Protecting Queensland's national parks
On the 11th May, the Palaszczuk government reinstated nature conservation as the primary goal of national park management.
NPAQ congratulates the government, and in particular Minister Miles, for restoring the intention of the Nature Conservation Act to which it was created.
It took a lot to convince the opposition that the purpose of the Nature Conservation Act should be about conserving nature. It was a battle well fought and deserving of the outcome.
Restoring nature conservation as the core objective of national parks, restores the integrity of Queensland’s protected area estate.
This reform reverses the changes made in 2013 and 2014 which broadened and downgraded the protected area concept. Those changes had placed competing interests on a par with nature conservation in national parks.
The inclusion of additional matters (such as commercial, recreation or social) in the very objects of the Act, only served to detract from the primacy of nature conservation and caused confusion to the intention of the protected area estate.
National parks are again protected, and incompatible land uses, such as grazing, are kept at bay.
The reforms also include a legal requirement for community consultation for park management plans, the reinstatement of ‘national parks (scientific), the reversion of ‘rolling-term’ leases for grazing on national parks back to ‘term leases’, and the enhancement of Traditional Owners’ rights and interests.
The previous Newman government amendments allowed significant changes to be made to management plans without the involvement of local communities and other stakeholders.
The benefits of public consultation are well known – contribution to sustainable development and environmental protection, increasing abidance of laws and regulations, and promotion of good decision-making. Transparency and accountability in government decision-making should be on the increase, not lessening.
Managing parks for a particular conservation purpose
The National Park (Scientific) category has been reinstated. This category involves strict protection and management for a particular conservation purpose, such as the protection of endangered species (eg northern hairy-nosed wombat or bridled nailtail wallaby), or for research purposes.
Identified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), this category of protected area frequently plays a role in “plugging the gaps” in conservation strategies by protecting key species or habitats in ecosystems.
Finalisation of transfer of specific land to protected area management
Several properties purchased by the State Government for the purpose of growing Queensland’s protected area estate, had existing agriculture, grazing or pastoral leases.
Previously, instead of ensuring finalisation of the transfer process to protected area management, the Newman Government created great uncertainty by converting these term leases (ie the expiry in a specified time) to rolling term leases (ie they could be extended beyond the specified term). This created the perception of perpetual leases on protected areas.
To our knowledge, no term lease was converted to a rolling lease under the provision.
Not only are rolling term leases inconsistent with the management principles of protected areas, they allow renewal of the lease any time within the last twenty years of the lease. Reversion back to term leases removes the ability to extend leases for activities that are inconsistent with the management principles of national parks.
The rights and interests of Traditional Owners have been retained and enhanced, through recognition in the joint management of conservation areas on the Cape York Peninsula, streamlining the process of conversion of regional parks to national parks (CYPAL), and the Tenure Resolution Program.
Whilst acknowledging the very positive direction that the reform takes, NPAQ urges that it continue. Three areas remain of concern:
· Special management areas (controlled action).
NPAQ recommends that special management areas be removed from the Act. Continuing to allow the manipulation of national park tenure not only detracts from the cardinal principle but sends mixed messages, as this section is easily interpreted as allowing development or inappropriate activities on national parks.
· Ecotourism facilities.
NPAQ recommends that provisions for ecotourism facility within national parks be removed from the Act. The concept of tourism facilities (eco or otherwise) in national parks has not been fully reviewed, and the potential impacts not thoroughly investigated. More importantly, tourism facilities are incompatible with the cardinal principle of national park management – “to provide, to the greatest possible extent, for the permanent perseveration of the area’s natural condition and the protection of the areas’ cultural resources and values”. Encouraging, through various means, the continuation of developing tourism facilities on private land adjacent to national parks would be more cost effective and of considerably lower impact.
· Alignment with IUCN categories.
NPAQ recommends that the classes of Queensland’s protected areas be aligned with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) protected area management global categories, or at the least, the reintroduction of wilderness areas, World Heritage management areas and international agreement areas.