The new federal environment minister, Melissa Price, has approved a controversial proposal to allow ‘helicopter tourism’ and a small commercial operation inside the Walls of Jerusalem national park in Central Tasmania.

Having a new federal environment minister is an opportunity to hit the ‘reset’ button on particular issues that come under the minister’s jurisdiction. The decision to approve this application can only be seen as a disappointing early move from the new government under PM Scott Morrison.

The minister’s department considered ‘that the proposal is not likely to have significant impacts on any nationally protected environmental matters’. However the proposal includes plans for 120 helicopter flights a year on to Halls Island inside the park.

The final stage in the approvals process rests with the Central Highlands Council.

The following report comes from Emily Baker, writing in The Mercury newspaper.

Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price says her department received “expert heritage advice” before approving the controversial Halls Island tourism development.

Launceston couple Daniel and Simone Hackett’s proposal would allow 120 helicopter flights a year on to Lake Malbena in the World Heritage-listed Walls of Jerusalem National Park for a luxury camping experience.

The federal environment department’s nod means it’s down to the Central Highlands Council to give the final tick of approval.

Green groups have reacted with fury to the decision, announced yesterday. Ms Price held firm.

“The department considered that the proposal is not likely to have significant impacts on any nationally protected environmental matters, including the values of the World Heritage Area,” she said.

“The department’s decision was supported by expert heritage advice and advice from Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania.”

Ms Price added the 940 public comments received by her department were “considered”.

Melissa Price shakes hands with Australian Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove after being sworn-in as Australian Environment Minister during a ceremony at Government House last week. Picture: AAP

“The principles contained in the [Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area] Management Plan and relevant matters raised in public submissions have been considered,” she said.

“The department considered the proposed action was not inconsistent with the principles of the TWWHA Management Plan.”

Greens leader Cassy O’Connor yesterday slammed the decision, pointing out Lake Malbena had been rezoned in the World Heritage Management Plan in 2016 – “a move explicitly designed to progress this development”.

She also criticised the government’s expressions of interest process for development in protected areas.

“The EOI process is an ongoing, rolling process with no end in sight except for the wilderness which, now more than ever, needs Tasmanians to stand to defend it,” Ms O’Connor said.

The Mercury has asked for a copy of the advice given to the environment department.

Daniel and Simone Hackett who are the proponents of a luxury camp on Halls Island in the Walls of Jerusalem National Park. Picture: CHRIS KIDD

EARLIER: CONSERVATION groups have reacted with fury after a controversial proposal for a standing camp in World Heritage-listed wilderness in the state’s Central Highlands was given the green light by the federal environment department.

Launceston couple Daniel and Simone Hackett’s proposed development would allow 120 helicopter flights a year on to Halls Island in the Walls of Jerusalem National Park.

The plan proposes the construction of six demountable buildings to provide a luxury camping experience in Lake Malbena. Visitors would be able to kayak, fish, hike and bushwalk in the area.

The project, predicted to create the equivalent of three full-time jobs, will next be taken to the Central Highlands Council for approval.

“It was important to us to assess our proposal against the highest environmental benchmark in the country, and provide for important public comment and additional scientific input,” Mr Hackett said.

“We aim to develop a world-leading product that engages travellers with one of Tasmania’s great wild places, and this was a crucial step in the processes.”

The Wilderness Society alone submitted 800 objections to the project on behalf of concerned citizens.

Society spokesman Vica Bayley said the decision was made after the State Government rezoned Lake Malbena in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area plan in 2016.

“This decision is deficient and we’ll be sure to write to the federal department to seek reasons and try to understand exactly what was and wasn’t taken into account as this development was waved through,” Mr Bayley said.

Former Greens leader Bob Brown slammed the decision as “the worst Canberra attack on Tasmanian wilderness this century”.

“We will now consider what action to take to prevent this theft and destruction of the World Heritage values so many Tasmanians have fought so hard and long to protect,” he said.

But Premier Will Hodgman said the federal department’s approval was proof the objectors were wrong.

“The Australian Government’s decision means that the project can proceed as planned because it has been found not to pose any threat to matters of National Environmental Significance,” he said.

“The approval for the Halls Island proposal is further evidence that tourism experiences can be delivered in line with existing environmental laws in our unique wilderness areas.”

Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price was contacted for comment.