Queensland has the lowest percentage of national parks and protected areas in Australia. At 5 % of land area, our State Government has a long way to go to reach the International standard of 17%. National Parks are designed for the protection of nature and this Forum, The Promise – Double our National Parks in 10 years, will explore the issues around the expansion of national parks and the role of tourism in national parks.

The Forum will be presented in two parts with speakers and Q & A for each part.  The topic for Part 1 is the urgent need to expand our protected areas by double within 10 years. The topic for Part 2 explores the role of tourism in national parks, its impacts and benefits and its management.

14/6/2021 –

The Forum was attended by over 80 people and the feedback demonstrated that many learned much from the presentations. The issue of acquiring more protected areas for our flora and fauna and the use of these areas by people wanting to visit them is considerably complex. Professor Hugh Possingham pointed out that to reach the target of 17% of the protected area would mean Queensland managing an area the size of Italy or New Zealand. This is quite a challenge, but an essential one if we are to stop the alarming rate of species extinctions in Australia. Gecko will be working with the other conservation organisations to learn more so that our advocacy to increase the protected area is more effective.

The powerpoint presentations from the expert speakers will be uploaded to this website in the next couple of weeks so that you can refresh your knowledge from the Forum or see them for the first time. Professor Possingham spoke without a powerpoint , however, his collated notes are presented here

Powerpoint presentations can be accessed here:

Laura Hahn, Conservation Principle, National Parks Association Queensland  – click on this link

Dr Sally Driml is a member of the Board of Directors of the Wet Tropics Management Authority and Chair of its Community Consultative Committee and is an Honorary Senior Lecturer at the University of Queensland – click this link

Sonya Underdahl is an advocate and academic researcher – click on this link

Nick Weinert is Executive Director, Protected Area Strategy and Investment, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and Partnerships, Department of Environment and Science – click on this link

Fiona Wright – Executive Director, Permissions Management and Ecotourism Development QPWS and Partnerships, Department of Environment and Science – click on this link

When – 6.00 –9.00 pm  Thursday 10th June 2021

Where – The Auditorium, Robina Community Centre, 196 Robina Town Centre Drive, Robina.

Bookings for the Forum are through Eventbrite link here.

Tickets: $10 per person. Seating is limited so bookings are essential.

Refunds available until 5 June.  For enquiries, please contact Lois Levy on 0412 724 222.


The forum discussing our National Parks and Ecotourism in the Parks will be held as a part of Gecko’s Green Week program on the Gold Coast and will feature 6 expert speakers (see details below).

The forum will address:-

  1. The need for the Queensland Government to deliver on its promise, made in 2016 and 2020, to “double Queensland’s National Parks” from the current 5.6% to 17%
  2. An examination of the Queensland Government’s trend to ‘open up’ our State, Federal, and World Heritage listed national parks for private commercial tourism /ecotourism development such as glamping or resorts.

The forum focuses on two primary elements:

1.  Keep the Promise – Double our National Parks

The last two elections have seen the Queensland Government promise to expand our national parks from 5.6% to the international standard of 17%, which contrasts with their actions of cutting funding for new national parks by 65% from $20 million to $7 million per year since 2015. Recent surveys show that 84% of all Queenslanders’ want more national parks and reserves.  Queensland currently has the lowest percentage of national parks in Australia – less than half that of other states, despite being the home to more than 85% of all Australian mammals.

2.  Eco/Tourism

Queensland national parks are essential to our tourism industry and destination marketing. They currently provide a nine-fold return on investment, and an estimated $2.6 billion in tourism revenue p.a. and 17,000 jobs. Prior to 2012 there was no private tourism development in our national parks or world heritage areas except those of a historical nature. In 2012 the Queensland Government actively sought to ‘open up’ the 5% of land areas that is national parks and World Heritage Areas to private commercial tourism development through the Department of Environment and Science (DES) and the Department of Innovation and Tourism Industry Development (DITID). This policy remains a source of controversy in the community and is a subject worthy of debate.

Keynote Speakers

Part 1 National Park Expansion

Laura Hahn from National Parks Association of Queensland.  Laura is the Conservation Principal of the National Parks Association of Queensland with  more than 25 years of experience in environmental management and conservation.

In the past decade, Laura has been involved in several tangible conservation outcomes: removing cattle from 23,000 ha of state forest and conservation parks, expanding a nature refuge by ~1,000 ha, establishing voluntary declaration areas for Endangered and Vulnerable threatened species, constructing a fishway on the Condamine River, and coordinating the Yabba Links National Parks Proposal which is expected to expand the National Park Estate by more than 15,000 ha, in stages over 2-10 years.

