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Greater use of national parks is a worthy consideration

By Mark Poynter - posted Monday, 29 July 2013


In late June, Tasmanian Greens MP and Parks Spokesperson, Cassie O'Connor announced in a brief media release that national parks are under threat. Referring to mainland states, she "highlighted the alarming attacks on the integrity of national parks by Liberal Party majority state governments" and vowed to "fight any such moves in Tasmania".

Perhaps resigned to the prospect of both the Tasmanian and Federal Labor minority governments being ousted at upcoming elections, she went on to warn that "The Liberals cannot be trusted to look after Tasmania's national parks...." and that "This concerted push by state Liberal parties to undermine the integrity of national parks will only accelerate if Tony Abbott becomes Prime Minister."

Unsurprisingly, her views reflect those of the major ENGOs who for several years have attacked the Liberals and Nationals for policies that supposedly weaken environmental controls to favour development and commercial activities.

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In particular, they've targetted the Victorian Government's plan to encourage high-end commercial tourism in national parks; NSW plans to trial domestic stock grazing in some national parks; Queensland's recent decision to temporarily allow starving cattle to graze in five national parks; the lifting of bans on shore-based angling in NSW marine sanctuaries; the introduction of hunting in some NSW national parks to assist feral animal control; and a NSW proposal to consider re-introducing timber harvesting in some traditionally-used forests that recently became national parks.

Alarmist attacks against such proposals, plans and actions are to be expected from Greens politicians and ENGOs. However, such attacks are not expected to emanate from academic institutions whose scientists and researchers are presumed to think and act objectively and to rationally convey any concerns in a measured, unemotional, and apolitical manner.

It has therefore been somewhat disturbing to see some conservation scientists and academics recently voicing over-the-top condemnations of State government environmental policies. During the period from late May to mid-June,The Conversation web blog, which acts as a mouthpiece for Australia's academic community, published nine articles by conservation scientists and academics concerned about State environmental policies, mostly in relation to national parks.

The first, and arguably most prominent, of these articles was co-authored by eight academics from various Australian tertiary institutions, including two Professors and three Associate Professors and was titled 'Our national parks must be more than playgrounds or paddocks'. Its opening paragraph breathlessly warned that:

It's make or break time for Australia's national parks. National parks on land and in the ocean are dying a death of a thousand cuts in the form of bullets, hooks, hotels, logging concessions and grazing licences. It's been an extraordinary last few months, with various governments in eastern Australia proposing new uses for these critically important areas

The Conversation trades on the supposition of academic credibility through its self-promotion as an independent voice which publishes evidence-based analysis, free from the spin inherent to conventional journalism. Yet, as the above paragraph shows, this is an ideal that is being blighted by over-the-top alarmism from some of the nation's foremost scientists.

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In fact, when the policies, plans and actions that they are railing against are closely examined, it becomes apparent that they don't threaten Australia's national parks in any significant way and are in fact, more likely to be beneficial.

For example, an expectation of hotels and commercial tourism developments suddenly popping-up throughout Victoria's national parks looks pretty fanciful given that the Victorian Government actually requires potential developers to undertake a five-stage approvals process, including public consultation, before they can gain a lease; and that there is a requirement for proposals to be proven to be environmentally-sensitive and capable of generating a "net benefit for the community" before Ministerial approval can be granted.

Under such rigorous requirements, perhaps one or two high-end tourism developments could be expected to go ahead in the state's national parks. However, given that they would occupy only a miniscule fraction of the state's 3.5 million hectares of parks and conservation reserves, it's hard to imagine this posing any serious environmental threat. Indeed, far from being a threat, well planned eco-developments of the type operating in Tasmania's Cradle Mountain NP are lauded as one of the few ways of generating the significant tourism dollars that can help fund park management programs that can improve biodiversity conservation.

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About the Author

Mark Poynter is a professional forester with 40 years experience. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Foresters of Australia and his book, Saving Australia's Forests and its Implications, was published in 2007.

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