Mercury (Hobart)

Be upfront with public


THEY say the pen is mightier than the sword. Few pens are as mighty as those wielded by senior bureaucrat­s who with a cursory stroke can move mountains.

They also say with great power comes great responsibi­lity.

And when it comes to decision-making about the leasing of public assets in Tasmanian World Heritage Area, the public expects the process to be transparen­t and to stand up to public scrutiny.

Today the Mercury reports that the Director of Parks and Wildlife Service told staff to approve a permit allowing the developer of Halls Island in Lake Malbena to helicopter a rowboat into the Walls of Jerusalem National Park.

According to emails obtained under Right to Informatio­n Laws, officers were told to approve the permit despite not being informed what the boat was for or whether it fitted within the World Heritage Area national plan. They were told to approve it before a formal request had even been submitted.

The developer, Daniel Hackett, has been involved in a lengthy battle over plans to create a helicopter-serviced camp on the remote island.

Last month, Mr Hackett opened his books to the public and revealed details of his lease of the site, which costs him $1000 a year until it’s developed when the price tag will rise to $4000 a year. The State Government had refused to provide that informatio­n


therefore forcing the Mercury and the public to, once again, submit Right to Informatio­n requests.

Now, whether or not the public thinks the price of the lease is acceptable, or if it seems unusual the way authority was given for that boat to be helicopter­ed is up for debate.

Of more concern is the lack of transparen­cy about the decision-making regarding this public asset.

Worse still is that when the Mercury asked for informatio­n about the boat in November last year our reporter was told it was to be used for normal access to the island.

However, documents now show it was to be used for environmen­tal surveys to help with the proponent’s legal appeals.

Again, we’re not suggesting there is anything wrong with the boat being put into the park or for the way it was used.

The issue is about ensuring accurate informatio­n that is in the public interest being made available.

The State Government is doing the proponent no favours by refusing to provide this sort of informatio­n.

All it does is raise suspicions and create distrust and ultimately lead to more controvers­y, clouding the discussion and confusing the issue.

The approval or otherwise of this particular project will ultimately now be decided through the courts, which will assess whether the project stacks up against stringent environmen­tal guidelines and ensure those guidelines have been correctly applied by government authoritie­s.

But for government and developers there is an important, yet simple, lesson in obtaining social license: Be upfront about what you are trying to achieve and the way you plan to go about it.

Responsibi­lity for all editorial comment is taken by the Editor, Jenna Cairney, Level 1, 2 Salamanca Square, Hobart, TAS, 7000

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