Senate debates

Thursday, 15 February 2018


Director of National Parks; Consideration

6:09 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

This document is the annual report of the Director of National Parks. I draw the Senate's attention to the report because it does contain a lot of important data on the current expenditure and operations of national parks at a Commonwealth level. Because of the title 'national park', people assume that the Commonwealth plays a key role in most of the national parks around the country, when, in most cases, national parks are creations of, and governed by, state governments. If you look at this report, you will see that the vast majority of the parks coming under the governance of the federal Director of National Parks are marine national parks. It highlights the major failure of this government in particular to ensure ongoing proper protection of the marine reserves around Australia. Many people don't realise that Australia, in terms of its overall territory, is more water than land. It is not the fault of the Director of National Parks that there is inadequate protection of those marine areas; it is the fault of this government in deliberately trying to water down the protection of those marine parks.

I recall the decision—a very positive one by the previous coalition government—to significantly expand protected areas within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. That decision was made well over 10 years ago now and it was not without some controversy, but it has been shown to have delivered great benefits. The so-called green areas or no-take areas in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park have delivered not just great environmental benefits but also great benefits for so many communities along the coast of Queensland. I'm just using this as one example. As was argued at the time, not just by environment groups but by the Queensland Tourism Industry Council, this was part of a strong push to expand the protected areas in the marine park. It has been shown that this increases the capacity and resilience of fish stocks, in particular, and of other marine life that might otherwise be vulnerable, whether that is to commercial fishing or pollution from land based run-off or whether that is from warming waters or the impact of natural disasters, which are becoming more severe. You need more resilience, which means you need to have more areas that are protected from all of these significant impacts.

I recall a visit to Rockhampton not so long ago and talking to someone who has nothing to do with an environment group—in fact, they work for an energy company. They were talking about the massive improvement in recreational fishing along the coast near Rockhampton and how people were starting to go there because of its reputation as a great fishing location. It had become so because of the greater health of that marine environment, which was because of the increased green zone. So it wasn't locked it up for no-one to touch. It actually made it more accessible for more people and a healthier marine environment for the community to enjoy. The marine parks are much more than just coral reefs. They are made up of lots of other marine environments as well, which all merit protection and which deliver benefits—employment benefits and recreational benefits—for all Australians.

So, the real concern for the Greens and for so many other Australians is that previous efforts, including under the previous Labor government, to strengthen the resilience and effectiveness of our marine protected areas by making them more genuinely protected are being wound back under this government. It is a fight that the Greens and many other community groups—not just environment groups—continue to push back against, and we will continue to do so.

I would also like to briefly note the important role of the land based national parks under the joint management arrangements with Aboriginal traditional owners in the Kakadu National Park and the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. There is still room for improvement to enable the Aboriginal people from these areas to properly contribute to and be part of decisions about their lands and what happens to them. It was pleasing to see recently that a decision was made to finally stop people from walking up Uluru—that very, very sacred site for the traditional owners there. That was only able to be done because of the wisdom of past generations to allow the traditional owners to actually have a say over the rock—their sacred site. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.