Eight former Tasmanian Government staff raise concerns about prison land process near Westbury
By Adam Holmes
11 December 2021
Eight former Tasmanian Government botanists, zoologists, ecologists and forestry researchers have accused the government of being "superficial" and misleading in its attempt to build a prison on land near Westbury.
The scientists - who were involved in developing or implementing the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement - sent a report on the Brushy Rivulet land to Premier Peter Gutwein and other ministers last month, but did not receive a reply.
The Tasmanian Government purchased the land in 1999 using $569,400 in Commonwealth funds as part of the RFA with a condition that it be "managed in perpetuity" for conservation purposes and be given legal protection.
The Brushy Rivulet land, with the outline of the proposed prison footprint on the southern corner, and 500-metre circle around a wedge-tailed eagle's nest to the north.
Progress was made in transferring the land to the Tasmanian Land Conservancy around 2015, but this never eventuated and the government ultimately chose a portion of it as its preferred site for a maximum security prison.
After it was selected, the government repeatedly stated the land did not have the conservation values for which it was originally purchased.
This has been heavily disputed by the former government staff, including individuals who worked in the Forest Practices Authority, DPIPWE and Private Forests Tasmania.
Their report stated that the department had been misleadingly downplaying the conservation values of the site, including internal communications from 2020 where officers outlined DPIPWE's position.
"We believe that the DPIPWE documents do not accurately represent the importance of the property from a conservation perspective," the report states.
"They also give a superficial view of the RFA processes that led to the Australian Government purchasing the property, and do not adequately consider the implications of legislation and agreements relating to values that are associated with the property."
They list four flora species listed as rare under the Threatened Species Protection Act - blue pincushion, handsome hooksedge, dwarf fanwort and curved rice flower - as being present either on or adjacent to the property, as well as three endangered and two vulnerable animals.
The Eucalyptus amygdalina forest type - or peppermint gum - was also an RFA priority community for protection.
"The Brushy Rivulet property has good landscape context - it forms part of a diverse forest corridor in a part of Tasmania where there has been substantial modification of native vegetation," the report reads.
The former scientists also claimed the Tasmanian Government's actions harmed Australia's reserve estates process.
"The failure to effectively reserve the Brushy Rivulet property, and the proposed development of a major prison complex on the property, have the potential to call into question the efficacy of the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement and Tasmania's (and Australia's) commitment to managing its reserve estate," the report reads.
Attorney-General Elise Archer this week announced that the development of plans for a prison at Brushy Rivulet were "on hold" while it consults with the community over the potential use of the Ashley Youth Detention Centre.
Core test drilling has been carried out on the site and a development application was planned to be submitted with Meander Valley Council early next year.
The department did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.