Thursday 23 August 2018
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Tasmanian National Parks and Reserves - Integrated Management


[3.53 p.m.]
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I move -

(1)  That the Legislative Council acknowledges and notes -

(a) the importance of management of Tasmania's national parks and reserves for the future of the state's tourism industry and its image abroad; and

(b) that there might be benefits in a form of integrated management of parks and reserves with some natural features on private property or access to reserves through private property.

(2)  And further acknowledges and notes that -

(a) more work has to be done, with appropriate public and tourism industry input in planning future development in heritage areas and reserves; and

(b)  it is vitally important that all planning for the future of heritage areas, reserves, and private land with natural tourism potential takes into account potential for walks of various distances, including day walks.

The Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service is now responsible for managing more than half Tasmania's landmass, including 19 national parks, the 1 584 000 hectare Tasmania Wilderness World Heritage Area, the Macquarie Island World Heritage Area and about 8000 reserves and other crown land, so members will agree it is a massive task.

Some believe we need a new and comprehensive far-reaching plan.  During the budget Estimates, the Premier, who is the Minister for Parks, spoke at length about their management.  I quote from the Hansard report of his speech -

I just note some of the major commitments in the budget which go to investing in our precious parks and reserve assets.  I do note in passing also, alongside heritage, which is one of the great drivers of visitation, so too are our 13 national parks where visitation has increased by 6 per cent in the last year to one and a half million visits.  More visits than ever before. 

So we need to acknowledge and recognise the fact and celebrate the fact that people want to access our national parks but also make sure we're investing in them to protect them.  To future proof them, and to provide the infrastructure people need to enjoy them more and to look at new opportunities to achieve a commercial return that investment through commercial activity, but also recreational opportunities for Tasmanians, particularly those, as we've described, of older years.

So the budget commits additional funding to protecting these assets, boosting our rangers and frontline staff, investing in infrastructure to maintain and improve our parks and reserves, invest in new iconic experiences, such as the Cradle Mountain development, also to develop that next multi-day hut based walk that we've spoken about already today.  A new initiative in the budget that will provide seniors card holders with free access to our national parks for a year and then at a discounted rate, will provide an incentive for wonderful older Tasmanians to visit those areas.

There's $16 million in funding over four years to improve visitor infrastructure across the state.  A number of iconic areas and experiences and assets that include Maria Island, the Overland Track, east-coast camping, the Tasman National Park gateway at Cockle Creek and Ben Lomond.  There is a longer list than that, but they are some of the key features of that additional $16 million commitment towards improving the infrastructure at those places which are being frequently visited.  A billion dollars' worth of assets are managed by the Parks and Wildlife Service, which do service the needs of visitors, but the budget explicitly points to the fact that these are assets, valued especially by Tasmanians, and the 200 or so businesses that operate in our parks and reserves as well, so we do need to future proof them.  We need to treat them with the greatest of respect and care, and this budget does a lot more in that regard than any one previously. 

That is what the Premier, as the Minister for Parks, said during the budget Estimates.  I put his words into the Hansard in the context of this motion to make sure people get that information, which is fulsome and comprehensive, about what Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service deals with in respect of Tasmania, and what he as Minister for Parks is responsible for.

I quote Luke Martin from the Tourism Industry Council Tasmania -

The issue with our Parks is a lack of investment over decades that is now being rudely exposed in places like Cradle and Freycinet especially, but also Mt Field and the Nut.  The infrastructure at our major Parks is terribly inadequate to manage the visitor numbers they experience.  That's been a failure of public policy in the State for a generation.  I use the analogy in the context of hospitals and schools, parks have been the pimple on the backside of government priorities forever. 

Yes, we need to consider new opportunities and experiences but our pressing priority is to deal with the backlog of infrastructure challenges at our major parks now.

