as a result of the internal report.

Mr FINCH - Is compensation under consideration in this pathway to a resolution?

Ms O'BYRNE - I do need to be reasonably careful because there have been media comments about types of compensation figures, though any discussions that we have had have been confidential as part of the management level agreement.  I am in the difficult position of not wanting to break that confidence at this stage, but I am aware of the cost involved and the engagement that they had to set up the business.  I do not want to see them disadvantaged, but I also have an obligation to ensure that, if there is a recompense, and I am not wanting to make much of a to-do there, that a recompense would be appropriate given that I would be using taxpayers dollars to do so.  But that is why I am hoping first of all to be able to respond to the letter that I currently have in an effort to resolve the issue and, if not, that we will be able to go into the mediation that we have undertaken to pay for.

Mr FINCH - Thank you, Minister.

CHAIR - Minister, would you be prepared to comment on the relocation offer that you gave to the Brammalls?

Ms O'BYRNE - Under the terms of the lease their standing camp had to be removed for three months of the year so it had to be something that could be taken down and removed.  When this issue occurred we flew in a helicopter to do that for them, so that they could take their camping structure away.  So that they still have that.  We did offer them an alternative site.  Parks officers believe that the alternative site is an appropriate one.  The Brammalls disagree and they have the right to do that.

CHAIR - So there has been no mediation in terms of the relocation issue?

Ms O'BYRNE - They were not comfortable with the other site.

CHAIR - So there was no opportunity to further that particular -?

Ms O'BYRNE - I am assuming that, given the presence of the eagles nest, we are a little bit restricted.  An alternative site we offered was unacceptable to them for their business proposition.

Mr WING - And relocation of the nest was probably unacceptable to birds.

Ms O'BYRNE - I do not think that we can relocate the nest, no.  It might not be a nest that the sea eagle ever uses, but it also might be because of the standing camp that they did not finish the sea eagle nest as well.  I am not an expert on that area but I think that we are being particularly careful to prevent an impact on the breeding pattern of sea eagles.

CHAIR - Minister, would you give this committee an undertaking to inform the committee, especially the member for Rosevears and also myself, as to where those negotiations get to after next week?

Ms O'BYRNE - Yes, I am happy to keep members informed.  I am also happy to table the documents as I said before.  I really would like to see this matter resolved.  I do not think that prolonging it is advantageous for any party.

CHAIR - I certainly agree with you there.  It seems there are different reports in the media and it would be advantageous that the members of the committee have the appropriate and right information.

Ms O'BYRNE - The party that we are dealing with have every right to make those cases in the media.  They are not precluded from doing so, but I am bound by the confidentiality agreements that we have in the management level.  But I also note that they have not identified those figures either.  There has been some media speculation, but I do not want to add fuel to that at all.