Senate debates

Thursday, 27 February 2020


South Coast Track Huts Walk; Order for the Production of Documents

4:34 pm

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I table a document relating to the order for the production of documents concerning the South Coast Track Huts Walk

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

As I and many people in Tasmania feared, the government is making a public interest immunity claim here to prevent the Senate from having documents that the Senate has actually ordered the government to provide. I want to provide some context here of what's going on in Tasmania. The state government in Tasmania is secretly selling and leasing public areas, many of which are in our national parks and the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. They are public places that the Tasmanian government is the temporary steward of on behalf of the Tasmanian people, in regard to national parks, and on behalf of the people of the world, in regard to those places inside the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. They are publicly owned and they are being secretly leased to tourism developers for private profit. All the Senate sought from the government was the funding agreement between the infrastructure department and one of the proponents of these secret proposals—in this case to put huts on the South Coast Track in Tasmania.

I've been a wilderness guide. I was a wilderness guide for many years in Tasmania. The south coast is one of the most special places on our island, which makes it one of the most special places in the world. It is beautiful wilderness. It is pristine wilderness. It should not be leased to private developers in a secret and shonky process that completely lacks transparency, in a process that is dodgy and opaque. That is what the Tasmanian government is doing, and the Commonwealth government are now complicit in this lack of transparency and are complicit in this opacity because they are now refusing to reveal details of the funding agreement. They have already thrown some money at a tourism developer to develop these wilderness areas. It's not good enough. This secrecy is not good enough. This lack of transparency is not good enough.

These places are home to precious, beautiful, unique creatures, many of which exist nowhere else in the world. These places have been protected so we look after nature. They've been protected so we look after the Aboriginal cultural heritage values of those areas—and, believe me, the South Coast Track is rich in Aboriginal cultural heritage. Yet this federal government is now joining the Tasmanian government in secretly doing deals with developers. And we now can't even get a look at those deals, because of some spurious claim around commercial-in-confidence.

We know that money has changed hands here between the Commonwealth government and the proponent of huts on the South Coast Track. We know that money has changed hands, but we don't know how much money has changed hands. We don't know the terms of that funding agreement. That's what we asked for. That's what the Senate asked for this week. That is the request that the government has rejected.

These are precious places. They are unique places in the world. We should all be committed to looking after these places, not just for ourselves, the beautiful animals that make them their home, the beautiful plants these places are home to and the rich Aboriginal cultural heritage of these areas but for future generations, because that's what we have signed up to do. This is inside the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. It's inside Tasmania's national park system. The state and Commonwealth governments have signed up to a dodgy, secretive process—there are corrupt deals and corrupt management plans. They have secretly handed over unknown amounts of cash to tourism developers and have then refused to reveal the terms of that exchange of funding.

If we had a Commonwealth ICAC, I would be referring it to that ICAC today, because this is an absolute disgrace. But, of course, we don't have a Commonwealth ICAC, because the Liberals will not deliver an ICAC. Nearly two years after they first promised it, what have we got from the government in regard to the establishment of a Commonwealth ICAC, an anti-corruption authority? Absolute crickets—that's what we've got from the government.

Tasmania deserves better. Australia deserves better. Our World Heritage listed wilderness in Tasmania deserves better. It is not a plaything of the state or Commonwealth governments. We have agreed with the United Nations that we will look after it for future generations. We have agreed to look after nature, to look after those beautiful creatures and to look after the Aboriginal cultural heritage of that area. As someone who has walked the South Coast Track on numerous occasions, I am devastated that we are looking at tourism developments—commercial huts—on that track. I can hear the mutterings from the government benches here. Get down there and have a look for yourself before you comment on this matter. I've been down there many times. I know how beautiful it is. I know how precious it is. I know how valuable it is of itself. It nurtures all of our spirits to look after these places. To have them traded off to commercial tourism operators in deals that are secret, to have funds handed over to commercial operators with absolutely no transparency and ultimately, as we've found out today, in a secret arrangement between the Commonwealth infrastructure department and the proponent of huts and tourism developments in a pristine wilderness area is a disgrace, and the government has not heard the last of this.