We now know the outcome of the 3 March 2018 Tasmanian State election; the Liberals returned with a reduced majority.
There has been some shuffling of ministerial responsibilities compared to the previous government with Premier Hodgman now responsible for both Tourism and Parks. It is hard to predict how this will play out. Direct access to the Premier by the Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) can only be an improvement but the Premier has even less time to devote to his many ministerial responsibilities than the rest of cabinet – we have to hope that he finds time to consider the advice of PWS, and groups such as TNPA, as well as that from tourism interests.
There are some positive signs: two major government initiatives in their previous term were the push to ‘unlock’ our national parks and the soon-to-be-implemented Statewide Planning Scheme. One would have expected these to be prominent when the government listed its achievements, but both were conspicuous by their absence during the election campaign. This suggests that they may not have been as successful as anticipated and there may be scope for some reconsideration during the next four years:
- The government does not have many ‘runs on the board’ from its ‘unlock’ our national parks policy. Possibly it is starting to realise that few of the proposals are likely to be financially viable without substantial government subsidy, usually in the form of infrastructure construction.
- Just before the election the Local Government Association of Tasmania (LGAT) called for a review of the State Planning Provisions (SPP’s) for residential standards. This is not directly relevant to TNPA’s major concern of development control on reserved land but one would have expected the concerns of local government to have been addressed during the formulation of the new planning scheme. To have LGAT calling for review before the scheme is actually implemented is indicative of the government’s disregard for feedback from all parts of the community during the formulation of the Statewide Planning Scheme.
Liberal’s election commitments
A remarkable number of parks-related funding pledges were forthcoming during the campaign. Most of these are for specific infrastructure upgrades which are both welcome and long overdue. There is also funding for about 15 much needed new staff positions within the Parks and Wildlife Service. One has to wonder why some or all of this much needed funding could not have been allocated in previous budgets rather than ‘saved up’ for the election campaign, but better late than never!
There are two particular items of concern amongst these funding promises:
- Tasmania’s next iconic walk (i.e. the next Three Capes Track): $20m promised in total, commencing with $0.5m for a feasibility study which is to commence by determining the most suitable location. PWS had indicated that it is aware of the need for selection criteria but the project announcement does seem to be putting the cart before the horse – the starting point should not be identifying potential walk sites; there needs to be a rigorous study to quantify the demand for such a walk and the preferences of potential users. Firstly, is there really a demand for such a walk and is there a business case for it (Three Capes cost far more than the $20m allocated for this project)?
- The Cradle Mountain Cableway: $30m has been allocated for this and the construction of the main building at the long-overdue visitor centre put on hold to enable expressions of interest from private sector investors. This amounts to postponing construction of the visitor centre until a decision is made on the future of the cableway (the design of the visitor centre will depend on the chosen mode of transport and private enterprise is unlikely to be interested unless it is to be the starting location for the cableway). The cableway is subject to the findings of the $1m Transportation Study which has yet to commence. This is another ‘cart before the horse’. The upgrade to the shuttle bus service is proceeding and will take care of any likely increase in visitor numbers for the next few years. We have plenty of time to consider the appropriate experience to be provided to visitors at Cradle Mountain and the related question of how best to transport them between the visitor centre and Dove Lake. The cableway proposal originated in the so-called Cradle Mountain Master Plan. This is not a ‘plan’ as the word is usually understood, rather it is a marketing document based on questionable market research which apparently included an unrealistically low ticket price for the cablecar.