Tasmania is dreaming big time. The Liberal government is plotting to transform the state into an environmental tourism capital to attract globe trotters. It comes as no surprise that conservation groups are blocking the proposed project and say the World Heritage Site will be exploited for development; a trade off to draw 1.5 million visitors a year by 2020.
The Office of Will Hogman, premier of Tasmania, has been advertising the mega-tourism plan approved by Matthew Groom, minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage. Last year, it called for EOI (Expression of Interests) from private developers to submit proposals. Out of 37 who submitted interests, 23 have been shortlisted as of December.
Stage 1 involved assessment of proposals against various criteria including appropriateness of the proposed project to the site. Building and operational qualifications of the proponent were also reviewed, as well as the financial capability of the proponent to carry out the proposal.
Shortlisted developers are now being asked to proceed to Stage 2. Final selection is set to be done by March 13.
Groom, in a press statement, said his government is determined to open Tasmania for tourism investments that will create jobs for many Tasmanians. He promised the natural and cultural values of national parks and World Heritage Area will be fully protected.
The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area covers 1.4 million hectares, almost a fifth of the total area of Tasmania. It encompasses 19 national parks and more than 800 reserves.
The heritage area is well-known for its teeming and diverse native flora and fauna, along with unique landscape, pristine coastlines, and tangible and intangible Tasmanian Aboriginal cultural values reflecting thousands of years of living culture.
Conservation groups have been up in arms to oppose the development project. Tasmania’s leading environment organisations are calling for local, national and global support to stop what they call “an intrusion” into the Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area.
The Bob Brown Foundation in Tasmania and Friends of the Earth in Melbourne, respectively, are spearheading to organise meetings and rallies to lambast the Liberal government. Environmental top guns will be holding the microphones in Melbourne like Bob Brown, The Wilderness Society’s Vica Bayley, Tasmanian Greens Leader and Bass MHA Kim Booth, and Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre’s Adam Thompson. In Hobart, on 3 March, speakers will include World Heritage expert Jamie Kirkpatrick, environmentalist Bob Brown, champion orienteerer and runner Hanny Allston, and the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre’s Ruth Langford.
Bob Brown Foundation’s spokesperson Jenny Weber said the Tasmanian government is opening the Tasmanian wilderness’ World Heritage Area to logging, mining and invasive tourism projects.
Weber admits there are positive aspects of the proposals like the Gordon River experience by World Heritage Cruises. However, 2-4 days package tours, for example, require construction of accommodation facilities like private huts. Weber foresees “the largest expansion of hut intrusions into the wilderness.”
Bob Brown also said, “A circuit around Cradle Mountain with a proposed ‘lodge’. What’s next a circuit around Federation Peak with a lodge? No absurdity is off the agenda in this process of opening the World Heritage Area to such intrusions.”
Robert Campbell from the Tasmanian National Parks Association lamented, “Our National Parks are a legacy handed down to us by Tasmanians who had the foresight to preserve what they held to be precious. They are not the Government’s to give away or auction off to the highest bidder…”
Indeed, known as one of the last frontiers of untouched wilderness, Tasmania’s pristine wonders is open for business.