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Environmental groups concerned at Queensland Government plans for 60 year commercial leases in national parks
Plans by the Queensland Government to allow private companies to commercialise and build accommodation in three Queensland national parks – including areas with World Heritage status - are causing concerned among conservationist groups and traditional owners.
The Queensland Government has opened EOIs for private businesses to develop several sites, including building accommodation on the highly anticipated Wangetti Trail, with leases to last for up to 60 years.
Environmental groups are also concerned at plans to commercialise Hinchinbrook Island, the largest island national park in Australia which located within the world heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
One of the proposed developments is on the renowned Thorsborne Trail, which winds 32 kilometres along the east coast of Hinchinbrook Island and is regarded as a prominent wilderness walk.
Currently offering limited facilities, hikers camp and carry their own supplies on the Thorsborne Trail with the Queensland Department of Parks and Wildlife only permiting 40 campers overnight at a time because of the trail's ecological significance.
However, tender documents show the Queensland Government would entertain proposals to modify that restriction anticipating ‘eco-accommodation’ including cabins, retreats, huts or glamping.
Private companies are also invited to provide commercial activities, tour guides, and equipment hire.
The Queensland Government's lease also include Great Sandy National Park along the Fraser Coast.
Documents advise that works and approvals would be delivered "at no net cost or risk to taxpayers" because it was hoped the value of the accommodation would offset the current cost of maintaining the trails.
However, the Queensland Government will pay for the civil works and "base infrastructure" for the accommodation along the trails, including land grading, additional roadworks, telecommunications, and vegetation clearance.
Hinchinbrook Island traditional owner Abe Muriata said he was opposed to the lease and did not think the proposal would be supported by the local Aboriginal corporation.
Muriata told the ABC “go away, and leave it alone. More people will come when it is left the way is it, pristine.
The Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) is concerned the Queensland Government’s approval process may not require a full environmental impact assessment or public consultation.
Interested companies are also being urged to apply for loans from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund to pay for the project.
Queensland Tourism Minister Kate Jones supports having long-term leases with private companies within national parks, advising “we have listened to industry and they do need certainty on their lease to make sure they can make the investment.
"We want to make sure we get it right but we absolutely want to partner with the private sector, who are best placed to offer that genuine tourism experience."
Minister Jones said Tasmania had recently taken "all of the eco-tourism market in Australia" after a private company took over some of the walking trails, adding “it is an increasing, competitive market in eco-tourism and we need to make sure we are partnering with the best in the business.
"We also know Queensland does not get the visitation to national parks that other states do because we don't have that experience, such as Tasmania."
Images: The route of the Wangetti Trail (top) and Hinchinbrook Island (below).
13th September 2018 - Designers identify potential of North Queensland’s Wangetti Trail
6th September 2018 - Australia’s longest rail trail to boost South East Queensland tourism
26th July 2017 - Lindeman Island resort plan would see privatisation of national park
29th March 2017 - Queensland tourism industry rallies following Cyclone Debbie
28th September 2016 - Troubled Port Hinchinbrook resort acquired by new owners
27th September 2016 - WTTC calls for global tourism to become more accessible
3rd February 2016 - Massive growth in bushwalking as ‘green exercise’ and holiday activity
12th October 2014 - New tourism activities in national parks threatens natural heritage
13th January 2014 - Queensland national park ecotourism proposals move to next stage
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