The Tasmanian election is largely being fought on ‘bread and butter’ issues like health, jobs and education. Gambling and the future of pokies is also a significant issue. But around the edges of debate there are some interesting promises and policy commitments around the natural environment.
While environment debate during elections tends to focus on forestry issues, this time, the future of existing national parks and reserves has been more dominant. With Tasmania looking to develop new tourism opportunities, especially in the realm of nature-based tourism, the park system is seen as the next frontier by the state government, which has been pursuing private development with national parks.
The following covers some of the debate and policy being announced about the natural environment in Tasmania. The election will be held on March 3. It does not seek to cover broader energy or climate issues.
The takayna / Tarkine region in the north west of the state contains Australia’s largest temperate rainforest and 40 000 years of Aboriginal history in one of Australia’s richest Aboriginal cultural landscapes. It has been the point of significant debate.
Labor has announced half-price entry to National Parks for Tasmanians, 30 new rangers, an $8 million renovation of Overland huts and a $50 million regional tourism infrastructure fund.
The Bob Brown Foundation says that Labor policies on takayna / Tarkine threaten to ‘turn this special place into a wasteland’.
The ALP has also supported the cable car planned for the northern end of the Cradle Mountain national park.
The Liberals have offered $3 million for hut renovations along the Overland Track if they are re-elected.
They will invest more than $30 million into the state’s national parks and reserves.
Braddon Liberal MHA Joan Rylah said Tasmania’s national parks attracted roughly 1.3 million visitors per year and that we needed to “future-proof these much-loved icons so they can be enjoyed for years to come”.
The Liberals have already committed $35 million to ‘improve’ the Cradle Mountain area. Unfortunately this includes supporting the proposal to build a cable-way, which will give visitors increased access to Dove Lake, and “an iconic new tourism experience” near the entrance precinct.
They would also undertake a feasibility study into the location of the state’s next multi-day walk and start construction in 2020-21. The intention for the new walk is to ‘rival the Overland and Three Capes Tracks’.
The process would mirror a 2007 study completed under former premier Paul Lennon and which led to the construction of the successful Three Capes Track.
“With these popular walks reaching capacity in the peak season, it is clearly time to deliver Tasmania’s next iconic walk and meet the growing demand to get off the beaten track,” Mr Hodgman told the Mercury.
Annual overnight bushwalk numbers doubled between 2014-17 to 45,000, while 12,000 walked Three Capes in 2016-17 and 9000 the Overland.
The study could consider locations including the Freycinet Peninsula, South West Conservation Area, The Walls of Jerusalem, the Tarkine and the South West National Park, Mr Hodgman said.
According to the Bob Brown Foundation, the Liberals have damaging policies when it comes to the Tarkine:
FORMERLY PROTECTED RAINFORESTS – THREATENED
Rainforests that were reserved decades ago are again available for logging, after Premier Hodgman’s government weakened protection of these ancient and rare ecosystems. Logging in these rainforests will drive climate change and threaten their endangered wildlife.
NATIONAL HERITAGE LISTED COAST – THREATENED
Premier Hodgman’s government not only wants to re-open destructive off-road vehicle access over this irreplaceable landscape, it wants to open new tracks on remote stretches of the coastline. These moves threaten the cultural landscape and sites that tell the stories of thousands of years of Aboriginal history and are critical to the living cultural connections for Tasmania’s Aboriginal community.
The Liberals have been actively promoting the construction of a cable car up the face of kunanyi/ Mt Wellington and the northern end of the Cradle Mountain national park.
Although The Greens are the party with the strongest focus on the natural environment, it is being reported that The Greens say there is still wilderness battles to be fought in Tasmania, but concede the fight is on to stay alive in knife-edge electorates at next month’s poll.
The Greens have called for a moratorium on fish farming in the state.
They have strong policy commitments to protect existing national parks from inappropriate development, oppose the cable car on kunanyi/ Mt Wellington, and oppose any weakening of existing protection for takayna / Tarkine.