The long campaign against a plan for helicopter-based tourism at Lake Malbena on the Central Plateau in Tasmania has received a welcome boost. The Commonwealth Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, has released a ‘Statement of Reasons’ explaining why she determined that the proposed helicopter-accessed luxury accommodation will be a “controlled action”, requiring a more thorough assessment under the Commonwealth environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). 

Tom Allen for the Wilderness Society Tasmania said “Minister Ley’s Statement reveals why, for the first time, an Environment Minister has recognised that the Lake Malbena proposal will significantly and adversely impact threatened species, wilderness character and reduce natural and World Heritage values”. 

In a further angle on this long running campaign, the Minister has contradicted the Head of the Parks and Wildlife Service in Tasmania, Jason Jacobi, who in November 2019 told the ABC that (the proponents) “Daniel and Simone Hackett have shown that helicopter access into Halls Island can be managed appropriately”. In contrast, the Minister for the Environment said in her statement that the impact from the use of helicopters on the World Heritage Area was “likely to be significant” and the scale of loss of Wilderness values was “substantial”.

The announcement was also welcomed by Fishers and Walkers Against Helicopter Access Tasmaniawho have been leading the campaign against the helicopter tourism development.

The Wilderness Society said that the clear majority of Tasmanians oppose this proposal:

“In July 2018, when the first round of public submissions opened for comment on the proposal under the EPBC Act, 99% of the 886 submissions opposed the proposal. In 2019, of the 1,346 submissions received by Central Highlands Council for its planning permit consideration, all but three opposed the proposal. Then this year, over 2,300 people signed a petition asking Sussan Ley to stand up for wilderness values when she considers the Wild Drake proposal”. 

“Big Tourism in Tasmania is in the contradictory position of both recognising that, above all else, it’s wilderness that is the top trigger that inspires tourists to visit the island, while championing a proposal that would degrade wilderness quality itself.

“It’s not possible for this helicopter-tourism proposal to proceed without it degrading wilderness and World Heritage values. Tourism that protects, respects, even restores, natural values like wilderness is what Tasmania should be a world-leader in, not privatising national parks,” said Mr Allen. 

Minister Ley was required to remake the decision on whether the Lake Malbena proposal required assessment under the EPBC Act, after TWS successfully challenged an earlier decision in the Federal Court last year. TWS was represented by the Environmental Defenders Office in that proceeding.

“The Minister’s reasons confirm that TWS was justified in challenging the original decision on the Lake Malbena proposal to the Federal Court, and reaffirms how important it is that the community continues to have the right to undertake such legal challenges.

“Despite the overwhelming evidence about the significant impacts of the proposal on the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, which are now acknowledged by Minister Ley,  the Tasmanian Government has backed the Lake Malbena proposal all the way. 

“We are concerned that the Commonwealth Government is currently proposing to delegate its approvals and assessment functions under the EPBC Act to the states. This case provides a clear demonstration of why Tasmania cannot be trusted to properly assess and regulate developments within our precious World Heritage areas,” Mr Allen said.