A controversial tourism project proposed for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area will face Federal assessment of its environmental impacts following a decision by the Federal Environment Minister today.

The proposed project – which would include private helicopter-accessed accommodation on Halls Island, Lake Malbena –  has been declared a controlled action under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), triggering a more thorough assessment of its environmental impacts at a Federal level and a further opportunity for public comment.

The declaration by Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley follows a Federal Court action by Environmental Defenders Office, acting on behalf of the Wilderness Society (Tasmania), which challenged the Commonwealth Government’s original decision to allow the project to proceed without assessment.

“This is about more than one project. There are dozens of similar projects proposed for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.”

Claire Bookless, Special Counsel – Hobart

Late last year the Federal Court decided in favour of the Wilderness Society (Tasmania) and found the Government’s decision to be invalid and ordered the Minister to remake the decision under the EPBC Act.

EDO Special Counsel Claire Bookless said the Tasmanian community would welcome the decision by Minister Ley to undertake a thorough assessment of the impacts of this project, as is required under the Commonwealth environment law.

“This declaration is vitally important because it indicates a need for a full, Federal assessment of this proposal to ensure it adheres to our international obligations around our World Heritage-listed areas,” she said.

“This is an opportunity for the Federal Minister to consider all the available evidence, including new expert evidence presented in recent court cases.

“Independent expert evidence has demonstrated this project would have an unacceptable impact on the wilderness values of the World Heritage Area through the construction of permanent buildings and by providing access into the heart of the protected area by private helicopter and related activities.

“The expert evidence has shown these impacts cannot be mitigated by, for example, a reduction in the number of flights.

“This is about more than one project. There are dozens of similar projects proposed for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, and the community needs to know we are abiding by our international obligations to protect this pristine and iconic natural area.

Ms Bookless said any project which may have an impact on the wilderness values of this area needed to be assessed at a Federal level under the EPBC Act, because it is this Commonwealth legislation which implements our international obligations under the World Heritage Convention.

“This decision also demonstrates the importance of retaining Commonwealth administration of assessment processes under the EPBC Act, which the Federal Government is currently proposing to devolve to state governments,” she said.

“This decision clearly shows that the impacts on wilderness values were not undertaken by the State Government through its Reserve Activity Assessment process, and therefore that the Tasmanian State Government reserve activity assessment (RAA) process is not up to scratch.

“Given the Tasmanian State Government’s emphatic support of this and similar projects, Australians need to know there is another level of government which is ensuring we abide by our international obligations to protect our World Heritage Areas.

“This decision also shows how important it is that third parties such as community groups have review rights over decisions relating to the EPBC Act, so the community can go to the Federal Court and correct errors that have been made in the decision-making process.”