A Vexed Question

Since the very first Queensland National Park was established in 1908 at Witches Falls on Mount Tamborine, the debate about the purpose of national parks has continued. Are national parks primarily for the conservation of nature or are they for the enjoyment of nature by the human population? Or, if it is to be both, what weight should the community give to conservation versus enjoyment?

Our national parks are not national as they are owned and managed by the State Government under the Nature Conservation Act https://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/view/pdf/2017-07-03/act-1992-020. The Act states that its primary purpose “is the conservation of nature” and “The conservation of nature is to be achieved by an integrated and comprehensive conservation strategy for the whole of the State” (s5).

While Gecko supports this objective, especially as our unique flora and fauna are disappearing everywhere else under development of one kind or another, we also support public access to national parks. Connection with nature is essential to our wellbeing and appreciation with respect for nature can only come about by visiting national parks or other conservation reserves.   Accordingly, Gecko encourages visitation by residents and visitors, but strongly advocates for better visitor facilities and interpretation opportunities in these beautiful places.

You can help protect our national parks and your rights to have access to national parks by signing this Petition sponsored by the National Parks Association of Queensland, https://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/work-of-assembly/petitions/petition-details?id=3040 .

The Petition states:-
“Queensland residents draws to the attention of the House that we strongly object to the construction of tourist facilities in Queensland national parks because:

  • It is privatising sections of national park. They are community assets primarily set-aside for biodiversity protection. There should be low-impact public access to national parks.
  • There has been a lack of consultation and engagement. First, there should be a strategic plan for protected area growth and management, including its value to the tourist industry.
  • This is a Conflict of Interest. The Government is partnering with commercial interests, when it is meant to be conserving national park biodiversity.
  • The Government is inappropriately offering public funds to develop infrastructure on public land, to support private interests.
Image source NPAQ website

Commercial Development in National Parks?

The current Minister for Tourism, Hon. Kate Jones, is keen to increase the number of tourists visiting Queensland and is pushing for commercial development within national parks. She cites the success of similar venues in Tasmania, however private development within national parks is contrary to the cardinal principal the Nature Conservation Act to conserve nature. It also enables developers to have exclusive access to parts of the national park which should be open to all.

The Minister’s proposal is widely opposed by Gecko and other conservation groups throughout Queensland as setting a very dangerous precedent.  Gecko does not oppose eco-tourism development on the borders of national parks, with the visitors being driven in, but believe strongly that it should not occur within the parks themselves.

Our national parks constitute only 5.3% of Queensland which leaves ample room for development outside of the national parks and they are certainly not “locked up” as often claimed as 58 million of people visit them each year.

The Queensland government has recently released a call for Expressions of Interest (EoI) from private entities to provide eco-tourism developments in three Queensland national parks. The link to the proposal is here: https://www.ditid.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/1409342/ecotourism-trail-eoi-brochure.pdf . It states “Operational facilities including accommodation and supporting utilities will be provided by the proponents. The Queensland Government will provide base trail and accommodation pad infrastructure, and service access infrastructure to further de-risk the projects for proponents.”   There does not appear to be any opportunity for public consultation in the timetable outlined in the Trails document.

Queensland national parks have suffered over decades from lack of adequate funding for acquisition and proper management and in the 2017-2018 Budget there was zero dollars for acquisition. This proposal will not add to the funding of the parks as it is intended that the Government, not the developer, will pay for the construction of basic infrastructure. Further the Government proposes to become a partner with the developer which will set them up with a clear conflict of interest between managing for conservation and managing to make a profit.

This proposal is opportunistic and designed to fulfil the mantra of jobs, jobs, jobs rather than a genuine interest in the protection of our national estate and the flora and fauna that depend on it.  The Minister states that these commercial developments will be sustainable, but not ecologically sustainable as required by the Act. Economic sustainability can easily compromise ecological sustainability.

Is the Government reneging on election commitments?

National parks are a key resource, accessible and owned by the public, i.e. they are public assets. Proposals to provide access to commercial interests in actually building within the parks, to enable them to profit from the use of national park land, to the exclusion of the public, are contrary to commitments taken to previous elections in Queensland in 2015 and 2017 that public assets would not be privatised.
Queensland’s 5.3% of its land area as national park has until now been protected from private development.

Other areas of Queensland are part of the protected estate, but do not have the special status of a national park. Queensland compares poorly with the other States of Australia in the area it has protected and the current Government aims to increase the percentage to 17%.

Further the commercial operations will not be paying towards achieving the goal of 17% protected estate. No clear pathway to this increase has been revealed to the community and an increase to the National Estate should not be reliant on handouts from those whose activities will place increased pressure on existing national parks.