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Concerns over plans for further private development in Tasmanian National Parks
The Tasmanian Government's plan to open up the islands World Heritage Area and national parks to more tourism developments is to be scrutinised the state’s Auditor-General.
Tasmanian Auditor-General Rod Whitehead has reportedly decided to investigate the controversial Expression of Interest (EOI) process for developments, which conservationists have long argued lacks transparency and proper scrutiny.
The current Tasmanian Government pledged to open up natural areas to tourism in the run up to the state’s February 2014 election.
After winning power in March of that year, the first round of the EOI process for "new, sensible and appropriate" tourism developments in Tasmanian national parks, reserves and Crown land was opened.
37 projects were received for assessment - ranging from low-impact guided walks and tours to the construction of high-end eco-tourism accommodation.
Round two of the EOI process commenced in December 2016 and remains open as a continuous process so that ideas can be proposed as opportunities arise.
Nick Sawyer from the National Parks Association welcomed the auditor-general's decision to investigate.
Sawyer told the ABC “it's been going on for far too long with an anonymous panel of public servants making all the decisions on developments in national parks before they see the light of day.”
With no advice as to how many proposals were received as part of round two, Sawyer added “there's rumours of up to 40 proposals in the pipeline … we shudder to think when they're all released - and may or may not get a serious consideration.”
Under the EOI program, the project's assessment is not guided by legislation but an internal Tasmanian Government process to identify potential projects and to guide proponents through other relevant approval processes.
Advising that the nature of the EOI process has drawn public criticism, Whitehead commented “including the lack of clarification from the Government on what it sees as 'appropriate and sensitive' development in reserves, the potential environmental and access impact on reserve areas and the transparency of the decision making process.”
The Office of the Tasmanian Coordinator-General has been responsible for managing the EOI process which has been accused of lacking transparency.
A memorandum on the Tasmanian Audit Office's website said the objective of this audit is to assess the effectiveness of the EOI process to achieve development of sensitive and appropriate tourism experiences and associated infrastructure in Tasmania's national parks, reserves and Crown land by private investors and tourism operators to broaden the range of exciting and unique experiences on offer.
This audit will also assess whether:
• There is effective coordination of EOI submissions;
• Governance arrangements ensure a clearly defined separation of duties and personnel between the assessment and approval functions;
• There is clarity and consistency in how regard is given to other relevant processes and approval requirements in related procurement policy documents (including relevant management plans and guidelines); and
• The extent to which advice was provided by Crown Law or the Solicitor-General and whether that advice was implemented or not.
In a statement the Tasmanian Government said the EOI process is an opportunity for private operators to develop sensitive and appropriate tourism ventures that broaden the range of unique experiences on offer in our parks and reserves.
The statement advised “since inception, the EOI program has made a valuable contribution to delivering the Government's vision to grow the tourism industry, so it continues to deliver jobs and economic benefits across the state.
"The Tasmanian Audit Office operates independently from government and as such it would be inappropriate to comment on the process, we look forward to considering the report in due course."
Images: Tasmania's Walls of Jerusalem (top) and the Franklin Gordon Wild Rivers National Park (middle and below).
13th August 2019 - Visitor amenities enhanced at Tasmania’s Freycinet National Park
16th October 2018 - Work commences on new Tasmanian bike trails
5th July 2018 - UNESCO adds 18 sites to World Heritage list
26th June 2018 - Chinese investors plan $100 million Tasmanian resort development
18th April 2017 - World Heritage Day celebrates global cultural heritage
7th February 2017 - Tasmanian National Parks infrastructure struggles to cope with visitor demand
23rd August 2014 - Tasmania looks to boost tourism in its natural areas
25th June 2013 - UNESCO agrees World Heritage Area status for Tasmanian forests
4th August 2010 - World Heritage Listing for Convict Sites
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