I thank Luke Martin for that contribution.  I also want to thank Tourism Industry Council Tasmania for an invitation to a forum to be held in the near future, the 2018 Parks 21 Forum, which I will be attending.  The Tourism Industry Council invites the CBS licensed operators and all tourism operators working in and around Tasmania's World Heritage areas, national parks, crown lands and kunanyi, to the parks forum and the second annual tourism and environment luncheon.  I believe, Mr President, that you will be hosting the luncheon.  Have you found out about that to date?  I want to make sure you had it in your diary.

The 2018 Parks 21 Forum, which I am very much looking forward to, will be hosted by the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, and is really a must-do industry event for all tourism operators working in and around Tasmania's conservation areas and crown lands.  This year's forum is to be in the Premier's reception rooms.  He will open the forum and PWS general manager Jason Jacob will talk about parks projects and infrastructure investment and answer any questions about licensing compliance and access. 

They are right on the subject.  They are dealing with what I am presenting here today, and my concerns. I imagine and hope the Premier and the Parks and Wildlife Service will want the input that will come from this motion, and also from the forum that will be held soon.

My motion mentioned there might be benefits in a form of integrated management of parks and reserves with some natural features on private property, or access to reserves on private property.  There are many examples.  The list is almost endless.  For example, in the foothills of Mount Barrow, only 40 minutes from Launceston, there is the quite spectacular Barrow Falls reserve, which very few people know about.  The easiest access to see the waterfall is through private land.  Enabling easier access to the falls would be an additional visitor draw in the north‑east of the state, as would be the development of walking tracks higher up on Mount Barrow.

I am sure the member for McIntyre would agree that there is massive potential to develop walking tracks and other infrastructure in the north-east.  The very successful mountain biking tracks amply demonstrate that.

Ms Rattray - There is not much walking going on on them.

Mr FINCH - No, that is right, but plenty of riding, plenty of fun.  Plenty of visitors are coming to the state.  Plenty of Tasmanians are taking advantage of these sorts of developments.  Of course, as with that mountain biking opportunity, it will need careful planning, and certainly not in isolation.

I have spoken to a number of experienced people on this subject.  One suggested that a state unit could be developed specifically to achieve short walk upgrades outside national parks involving volunteers, history, interpretation and community consultation.  This could involve the establishment of a statewide inquiry to identify potential areas of interest and ways to facilitate development.

Luke Martin, whom I quoted earlier, mentioned the Freycinet Peninsula as an area of particular concern.  At certain times of the year, it is under particular visitor pressure.  The walker counter data for December 2016 shows 223 000 each-way visitors on the Wineglass Bay track.  If that is the case, considerable planning for the future would seem to be urgent.

Ms Armitage - I note it is predicted that the number could increase to as many as 330 000 visitors by 2020.

Mr FINCH - You can see there needs to be care and concern.  I know that a draft Freycinet Peninsula master plan is presently under consideration.  However, some people have concerns about its adequacy.

Ms Armitage - And sewerage.

Mr FINCH - They are some of the points I will make during this presentation. I will quote the scope of works from the master plan -

To develop a high quality environmentally economically and socially sustainable Freycinet visitor experience for the next 20 years.

However, critics say the draft plan does not go beyond 2027.  The draft plan was supposed to be delivered for community consultation by the end of October 2017; however, it was not delivered until June this year, eight months late.

One critic of the plan, Mr Alvaro Ascui, says -

Despite being more than 8 months in the writing, the plan reads like a rough internal working document; an embarrassment that should never have been published.  The document clearly meets the standards of the authors, but does not come anywhere near the standard the public expects from a government publication.  Not even a spell check, the most automatic and low-skill of tasks has been applied to the document.

Clearly, Mr Ascui is not happy.  His criticism of the draft plan runs to 19 pages.  I thought I would table that, but I think if members look at the Freycinet Peninsula master plan summary, or workings, they would find those 19 pages.