She has a Bachelor of Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo, Canada with a Joint Honours in Biology.

Professor Hugh Possingham became Queensland Chief Scientist in September 2020.

He is a conservation scientist and mathematician who has held positions in the university, public and not-for profit sectors.  He is a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.

He completed his PhD at Oxford University in 1987 as a Rhodes Scholar and was most recently the Chief Scientist at The Nature Conservancy, a global conservation organisation operating in 79 countries.

A winner of two Eureka Prizes, his most significant contribution to conservation was the co-development of Marxan, software first used to rezone the Great Barrier Reef, and now used in almost every country in the world to inform the expansion of their marine and terrestrial protected area systems.

Hugh has worked with all levels of government and many not-for-profit organisations, pro bono, to improve the state of Australia’s threatened species and habitats.  He is currently on the board of directors of BirdLife Australia.

He has supervised over 200 honours students, doctoral candidates and postdoctoral fellows. He has published >650 peer-reviewed publications, >30 in Nature and Science.


Nick Weinert

Nick Weinert is Executive Director, Protected Area Strategy and Investment, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and Partnerships, Department of Environment and Science, a role he has held for over two years. Prior to this, Nick has had senior roles in the department with responsibilities including wildlife, threatened species and climate change.

Nick has responsibility for implementing the Queensland Protected Area Strategy, a role that includes responsibility for expansion of the public and private protected area estate. Nick’s current role also includes responsibility for marine and terrestrial protected area policy and on-park visitor experience. Nick will present on the ways in which the Queensland Government is seeking to expand the protected area estate, including via partnerships with non-government organisations and First Nations.

Part 2. Eco/Tourism

Fiona Wright.

Executive Director, Permissions Management and Ecotourism Development QPWS and Partnerships, Department of Environment and Science.  Fiona has more than 20 years’ experience in senior leadership roles.

Her breadth of experience includes operations, service delivery and business transformation across areas such as corporate services, asset management, procurement, and innovation. Fiona is currently the Executive Director of Ecotourism Development, QPWS in the Department of Environment and Science (DES).

Fiona oversees the ecotourism program in DES, working closely with the Department of Tourism, Innovation and Sport and Recreation (DTIS) to deliver regional projects adjacent to and within protected areas.

Program priorities are tourism, social benefits, and improvement in environment through re-investment of revenue.  More recently the Ecotourism Assurance Framework was developed and is currently under pilot within QPWS.   The QPWS ecotourism team is also working with DTIS in the development of a new Queensland Ecotourism Plan.

Fiona has a Bachelor of Commerce, a Diploma in Government (Procurement and Contracting), has completed the ANZOG Executive Fellows Program, and is a graduate of the Institute of Company Directors.

Sally Driml

Dr Sally Driml is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Wet Tropics Management Authority and Chair of its Community Consultative Committee and is an Honorary Senior Lecturer at the University of Queensland.

Sally’s expertise is grounded in environmental science and economics.  She has research and policy experience in the areas of tourism, environmental policy, protected area management and climate change.  Sally has direct experience in environmental and protected area management through positions held at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency.

A focus of Sally’s research work is highlighting values of protected areas, for example, a project recently completed for the Queensland Department of Environment and Science estimated and publicised the economic values of Queensland’s National Parks for tourism and recreation.

Sally holds a Bachelor of Science (Honours) from Griffith University, Masters in Regional Science from the University of Queensland and a PhD from the Australian National University.

Sonya Underdahl is an academic researcher focusing on private commercial tourism development in protected areas, including national parks.

Sonya was one of the first eco-tour guides from the Gold Coast, working for Aries Tours – an organisation which was the pioneer of ecotourism globally – the managers contributing to establishing Ecotourism protocols, the Montreal Protocol and bringing in legal changes to protect and support our tourism industry and its staff.

Sonya worked as a ranger/ manager for the Great Walks, Fjordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand. The Great Walks of New Zealand, particularly the Routeburn is a model of successful ecotourism, private tourism development in national parks throughout the world.

She has a double Master’s degree in Media and Japanese from Griffith University, spent numerous years lecturing in Environmental Sociology – Ecotourism for Edogawa, Japan, organising the United Nations Workshop for Nature and Culture Linkages, Tokyo, Japan and representing Australian Tourism in Tokyo at the worlds largest tourism expos. Currently an active memer of National Parks Association Japan, Ecotourism Japan, Gecko Environment Council, NPAQ, and EcoTourism Australia she is actively involved in promoting conservation with tourism in our protected areas.

Background information:

National parks are primarily for the protection of nature as set out in the Queensland Nature Conservation Act 1992.  The importance of these areas in conserving Queensland’s amazing array of native plants and animals cannot be understated as more and more species are pushed out of their habitat by various types of development and the impact of climate change.

