By Rosamund Dallow-Smith and Pip Hinman
SYDNEY – Conservation and other groups are opposed to the NSW environment minister Frank Sartor’s National Park development bill, introduced into the NSW parliament on June 2. The plan will shift the focus of National Parks away from conservation toward development. It will also allow tourism to be formally recognised as a purpose of national parks, contravening the long-held principle that national parks were only for nature conservation and visitation.
Keith Muir, director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, said the National Parks and Wildlife (Visitors and Tourist) Bill 2010 will facilitate the issue of exclusive, private development rights in our National Parks.
“Essentially, this bill sets about regulating the privatisation of some of the best bits in our national parks”, Muir said. “The bill allows for sporting facilities, fast-food outlets, resorts and conferences. You name it, it’s there.
“And in case there’s a hot development opportunity not mentioned in the bill, there’s the special use of the word ‘including’ in the bill’s commercial facilities’ ‘shopping list, so that development is not limited to what’s on the list”, he added.
“This Bill is not an improvement in conservation management of national parks to facilitate the development of areas that are supposed to be set aside for nature. Anyone who thinks so has rocks in their head”, Muir continued.
Blue Mountains City Council and local conservationists are also against Sartor’s plan. A council motion in late May criticised the bill for facilitating new commercial development and accommodation in national parks.
Legal advice obtained by Colong Foundation for Wilderness said the proposed law would permit exclusive rights for a broad range of commercial uses of national parks including “tourist resorts, convention centres, shopping centres, fast food outlets, sporting facilities and fun parks, at the discretion of the minister”.
Currently, there are just 27 leases in 13 national parks, other than the 163 leases for the ski resorts in Kosciusko National Park, Muir said. The new law would open up national parks to thousands more leases – essentially privatising national parks.
“If the bill passes it won’t be long before the commercial outfitters are hot footing around in NSW wilderness areas by 4WD vehicle and helicopter”, Muir said.
“Parks will no longer be managed for the conservation of nature and quiet recreation. Under this bill, park managers who want to advance will be obliged to become a part of the new executive class that exercises power and control over the alienation of the public’s national parks. Such a management ethic will wreck national parks in the long run”, said Muir.
On May 12, Ian Cohen from the NSW Greens said, “National Parks exist because of tireless campaigning by thousands of community members over many decades”, adding “people are not going to simply stand by and let the government now put these National parks at risk”. He urged the Keneally ALP government to find new ways of increasing visitor numbers to National Parks and to “upgrade tracks and basic infrastructure, while protecting the biodiversity values”.
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