Despite having its application for state-level planning approval comprehensively rejected, and having no current application for state-level planning approval, Wild Drake Pty Ltd is still seeking federal-level (EPBC Act) approval for its helicopter-accessed tourism development on Halls Island in Lake Malbena in the Walls of Jerusalem National Park in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.
As required by this process, in September 2022 Wild Drake Pty Ltd invited public comment on its response to the federal Minister’s “Request for Further Information”. The process requires Wild Drake to provide to the federal Minister a summary of, and response to, this public comment, and to publish them within 10 business days of providing it to the Minister. On 27 April 2023 this material was published at here. Further public comment is not sought but publication provides the opportunity for TNPA and others to scrutinise Wild Drake’s summary and response, which were prepared by Daniel Hackett, to see how he has addressed our concerns.
The TNPA has worked through the lengthy summary and response documents and our impression is that many of the concerns we raised in 2022 have not been adequately addressed. We have written to Minister Plibersek and her department to draw their attention to these deficiencies and point out that if Mr Hackett’s summary document has not provided them with an adequate summary of our concerns, they should not assume that it adequately summarises everybody else’s either. As such, it does not provide an acceptable basis for her decision which is due 40 business after the receipt of Wild Drake’s summary and response.
The EPBC Act gives the federal Minister the option of publishing her draft decision for public comment prior to finalisation. Given the contentious nature of the assessment to date the TNPA has encouraged Minister Plibersek to do so.
Mr Hackett’s summary states that 626 comments were received but also refers, in somewhat ambiguous language, to “approximately 200 … pro-forma comments” and “many dozens, if not hundreds of additional submissions [that] represent longer submissions”. The EPBC Act requires Mr Hackett to supply “a copy of the comments received” to the Minister. The TNPA has been advised that “thousands” of pro-forma comments were made through the TWS website so there appears to be a discrepancy in numbers that needs to be explained. At the start of the comment process Mr Hackett stated on his Halls Island website that “All submitted comments and details will be published in full, as part of the EPBCA public comment process”. He has not yet done so despite this being the only opportunity for members of the public to confirm the integrity of the process. We will be encouraging Minister Plibersek to ensure that she has in fact received copies of all comments received by Mr Hackett.
We will also be encouraging the Minister to request Mr Hackett to publish a list of the names of everyone who made a comment (there was no formal acknowledgement of receipt of comments, and no acknowledgement whatsoever of comments submitted by means other than the form provided on his website). This would provide a vital integrity check; it would enable anyone who had commented to check that their name was on the list (i.e. their comment had been received) and it would clarify the total number of comments received. If this were a public comment process conducted by a state or federal government agency it would be standard practice to publish a list of the names of everyone who commented. We note that it is customary, and reasonable, to count substantive individual comments separately from proforma responses (e.g. ‘x’ individual comments and ‘y’ proformas were received), but it is usual, and important, that all comments including proformas and the most trivial are acknowledged and counted.
In the absence of such a list or the publication of “all submitted comments”, the TNPA encourages everyone who submitted a comment to Wild Drake as part of the 2022 process to contact Mr Hackett directly at email@example.com and request publication, as promised, of “all submitted comments” or, as a minimum, a list of everyone who commented.
UPDATE May 24th, 2023:
In response to a question by Greens Senator Nick McKim in estimates hearings on 24 May the department representative stated that 5306 comments had been received. Even if most of the additional comments were “proformas” this shows a far higher level of public concern than the 626 (plus some others) reported by Mr Hackett. We hope that Mr Hackett’s evasiveness over the actual number of comments will result in particularly close scrutiny of all aspects of his response. The department representative at the estimates hearings confirmed that the proposal will be subject to close scrutiny to ensure that all requirements of the EPBA Act have been met.