The long awaited Report by the Auditor-General into the Tasmanian state government’s expressions of interest for tourism investment opportunities (EoI process) was released on 22 September 2020.
Some media are describing the report as endorsement of the state government’s policy of unlocking our national parks. This is nonsense! The Auditor-General’s inquiry was into the EoI process. This is the mechanism for implementing the unlocking policy, not the policy itself.
Careful reading finds that the report criticises both the EoI process and the Parks and Wildlife Service’s Reserve Activity Assessment (RAA) process, most notably ‘(the) RAA is not geared to deal with more complex proposals received through EoI’.
The TNPA’s plain English translation of this bureaucrat-speak is ‘RAA is not fit for purpose’, which is what the we have been arguing ever since the EoI process was first announced; the reform of both the EoI and RAA processes is essential if Tasmania is to achieve public confidence in decision making.
Other criticisms by the Auditor-General included:
- Appointment of Assessment Panel members had a narrow focus.
- Assessment criteria and scoring methodology could be improved.
One of the less credible findings of the report was that ‘transparency of the EoI process was reasonable’. This was justified on the basis that ‘there has been a reasonable balance struck between protecting the commercial confidence of proponents and public disclosure in relation to proposed usage of community assets’. The ‘public disclosure’ consists of putting a minimal description of the proposal on the Coordinator General’s website once the project is able proceed to licence/lease negotiations. If claims of a transparent EoI process are to have credibility a much more comprehensive description of the proposal as well as the Assessment Panel Evaluation Report must be made public.
The report’s recommendations do not go very far towards providing a robust process for the assessment of development proposals on reserved land but they do include two that are a small step in the right direction:
- Increase the rigour of the public consultation as part of the RAA process to improve the level of transparency or objectivity.
- Review the composition of the EoI Assessment Panel, specifically to obtain broader representation of community stakeholders.