The South Coast Track travels 85k m from Melaleuca to Cockle Creek along the coastline of south western lutruwita/ Tasmania. It traverses wild beaches and mountains and feels like one of the most remote places on earth. The landscape that the track passes through is a part of the massive Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) that protects most of the south west of the state.
As part of the state government’s agenda to see more private development within World Heritage and national parks, a seven-day guided walk has been proposed for the South Coast Track, which would include six walkers’ privately operated huts built.
This is being strongly opposed by the environmental movement and outdoors community. Aboriginal people have also expressed concerns:
The ABC reports that ‘Palawa woman and Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre campaign manager Nala Mansell said the south-west was a significant cultural landscape’.
“The tracks that exist at the moment are very close to some of the most ancient Aboriginal heritage that you could find anywhere in the state, so there’s huge concern on behalf of the Aboriginal community about what an influx of further tourism would do to those sites and what building or further infrastructure could potentially damage or destroy ancient heritage,” Ms Mansell said.
The Wilderness Society Tasmania campaign manager Tom Allen said the state government’s “policy settings were all wrong”.
“The Wilderness Society supports and wants to see a thriving nature tourism sector alongside thriving ecosystems and properly protected and respected wild areas, national parks and World Heritage.”
Now the Tasmanian Wilderness Guides Association (TWGA) have also expressed concerns and called for a halt on all further developments within the TWWHA until a new assessment and approval process is implemented.
We question why Expressions of Interest (EOIs) are continuing to proceed under the Reserve Activity Assessment (RAA) process when this process has been so thoroughly discredited as an appropriate mechanism for assessing and approving private tourism development proposals in national parks.
Said Kenna Reid-Clark, President of the TWGA,
“Since 2014 when the Tasmanian Liberal Government created the EOI process through to the present, not a single proposal within the TWWHA has made it to an operational stage. The flaws in the EOI and RAA processes were put on display with the Lake Malbena tourism development proposal. This proposal exposed how when there is no requirement for assessment documentation to be made publicly available, when public consultation is determined by the proponent, and when leases and licences are granted prior to projects obtaining legally required approvals, you end up with a mess.
If other proposals within the TWWHA progress under the same process they can expect an equal level of community pushback, and this damages Tasmanian tourism as a whole.”
The Tasmanian Government’s “Unlocking the potential in our Parks” policy has been found wanting at every turn:
- In 2021 UNESCO called for an effective moratorium on private developments within the TWWHA, citing the lack of a detailed plan for a comprehensive cultural assessment. This highlights international recognition of the lack of due process being observed by the Tasmanian Liberal Party in its haste to open up Tasmania’s most pristine areas to private development under the flawed EOI and RAA processes.
- In the Lake Malbena case, the Federal Court made it clear the RAA has no status under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act) and that the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment cannot rely on the RAA process in making decisions under the EPBC Act because the RAA process is non-statutory and not binding.
- The Tasmanian Government has conceded the RAA process is in need of reform; with the Minister for Parks, Jacquie Petrusma, announcing on 9 September 2021 that the RAA would be replaced by a statutory process to provide for increased transparency and a more robust process.
The TWGA believes existing EOIs currently being assessed under the RAA process should be halted until a new assessment and approval process is implemented – one that includes transparency and genuine community consultation; an independent, expert-driven assessment process; and fair treatment of all tour operators.
With regards to the proposal for private huts on the South Coast Track that has recently been in the media, first and foremost the proposal has in no way been given approval by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community and due to the huge cultural significance of areas within the South Coast Track, without the full support of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community this proposal should not proceed out of respect for lutruwita/Tasmania’s first people past and present.
We also believe more attention should be paid to existing tour operators currently providing guided walks on the South Coast track and the impact this development proposal is likely to have on their businesses. Several companies already operate successful commercial ventures on the South Coast Track. They provide domestic and international visitors a truly wild and challenging experience that is environmentally low impact and compatible with the wilderness values of the TWWHA.
Said Kenna Reid-Clark,
“As professional wilderness guides, we are dedicated to having a deep understanding of the remote and wild areas in lutruwita/Tasmania and we take great pride and care in facilitating incredible experiences for visitors in our mountains, rivers, canyons and oceans. Minimal impact standards are at the core of our profession to ensure that adventure tourism in Tasmania is sustainable and that the cultural/environmental values of these areas are conserved for generations to come. Proposals such as the South Coast Track Huts Walk EOI will irreversibly alter the landscape and the experience of all who visit the area, many of whom love the South Coast Track for its wild beauty, isolation and lack of infrastructure.”