National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Adjustment of Areas) Bill

[Download PDF]

I contribute to this debate on the National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Adjustment of Areas) Bill 2016. It gives me great pleasure to stand in this place and speak about New South Wales national parks because our national parks are a standing legacy of the environmental record of Labor in New South Wales. New South Wales would be unrecognisable today without the huge estate of national parks gifted to the people of this State by former Labor governments and former Minister for the Environment Bob Debus.

Bob Debus is a former member for Blue Mountains and a former "Minister for everything" in this place, but his work as Minister for the Environment is his most lasting and enduring legacy. Bob Carr and Bob Debus spent a great deal of the 1990s and early 2000s ensuring large areas of bushland and wilderness throughout our State were invested in, protected and made accessible to the people of New South Wales. Over 350 new national parks were declared by Bob Carr and Bob Debus in that time. Between 1995 and 2011 Labor added more than three million hectares to the national parks estate. As has been mentioned before in this place by the former member for Marrickville, when Bob Debus was the Minister for the Environment he gazetted more national parks in one day than the former Coalition Government gazetted in its entire term of office.

No other political party has ever created more national parks than has the Labor Party. We created the largest collection of national parks in the country and we will protect them. No other political party represented in this place can make that claim. The Liberals resent our achievements on environmental conservation and The Greens look on from the crossbench. That is why it is so important to elect Labor governments, because only Labor can use the mechanisms of Executive government to protect the environment. Our record on the environment is lasting and enduring. Labor knows that a government must balance the strength of the economy and protections for our environment, and Labor members know that as politicians we must bring the people along with us on these issues.

At this point, I acknowledge that the land comprising the Blue Mountains, our city surrounded by national park within a national park, is Darug and Gundungurra land. I also acknowledge the proactive and protective work of the Blue Mountains Conservation Society and the Colong Foundation, two large local organisations. Labor is in step with the community on stopping coal seam gas. We are in step with the community on the need to reduce our carbon emissions, and we are in step with the community on the critical need to invest in renewable energy. We know that these issues are at the forefront of people's concerns right now and we know that we cannot afford to waste any more time in tackling them. That is why Labor, in government, would move to put a moratorium on coal seam gas, legislate an emissions trading scheme, and invest in renewable energies like solar and wind.

But just as Labor faces opposition from the Liberals in delivering these protections today, it has faced opposition from the Liberals in the past on other basic environmental protection issues. It was this Liberal Government, led by Barry O'Farrell, that allowed amateur hunters to enter our national parks for recreational hunting. That happened in the Blue Mountains. It is the Liberals who oppose the creation and expansion of marine reserves in our waterways. It is the Liberals who made the ludicrous claim that logging is beneficial for koalas. So, with these issues in mind, I am concerned that the legislation put forward today is yet another attack by stealth on our national parks, and I have to speak to that. Let us not forget that the culmination of almost a century of preservation occurred in the year 2000, when Bob Carr and his environment Minister, Bob Debus, witnessed the Greater Blue Mountains being declared a World Heritage area.

Today we have listened to members pay tribute to former Premier Tom Lewis. In doing so, the Premier, the Minister for the Environment and others on the Government benches spoke about Tom Lewis's legacy in creating national parks and they reflected on the importance of the environmental protection that national parks provide. It is therefore unsettling that they have chosen this week to put legislation forward that enables the Government to cut sections out of our national parks. The Government proposes to remove one section of up to 140 hectares. This is being done in Jervis Bay, Kosciusko, Ku-ring-gai, Lane Cove, Penrith Lakes, the Royal National Park and the Wollemi National Park north of and adjacent to the Blue Mountains National Park.

There are good reasons put forward for some of those changes. In some instances the sections of land being cut out of national parks are almost insignificant. However, what is disconcerting is the wording of the bill and the powers it vests in the Minister for the Environment. Specifically, part 9 of the bill will enable the Minister to sell, grant leases of, dispose of, or otherwise deal with the section of land in question. Where this is being done in very small sections to create bus-turning circles or to lay driveways to neighbouring properties so be it. But I do not trust the Government and its stated commitment to the privatisation of public assets and I look at its list of proposed cuts to national parks with some scepticism. I am deeply suspicious of the decision to revoke the reservation of the Penrith Lakes Regional Park, some 6,656 square metres that has apparently been deemed "unsuitable for conservation". I suppose we shall see whether it turns out to be suitable for development or commercialisation.

I am troubled by the gifting of 1.25 hectares of the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park to the St Ives Pistol Club. The land giveaway is equivalent to two football fields and represents a huge transfer of public land to a social group comprising the wealthy and privileged. This is not a government that is known for its generosity or kindness to people who are vulnerable or disadvantaged. The Baird Government habitually makes cuts to community services and public housing, but it can find two football fields of public land to gift to gun owners in its safe Liberal heartland. This really does highlight the twisted priorities of the Baird Government: if you are old, sick, or poor there is no limit to the efforts Mike Baird will go to to make your life a little bit more miserable; but if you are a gun-toting Liberal voter from the North Shore, boy, does he have an offer for you!

We saw at the weekend the thousands of protesters who marched against Mike Baird. We saw their anger, anguish and determination to stop this conservative Government and its regressive agenda. My electorate was represented by the Residents Against Western Sydney Airport, who are fighting the Abbott-Turnbull-Baird proposal for an airport at Badgerys Creek, which will see aircraft fly over our national park. They were joined by the Windsor Wobbler, Kim Smith, calling on the Roads and Maritime Services to protect the heritage of Windsor Bridge and Thompson Square from a ludicrous proposal that will destroy the town and open the door to sandmining operations further up river. The message from those thousands of voters who protested last weekend was abundantly clear: the people of this State have woken up to Mike Baird.

The voters of New South Wales are realising that Mike Baird is a puppet of big business and a stooge for his former colleagues in the investment banks and big consortiums that want to make big profits from public assets. This Parliament recently debated a petition containing more than 10,000 signatures from people concerned by moves to privatise sections of the Sydney Harbour National Park, in particular around Watsons Bay. These people are not radicals or lifelong leftists; they are residents of the State electorate of Vaucluse who have said enough is enough. They do not want to see their national park, small though it may be, opened up to further privatisation. They want public access to public assets.

They do not want to have to stump up for a $100 per head degustation menu in order to enjoy the views across Sydney Harbour from their national park. They want visitors from across Sydney and the country to enjoy those views as much as they want to protect their own access as local residents. The Government must think carefully about these proposals and put a stop to any move to reduce the national park estate. It should consider the legacy of Bob Debus and Bob Carr and make some effort, however overdue or inadequate, to honour that legacy. We need to improve our national parks instead of eroding them or degrading them through commercialisation, restricted access, recreational hunting, or whatever other proposal the Government has in the pipeline.