I have canvased the views of a number of people with knowledge of our national parks, some of them veteran bushwalkers who have done just about every walk in Tasmania.  They generally agree there is plenty of evidence of degradation of trails in national parks and the World Heritage Area in the form of major erosion, water contamination of alpine lakes and tarns due to substandard toilet facilities and overuse. 

This has only just come in to me today from Debra Scott of the Launceston Walking Club.  I appreciate very much the effort they have put in and I will read the comments made by the executive of the Launceston Walking Club into Hansard -

ŸYes, there should certainly be more public consultation on development in Parks (although I think the mechanisms for comment are there, I'm just not sure much heed is being paid to the submissions) 

ŸYes, I can see a lot of merit in improving access to a select number of spectacular day walks.  Last time I was up Quamby Bluff in November it was crawling with people, and not your 'hard core' bushwalkers - a whole range of people who were obviously having a great experience up there.

ŸA few locations that spring to mind in the north as being easily accessible from population centres (for locals and tourists) would be Mt Arthur, Ben Nevis, Black Bluff (the latter already quite well signposted). 

ŸThere are the obvious considerations of making it easier to access potentially hazardous areas, but at the end of the day they will still be big mountains which require a lot of effort to climb, and with appropriate signage and trail design I think the access could be facilitated without putting people at risk.  Many fit, interested people wouldn't know how to find Mt Arthur, let alone Ben Nevis. 

ŸBetter management of a number of ex-forest reserve facilities (and their access roads/bridges) would also facilitate recreation in some fantastic (non-wilderness) areas. 

ŸI agree that there should be an integrated management of parks and reserves, particularly with respect to walking tracks and MTB trails. 

ŸI'm unconvinced that we actually need more tracks and trails at this point in time; rather we need to better resource existing infrastructure such as the tracks that Kate has referred to - the condition of tracks, their external and internal signposting and general promotion often needs improving.  There's no point in developing more tracks and trails that simply contribute to a greater maintenance problem in the long-term. 

ŸWith the downsizing and restructuring of Forestry Tasmania (now Sustainable Timber Tasmania) many tracks and reserve facilities are being left to non‑government groups to maintain (eg bushwalking clubs, Wildcare Branches, community groups).

ŸSome iconic PWS-managed walking tracks such as Frenchmans Cap Track, Walls of Jerusalem Track, Lake Judd Track to Mt Sarah Jane, Western Arthurs access (Huon Campground to Moraine A), Arthur Plains Track, Farmhouse Creek Track to Federation Peak, Huon Track to Cracroft Crossing (Yoyo Track), Lake Rhona Track and Mt Oakleigh Track are becoming dependent on funding them from non-State government sources for maintenance - hard to believe, but all of these have been recently submitted to the Wildcare Board for funding from external private donors.

ŸThe North East Highlands Traverse, if properly upgraded and promoted, would make another excellent multi-day trip that could help to reduce demand for the Overland Track. 

ŸThe proposed Legislative Council motion says a lot about management and planning but nothing about resourcing and therefore seems to me to be quite lacking.  What is also really needed is a long-term commitment to sustainable resourcing.

Thanks to Debra Scott from the Launceston Walking Club.  A lot of what I am on about here is probably encompassed in that last observation - that we need to make sure that resourcing needs to go with the upgrade, to maintain what we have now. 

A number of other issues need careful scrutiny, Mr President.  These include the level of budgetary restrictions that have been imposed on Parks and Wildlife and the impact this has had on staffing levels and the quality of service they are able to provide, and the conditions of the infrastructure - tracks, huts and signage - within our parks.  There are benefits of establishing a separate entity within Parks and Wildlife to attract and cater for a burgeoning tourist market of travellers seeking a more active experience.  This can include both independent and guided walking tours of Tasmania.  This may involve establishing additional tracks at selected locations. 

