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Issue #1545      2 May 2012

O’Farrell turns his sights on national parks

The NSW Liberal/National government is launching an inquiry into NSW national parks, particularly those created to protect the threatened river red gums of the Murray-Darling basin, and the other very large parks in northern NSW.

That’s very bad news for the parks. Three members of the government and one member of the ultra-conservative Shooters and Fishers Party moved a motion for the inquiry, which will examine the possibility of implementing a so-called “sustainable use” policy with regard to the parks. It will also re-examine the creation or enlargement of national parks by the previous Labor government within the last 20 years. The inquiry is to be chaired by Robert Brown, the leader of the Shooters and Fishers Party.

Background

The word “sustainable” as used by the government is a gross euphemism. It has nothing to do with promoting a sustainable environment – quite the reverse. The government represents the interests of big business, for whom the existence of vast natural resources in national parks is a shocking waste and a maddening irritant – and, of course, a totally unjustifiable blockage to the creation of profits.

For big business and the government “sustainable use” means opening up the parks, not just for hunting, but also for logging and mining. The Shooters and Fishers Party has been campaigning for permission to hunt in national parks, but the pressure to which the government is responding comes from the timber and mining industries.

The North-East Forest Alliance spokesperson Dailan Pugh has pointed out that eight years ago the Labor government gave the timber industry a guarantee of large sawlogs from state forests, but that it could not meet the demand. The current government must now buy back commitments and pay huge sums in compensation, unless it can find an alternative source of supply, and some National Party members have been calling for the opening up of the national parks for timber logging.

The Hunter Valley and other areas across the state are becoming hideously pock-marked with vast open-cut coal mines, and a grim battle is being fought between coal seam gas mining companies and farming communities over mining exploration and extraction in agricultural areas. The National Party itself is split over the question of coal seam gas mining.

Much of the coal and coal seam gas deposits are located beneath national parks, and the mining industry is keen to gain access to them. And the O’Farrell government is lending a very sympathetic ear.

Rising in revolt

People concerned about the environment will not be fooled by the term “sustainable use” in reference to opening up the national parks. Farmers will see the move as confirmation of their impression that the mining industry wants to get its hands on every square inch of Australian land that has potential for mineral extraction.

The announcement has been opposed by a number of concerned organisations. The North-East Forest Alliance and the National Parks Association of NSW (NPANSW) have both called on people to ask their local state government member for personal commitments that they will not support the revoking of national parks or opening them up for logging or shooting.

The government has given its word that it will maintain the River Red Gum reserves, and that it will continue to prohibit hunting and grazing in national parks. However, its actions have now called those commitments into question.

Pepe Clarke, Nature Conservation Council CEO, declared: “This inquiry puts the fox in charge of the chicken house. For years Shooters and Fishers MLC Robert Brown has campaigned to gain hunting access to national parks, under the guise of ‘sustainable use’, and has repeatedly called for the River Red Gum National Parks to be revoked”.

Kevin Evans, NPANSW Chief Executive Officer, commented:

“Under the guise of a review into public land management in NSW, the inquiry’s poorly-drafted and outrageous terms of reference identify case studies that will be reviewed, including the River Red gum and Yanga National parks in the Riverina, Toorale Station and native hardwood forests in the state’s north.

“…The chair of the inquiry, Mr Robert Brown, is widely known to be lobbying the government not to create more national parks or marine parks, and seeks approval for recreational hunting in 29 national parks.

“…If the inquiry recommends the roll-back of a national park, it would send shock waves internationally and set an unfortunate precedent for a developing country.”

Moreover, a decision to roll back protection of the northern or River Red Gum parks would set a precedent for any of the state’s other parks – even the iconic Royal National Park south of Sydney, the oldest in Australia and second-oldest in the world.”

Keith Evans has also stated: “If the government were to implement recommendations from the inquiry to roll back protection for the Murray Valley National Park it would spark another war between a state government and the federal government, which would have to treat this decision as a trigger to intervene under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999”.

Let’s hope so. Unfortunately, the Gillard government’s performance regarding other environmental questions, for example the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, places this in some doubt. It seems more likely that concerned citizens and organisations will have to bear the brunt of this battle themselves.  

 

Next article – Council of Australian Governments – Deregulation and privatisation agenda

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