National Park Estate (Reservations) Bill 2018

(Debate on Bill, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

I support the National Park Estate (Reservations) Bill 2018 and will support any move to add to the national park reserve. National parks are the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation. New declarations are one of the most important actions this State can take to save our rapidly eroding biodiversity. We must continuously expand the boundaries of each park. I welcome the around 4,500 hectares of new land added across five existing national parks proposed under the bill. However, it is hard not to be cynical about the bill. The additions have few conservation outcomes and no impact on forestry or any other environmentally destructive activity. The bill reflects little more than a quick stocktake of unimportant unproductive land that can quickly and painlessly be converted to national park to give the Government an environmental win ahead of the next election.

There is significant and warranted criticism that this Government has stalled on national park and wilderness expansions and dedications. We have not seen any good news on the national estate since the 2012 creation of the Dharawal and the Berowra Valley national parks. Yesterday I read with great concern in theSydney Morning Herald that in 2016 the Government dropped a plan to transfer almost 23,000 hectares of State forest to national park. Indeed, in the past eight years funding cuts and restructuring of the National Parks and Wildlife Service has weakened its ability to maintain and protect our existing estate. Destructive activities including grazing, horseriding and development have been permitted on highly protected land. Of the five regions added to the national park estate under the bill, only the Mernot State Forest has some areas that could be logged. All other land comprises of informal reserves that are already protected. Indeed, it is unclear what objectives are being achieved in their transfer to the national estate.

The transfer of around 2,080 hectares of Carrai State Forest to the Willi Willi National Park is part of the Government's koala strategy, which promises to set aside large swathes of koala habitat for protection. As part of the strategy, the Office of Environment and Heritage has identified the key koala habitat in the State including koala hubs and priority areas for protection. But assessment by the North East Forest Alliance of documents accessed through freedom of information requests shows that of the 12 koala reserves proposed by the Government as part of its koala strategy 10 are already protected as informal reserve, only three have high-quality koala habitat, two of which have no recent records of habitat, four have no records of koalas at all and only two have records of habitat from the last decade. The parts of Carrai State Forest set aside for reserve have not been identified as providing koala habitat or koala hubs and I understand there are no recent records of koalas in the region. They are also already protected from logging as informal reserves.

Experts stress that if we are to save the koala from extinction in New South Wales we must identify and protect the areas where they live. Arbitrarily setting aside bushland in the hope that they will move there will fail. The Government is not being scientific but taking a haphazard approach that is nothing more than window dressing for political announcements. To save the koala we urgently must impose a moratorium on logging in koala hubs and create the Great Koala National Park. I support The Greens amendments in regard to that. It is high time we create a new national park. Less than 9 per cent of the State is protected under national park and many significant areas remain unprotected. Six bioregions and 49 subregions have less than 5 per cent of their area protected and 11 subregions have no protection at all. We need to work towards protecting 17 per cent of the State through national park, in line with Aichi Targets. In addition to the Great Koala National Park, other priority areas include the Gardens of Stone Stage 2 and the Clyde Wild and Scenic River proposals. We must progress World Heritage listing of our rainforests and eucalypt forests.

While this bill makes minor additions to the national estate, which is not a bad thing, it fails to achieve meaningful biodiversity conservation and should not be talked up as a major environmental win. As I said, I support amendments being moved by The Greens to reserve more than 200,000 hectares of critical biodiverse land including for the Great Koala National Park, the Gardens of Stone and areas currently being destroyed by the Wallarah 2 and Maules Creek coalmines.