There is interest among private landowners seeking to supplement their income by establishing private trails over their land.  This sort of arrangement exists in New Zealand.  Parks and Wildlife could provide guidelines as to the requirements, such as infrastructure, insurance and so on.  It is worth exploring.  Perhaps the structure of the Parks and Wildlife Service needs looking at.  The Parks and Wildlife Service was split into two separate divisions:  the Resource Management and Conservation Division has responsibility for the natural and cultural resources and the Parks and Wildlife Service covers Tasmania's parks, reserves and World Heritage Areas.  Is this split still appropriate?

Some of you with long memories, or even short memories, might know that the Parks and Wildlife Service separated from the Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment following the 2002 state elections, becoming part of the Department of Tourism, Parks, Heritage and Arts while the Resource Management and Conservation Division remained part of DPIPWE.  In April 2006 the department incorporated the Environment Division of the Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment.  This led to a renaming of the department, which became the Department of Tourism, Arts and the Environment, DTAE.  Is all of this appropriate, Mr President?

As I said at the beginning, managing more than half Tasmania's landmass is a massive task.  It must be appropriately funded, properly planned for and carried out in the best possible way.  If we do not plan well into the future with the best possible information, we risk killing the goose that lays the golden tourism egg.  I will be interested to hear what other members have to say on this subject. 

[4.45 p.m.]
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I thank members very much for their contributions.  I also thank Mr Jason Jacobi, who came to the Chamber today to hear the presentation.  It is good these discussions take place so that we can put on record the things we learn from our constituents who bring issues to us or discuss things with us.

Ms Rattray - Or a dinner last night.

Mr FINCH - Or a dinner last night.  We can then investigate in our community how they are feeling about things; to make sure that things are on track.

Mr Dean - The Minister for Tourism made an interesting Previous HitspeechNext Document yesterday in the other place about tourism, the Cataract Gorge tours and the Blue Tier Bike trail, and what they're doing for tourism and bringing tourism into the park.  It would be interesting for members to have a look at it.  It was an interesting answer to a question on this very subject.

Mr FINCH - That was a parliamentary presentation yesterday, was it?

Mr Dean - Yes.

Mr FINCH - How blessed are we to have the Premier as the Minister for Tourism and now as the Minister for Parks?   I think it is a great combination.  The last time we had that was when Jim Bacon was premier, minister for tourism and minister for parks.  We saw some really enlightening links made between those two areas of development for Tasmania.  This is entirely appropriate; it is a good development.  Mr Hodgman, as Premier, gives such gravitas to the tourism industry.  They are so proud to have him as their minister.  He was there in person at the hospitality awards on Monday night.  He also made a video presentation to the gathering and then a personal presentation.  It was very well received.  That gives a lot of confidence to people in the tourism industry.  It was a great move for him to appoint himself to that job - a very wise decision.  Now they have Parks as well.

Mr Dean - And Heritage as well in his area.

Mr FINCH - Those areas that are so synonymous with Tasmania, particularly as we flourish in this day and age.  The member queried the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, raising its concerns.  You did not mention UNESCO, but I know it had raised concerns about Tasmania's wilderness areas being rezoned for tourism developments.  It was urging a tourism master plan that I think it requested in 2015 to be presented. 

It is encouraging that some of these areas are being explored and developments are taking place, and that they are being scrutinised.  I will cite a couple of instances.  One is in my electorate where there was an opportunity for horse riding expansion to occur in that area.  It was investigated thoroughly and it was found that it could be achieved.  That business was able to expand.  The other one that I have talked about recently, and people who follow me on Twitter and Facebook will see that I am very encouraging of the redevelopment of Bernacchi Lodge.

Ms Forrest - Does anyone do that?

Mr FINCH - No.  I am sowing a seed just in case anybody has nothing else to do in their spare time.

They renamed the Bernacchi Lodge the Thousand Lakes Lodge.  As I have mentioned here before, Marcos Ambrose and colleagues have redeveloped the lodge.

Ms Rattray - It is going gangbusters.