National parks are also important to humans with visits to national parks increasing substantially during the Covid 19 pandemic as people recognise the importance of connecting with nature for their physical and mental health as well as general enjoyment and learning about nature. This trend and the loss of biodiversity has demonstrated the urgent need for more land area in Queensland to be protected in the form of national parks or protected areas.

More controversially, national parks are being opened up to commercial development, a trend that concerns many in the community. Globally there are less than 200 private commercial tourism developments in national parks or world heritage listed areas, with most countries, including China, working to decrease tourism developments or resorts in their protected areas.

In Queensland the Government is actively seeking private tourism developers to develop ecotourism resorts and infrastructure inside our previously undeveloped national parks, including World Heritage areas under the Qld Ecotourism Trails Program. Recent private commercial tourism developments on the Gold Coast and the Scenic Rim include the Green Mountains of O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat and Spicers Retreats on the Main Range National Parks – both of which are in World Heritage Areas. Other developments being undertaken include the Springbrook Cableway, Hinchinbrook, Stradbroke Island, Cooloola Great Walk, Paluma Wallaman Falls, Wangetti-Port Douglas, Whitsunday Islands National Park.

Historically, tourism organisations continue to pressure the governments to allow private commercial tourism developments in our National Parks, often leading to large scale protests and legal actions, such as the Halls- Malbena case in Tasmania/or Kangaroo Island  development or the Gold Coast Cableway (Gold Coasters have been and continue to fight this for over 22 years!)

What Eco-Tourism Guides and Companies Have to Say!

Keisuke Fujii

  • Gold Coast Senior Head Guide and Assessor
  • Ecoguides Australia Assessor and Guide
  • Initial guide and helped establish Ecotourism Australia
  • Helped design guide regulations and helped bring in award wages and conditions for tour guides and tourism organisations
  • 22 years guiding in National Parks and
  • Specialised guide – ecology

Keisuke Fujii is one of the first Ecoguides under Ecotourism Australia. He has won global awards for his guiding and has represented Australia internationally for over 20 years, appearing in nature documentaries, radio and TV shows, Tourism Expos, a keynote speaker at tourism symposiums including at a UN level. He has trained international guides and consulted both within Australia and internationally, many of whom have gone on to win domestic guiding awards.

A proud Gold Coaster, a husband and father of two girls, Kei and his family have dedicated their lives to nature conservation and tourism. He strongly advocates for the doubling of National Parks, recognising the economic benefits and necessity for both himself, local operators and the community. “National Parks provide a nine-fold return on investment and for guides like me, the increase in National Park size is essential to biodiversity protection, as well as promoting nature tourism in Australia which provides revenue and maintaining jobs”.

  • Owner of Vision Walks Eco Tours and specialist guide
  • Ecoguides Australia Award winner
  • Winner of 2019 NSW Regional Tourism Awards
  • Environmental Scientist and qualified Park Ranger
  • Supporter and volunteer for Environmental programs including supporter, volunteer and sponsor of the Friends of the Koala rescue organisation which looks after sick or injured koalas
  • 13 years guiding and supporting our local community through wildlife tourism

Wendy, a proud small business owner, ensures her touring products contribute to a positive ‘triple bottom line’. “Tourism needs to be contributing positively on three primary levels –

  • Economically for the local community by sourcing products from our region and employing local staff. We make sure that when I benefit, they do too. We don’t monopolise and ensure that our region is showcased for all to benefit.
  • Socially – our tours contribute to a healthy interaction with the community. We walk on private and public land, we use and meet a variety of local experts and contribute to a better society through promotion, support and sponsoring of local events and our guides are volunteers for a variety of local organisations – including tree planting, community outreach (teaching locals IT skills) as well as participating in environmental surveys  and supporting wildlife organisations as a volunteer.
  • Environmentally –  our tours go by the ethos, take only photos and leave only footprints. We don’t support the development of our national parks, we need to protect them. Our company prides itself on low impact, responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment. There has been a massive drive to develop our national parks and world heritage areas, this is not what we are supporting. We can provide all the interaction with nature without compromising conservation.

The conservation of our national parks and World Heritage areas is essential to tourism and future generations. We are custodians and it is our responsibility to protect and conserve what little is left of our environment.

Takashi Furutani

  • General Manager IMP Tours
  • Ex General Manager of CT Tours, Crest, JPT
  • Gold Coast tourism – World Heritage Tourism, Ecotourism Specialists

Having initially come to the Gold Coast for a brief holiday visit.  Takashi – a tourism expert, fell in love with the National Parks and World Heritage Areas of the Scenic Rim. He has dedicated over 20 years to the Scenic Rim, working to promote, protect and ensure quality tours and representation of the region.

