Controversial hiker’s accommodation will be built in a Kangaroo Island (KI) national park after a court case was resolved with compromise, but the State Government has been accused of shifting the goalposts to leave opponents little choice.

Key points:

  • Legal proceedings launched in the Supreme Court have been resolved through mediation
  • Eco-pods on Kangaroo Island are to be built closer to where originally proposed inside Flinders Chase National Park
  • The Greens and Opposition have questioned the use of delegated legislation to put pressure on the project’s opponents

Clusters of two-person accommodation pods inaccessible to road vehicles will be constructed inside Flinders Chase National Park after it was agreed to build them adjacent the KI Wilderness Trail rather than two kilometres away near Sandy Beach.

The latter location was given approval under South Australian Environment Minister David Spiers in 2019, sparking protests by local park volunteers who said the coastal location would destroy native vegetation and ruin the views of untouched wilderness for park users.

The Eco-Action KI group subsequently launched legal proceedings in the Supreme Court which has now been settled with mediation after all parties, including developer Australian Walking Company (AWC), reached a compromise.

“Hopefully what we’ve been able to come up with is a proposal, that has now been approved, that will balance conservation outcomes with the importance of the tourism economy on Kangaroo Island.”

Up to 10 two-person pods were to be placed on the headland in view of Sandy Beach.(Supplied: Bev Maxwell)

Put ‘over a barrel’

But Greens MLC Mark Parnell said the environmentalists were put “over a barrel” to reach agreement after two Development Regulation Variations were published in the SA Government Gazette on January 21.

He said the first regulation was designed to fast-track and “appeal proof” major private tourism projects in Flinders Chase National Park and prevent people legally opposing projects worth more than $1 million.

The regulations are in response to the 2019 bushfire that razed about 200,000 hectares of the island including park infrastructure and the walking trail itself.


“There’s something called Schedule 1A of the Development Regulations, a list of things that don’t need planning approval, and on that list is mostly small things such as if you want to build a pergola in your backyard or deck or swimming pool,” Mr Parnell said.

“What they have done is add developments worth more than $1 million in Flinders Chase National Park to the list.

“They have bundled with carports and solar panels and pergolas massive private tourism developments inside one of our most important national parks.”

Mr Parnell formally moved a disallowance last Wednesday and the Upper House is expected to vote the regulations out.

The Government today said the previous development approvals had been cancelled and approval granted for AWC to build “eco-sensitive accommodation pods along the KI Wilderness Trail after making changes to their original plans”.

Back on the track

But Labor MP Susan Close, a previous executive in the Environment Department, said the new deal with AWC appeared similar to what had been originally planned under the former Labor government.

“What I bridle at is the idea that David Spiers tries to take credit for being part of brokering this deal, given that he approved the development that the environmentalists took to court in the first place,” she said.

About 500 people in 2019 attended a rally at SA’s Parliament House steps to protest.(Supplied: Colin Wilson)

Ms Close added that the only reason the development did not take place was because of the court case and the bushfires.

“By putting in those regulations the Government at the last minute tipped the scales against the environmentalists,” Ms Close said.

“It sounds to me like a pretty unfair negotiation process. But if it’s landed well for the environmentalists, then that’s terrific.”

‘Majority’ wins

Eco-Action KI management committee member Fraser Vickery said the mediated outcome involved a lot of negotiation and, because the lodges would be moved back onto the track, the vast majority of opponents had seen their concerns addressed.

“The majority view was that if the pods, as they call it, were put back on the track, it would minimise impact and reduce the number of access tracks and that sort of thing,” he said.

Mr Vickery said the Friends of the Park were also heavily involved in the fight with several thousand supporters donating money to their cause.

Mr Spiers said there had been a lot of emotion involved in the debate, particularly in its early days.

He added that the Government “remained committed” to the regulations to undertake a “broader reimagining of the Western end” of the island following its destruction.

“I don’t believe they [the regulations] will be used, but the Government can have those in our back pocket in case they are needed,” Mr Spiers said.