Mr FINCH - 'Gangbusters' is the word.  It is a fantastic response to that opportunity to get into Tasmania's wilderness - the gateway into that Central Highlands area - and it is being taken up.  Just imagine - that could have been demolished and eliminated from that wilderness area, and then there would not be an opportunity for people from around the world to go to that location and experience a unique wilderness area. 

Mr Valentine - But not arriving by Formula One or anything like that.

Mr FINCH - No, the other one that will be an interesting debate for me to be involved in, if it gets to that stage, will be the cable car to the top of kunanyi/Mount Wellington.  I grew up at Fern Tree so the mountain was my playground as a child.  Often, just for fun, we would go up the Zig Zag Track to the Springs Hotel - we would go to the lolly shop there - and then up we would go up the track to the Pinnacle to look at what must be one of the most spectacular views in the world. 

Ms Rattray - And you didn't only buy lollies, did you?

Mr FINCH - I do not know what the member is referring to. 

You want to share that view with tourists.  Tourists are going to stay another day to experience that, but then you have to balance that against the thoughts of people who want that to be untouched, and that is difficult to defend.  You have a road that slices right up through the middle, you have big towers on top, you have buildings on top, so it is hard to say it is a pristine environment.  However, the voice of the people must be listened to.  People are getting emotional about that opportunity that is being sought.  That will be an interesting debate.  I will be conflicted, so it will be interesting to see how those facts unfold for me. 

On a one-by-one basis, as each project comes forward, let them be considered and let them stand alone as to whether it is a good idea, whether it is enhancing our tourism opportunities, and whether it does affect the conservation that we should be considering in our wilderness areas.

Managing more than half Tasmania's landmass, including those most sensitive environments, is a massive task for the Parks and Wildlife Service and for Tasmania.  As the Premier says, it is a billion dollars' worth of assets.  The Premier obviously recognises the challenge facing the Parks and Wildlife Service. 

There are two factors that I would like to highlight:  is the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service being adequately funded?  When you cite what is in the Budget and we talk about this $16 million extra over four years, it sounds like a lot of money, but is it adequate?  That is a question we need to keep asking.  Is it doing the best possible job of preserving our national parks and planning for their future?  These questions need to be asked constantly, and that is why I am pleased to be going to that forum where these questions will be discussed. 

Ms Rattray - You will probably be a guest speaker, with all this knowledge.

Mr FINCH - No, I will leave it to Mr Jacobi to do that.  These questions need answers and we probably need to ask questions, too.  The opportunity will be there at that gathering.  Luke Martin of Tourism Industry Council Tasmania, which is hosting the forum, said there had been a lack of investment over decades that is now being rudely exposed in places like Cradle Mountain and Freycinet.  He says the infrastructure of our major parks is terribly inadequate to manage the visitor numbers they are experiencing. 

There might be benefits in the form of the integrated management of parks and reserves with some natural features on either property or access to reserves on private property.  The Leader highlighted some of the opportunities that exist, and perhaps exploring more opportunities that might come into the purview of the Government or the Parks and Wildlife Service.  There are many examples; the list is almost endless of things that people can see and do in Tasmania. 

I have canvased a number of people with experience of our national parks and reserves.  They agree that a number of problems need urgent scrutiny, but they also talk about numerous areas that could become attractions with the right planning and infrastructure.

Mr Dean - Before you sit down, yesterday the Premier referred to a massive upgrade at Cradle Mountain area with joint support from the Commonwealth.  Obviously considerable work is going to happen there.  We are suffering too much tourism, but that is a great thing, isn't it?

Mr FINCH – Yes, the danger is that we can love it to death.  It is time to take a new look at things, but we need to be constantly looking at this issue.  We should not take it for granted, and we should always put it under the microscope, scrutinising what is going on to make sure we get the best possible result.  I thank members for supporting this motion and for taking an interest. 

Mr President, I move the motion standing in my name -

Motion agreed to.