Takashi often sends his top guides internationally to represent the Scenic Rim and Gondwana Rainforests of Australia at the worlds largest tourism expo such as the JATA Tourism Expo Japan, provided his guides for numerous international nature television programs, radio chat programs, as well as international conferences, including the UN for promoting ecotourism and conservation.

A well respected member of the Gold Coast community and throughout the Scenic Rim, he has maintained relationships with a diverse range of businesses throughout the region. “We are a business that accesses the parks but then leaves access to cafes, restaurants, and tourism organisations such as SkyWalk and Forest of Dreams. Consequently, we support a large range of businesses throughout the Scenic Rim and Gold Coast. Some relationships have lasted over 20 years! I’ve watched owners get married, have kids and pass businesses onto the next generation. Its not just about me, its about supporting our whole community”.

“Unfortunately, tourism was recently listed by the IUCN World Heritage Outlook 3 by Osipova in December 2020. It is listed as one of the greatest threats to World Heritage sites globally, after Climate Change and Introduced Threats. This has a huge impact on our ecotourism product! We are competing against some amazing destinations and products with exceptional wilderness status globally.

The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia had their conservation outlook status deteriate since 2017. This is partly attributed to the increasing frequency and severity of fires throughout 2019-20 – directly impacting our company and others on the Coast that utilise the Gondwana Rainforest region. Ive seen companies collapse this year. Good, solid, high quality organisations through no fault of their own. We’ve been through droughts, fires, Covid-19, and now – a deterioration in our WH status!

Globally there are estimated to be only 200+ resorts in parks and that is down from 250 a few years ago! How can we compete when other countries are moving resorts out of their parks and promoting untouched wilderness? Places like China! They are literally moving resorts and accommodation out of their parks!

Development within parks and deterioration of our World Heritage resources is extremely problematic for us. It reduces the value of the areas we are promoting.

Research shows that Chinese and Japanese tourists want wilderness experiences, but not be accommodated within the parks. Our clients are generally well-educated, want high end products and services, qualified guides – ecologists, environmental scientists, zoologists. They pay to experience wilderness but return to the Gold Coast for high end accommodation and services.

In order to remain competitive, it is essential that our World Heritage Sites and National Parks are protected from further damage and preferably increased in size”.

Mark Norek

  • Managing Director – Lifes an Adventure
  • Winner of more than 30 Australian Tourism Awards over 10 year time period including multiple wins for NSW Tourism Awards – Adventure Tourism, NSW Awards of Excellence – Ecotourism, Awards of Excellence – Tour Operator, Blue Mountains Tourism Business of the Year, Greater Sydney Tourism Awards – Adventure Tourism, Tour Operator.

One of the most successful Ecotourism business owners in Australia, Mark has spent more than 12 years of his life dedicated to building up and supporting a high end globally competitive Adventure and Ecotourism product.

Originally from Tasmania, Mark, is one of many operators throughout Australia opposing any development of our National Parks and World Heritage Areas.

“National Parks are areas kept in trust for the Australian public. They own it, the government manages it. As public goods, it is essential to ensure that parks are kept for all persons and not for private commercial development. The parks are for everyone and not just a select few.

It is quite easy for a company like Life’s an Adventure to operate a walking tour adjacent to a National Park or World Heritage Area. We do this throughout Australia. On the Gold Coast, we host luxury tours to the Scenic Rim – we are lucky to have Lamington, Springbrook, Mount Barney and Main Range national parks that contain some of the most spectacular World Heritage Gondwana Rainforests of Australia. Rainforests currently comprise only 0.3% of Australia, and Gondwana Rainforest is only 59,223ha of that – a minute percentage of 0.0.. %! It is essential that we conserve that, why would anyone would deliberately develop it? Prior to 2012, there was no private development in our national parks or World Heritage areas except those of a historical nature. Now we are watching as development is progressing through the last wilderness we have?!

Our environment is reeling from droughts, bush fires & climate change. This is a time when focusing on recovery is essential. We will lose our parks, our wilderness if we don’t make a concerted effort to conserve and protect our environment. Tourism does not need to develop within national parks or World Heritage Areas to be successful. All tourism companies, except a small handful since 2012, operate tours without putting up cabins or developing inside National Parks.

We believe in a more sustainable approach – using local accommodation providers, restaurants, cafes, wineries and employ local expert guides. We end up with a positive triple bottom line – everyone wins – environmentally, socially, and economically. Local businesses are happy,

The Parks are for every one and not the select few. We must protect our national parks and World Heritage Areas from development.