Community Cabinet Briefing Paper-National Parks & Conservation Areas

1.  Minister/Agency Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing 2.  Topic title Commercial activities in National Parks and other conservation areas.

National Parks Review

3.  Background Since the current Government came to power 2012 they have made substantial changes to the status of conservation under the Nature Conservation Act so that the conservation of nature is no longer the primary objective of the act; moved the National Parks portfolio from the Department of Environment to the current portfolio which has shifted the focus of national parks from conservation to exploitation for human benefit; put out tenders for allowing commercial activities in national parks; allowed other previously banned activities in national parks such as horse riding; trail bike riding and four wheel driving; undertaken a review of national parks with criteria that is strongly weighted to economic benefits rather than conservation. 4. Issue Summary 1.  Gecko is very concerned about the Government policy of permitting commercial development including resorts within the bounds of national parks. The reason given for this is that it will open up national parks to visitors and provide new experiences for tourists despite the fact that there is no evidence that national parks have been “locked up” to tourists and visitors. Queensland has only 5% of its land area set aside in national park estate, the lowest in Australia, which is inadequate to represent the range of ecosystems, flora and fauna needing protection from various types of development. It is our considered opinion that permitting commercial activities within national parks will put the integrity of the national park as a place of refuge for flora and fauna severely at risk and will continue the appalling decline in biodiversity in Australia.  Gecko further believes that it is more beneficial to the communities surrounding national parks that the resorts are built outside of the actual national park so that the new venture better supports the economic viability of that community. Gecko has concerns about the:-
  • impacts (including cumulative impacts of several ventures) of commercial enterprises on national parks’ ecological integrity and
  • The steps taken to ensure that  there is appropriate benchmarking of the ecological state prior to approval,
  • The adequacy of monitoring and evaluation of impacts on the national parks’ ecosystems and wildlife.
  • Adequacy of qualified staff to deal with this extra work.
  • Information on what mechanisms ( including rehabilitation bonds) are in place to revoke leases and remove commercial infrastructure in the event that the venture is having an adverse impact on the national park ecosystems and wildlife or in the event that the venture fails to succeed commercially and must close.
2.   Gecko is seeking an update on the status of the review of all national parks and the purpose of this review and the interpretation of the criteria used to assess the national parks and other conservation areas. These criteria appeared to be heavily weighted toward the necessity of national parks to provide economic benefits to Queensland and failed to recognise the economic benefits of biodiversity. All Queensland national parks were given the status of national park as a result of extensive evaluation of the area’s ecological values and the need for protection of endangered species. We are extremely concerned that this review may result in the revocation of some national parks so reducing the percentage of national parks ever further. 3.     It is of great concern to Gecko that national parks are the only conservation areas protected from coal mining and coal seam gas extraction. We believe that if Queensland is to have a reasonably adequate system of protected area reserves for the conservation of flora and fauna that all conservation and nature reserves must be exempt from coal mining and coal seam gas mining. Biodiversity in Queensland, like the rest of Australia, is in serious decline largely from habitat loss from economic development of various types as well as natural events such as droughts and the increase in extreme weather events. The protected area estate is very small and permitting mining in these areas severely compromises their ecological integrity (in some cases completely destroys it) for the short term economic gain made from fossil fuels. These areas are not replaceable and offsets are an inadequate method of compensation for their destruction particularly as the offset areas themselves have no protection from the same mining exploitation. It does not reflect well on Queensland for overseas visitors to be aware that our conservation areas are so poorly valued that they can be mined. 5. Key Points / Issues 1.  Commercial activities in national parks and other conservation reserves are placing the ecological integrity of the national parks at serious risk and contributing to the further decline of biodiversity in Queensland. The lack of information about benchmarking, monitoring and evaluation of the impact of commercial activities on the ecological integrity of the national parks is of grave concern to our members. Our members are also gravely concerned about the lack of information of the process of removal of commercial enterprises and rehabilitation of damage done to the national park.
  1. The review of national parks is raising concerns of loss of national parks as well as concerns about the lack of transparent information being provided about the progress of the review and the interpretation of the criteria being used to evaluate our protected area estate.
  2. The protected area estate in Queensland is very small and should not be compromised by mining of coal and coal seam gas which have the rest of Queensland for their activities. Permitting mining in protected areas detracts from our international reputation as a country that cares about its threatened flora and fauna.
6. Requests 1.  Gecko requests that further consideration be given to the policy of allowing commercial development in national parks with a view to reversing this policy. In the event of this not being accepted that our members be provided with full information re benchmarking, monitoring and evaluation of the impacts of commercial developments and that information is provided about the rehabilitation requirements of failed commercial ventures. 2.     Gecko requests that further information be provided about the progress of the review of national parks, its purpose and interpretation of the criteria being used. 3.     Gecko requests that the Government review its policy of allowing coal, coal seam gas and other mining into conservation reserves and other forms of protected estate such as nature refuges and undertake to exempt these areas from mining exploitation and recognises the economic, social and environmental benefits of protecting biodiversity. Submitted by Lois Levy , Campaign Coordinator Rose Adams, Secretary.