Note: much of the text below has been crafted by our colleagues at the Victorian National Parks Association. Thanks to VNPA Nature Conservation Officer Elizabeth Morison for allowing NPA to adapt her article for NSW.
The National Parks Australia Council (NPAC) brings together the peak non-government environmental organisations focused on the future of National Parks, Nature Reserves and other elements of our Protected Area Networks. The Council allows NPAs to share the experiences of each State and identify common challenges and opportunities to improve the condition of protected areas.
One of the issues that has arisen very strongly over recent years has been a series of proposals for tourism developments in national parks that are focused more on commercial returns than improving community access and enjoyment. Examples include the Lake Malena heli-fishing resort in the Tasmania, resort developments on Kangaroo Island and, closer to home, exclusive hut based accommodation along the Light to Light track and a massive increase in the existing Kosciuszko resorts.
NPAC decided it was time to take the national pulse on these types of commercial development in our nation’s National Parks. It commissioned nationwide polling of over a thousand people. The results showed what we’ve known for ages: Aussies love national parks, and want to see nature and wildlife protected, not sacrificed for commercial interests and blundering developments.
The vast majority of Australians (88 per cent) agree that protecting Australia’s flora and fauna is a core responsibility of state and federal governments. Most of us (89 per cent) also agree that national parks are one of the best ways to protect Australia’s nature, especially from resource extraction, including logging, mining and fishing (91 per cent), so it’s no coincidence 80 per cent of us want more national parks and conservation areas.
Funding for park management is also of high national concern. More than four in five of us support an increase in government funding for national park management (85 per cent) and staff and rangers (83 per cent).
Zooming in, Australians responded consistently and strongly about inappropriate development in parks. And it’s no wonder – it feels like every other day, a flashy new proposal is announced that will see large-scale, high-impact development impacting our national parks. Take the Warburton Mountain Bike Destination in Victoria as an example that has strong parallels to similar proposals in NSW. The plan is to build 177 kilometres of bike trails, some through the Yarra Ranges National Park. The trails will intersect important wildlife habitat, which the park was established to protect.
Furthermore, while local and state governments say it will raise Warburton’s profile by bringing in visitors, the poll tells us Australians are actually be less likely to visit a national park if it had luxury, large-scale private development (78 per cent of Australians), or high impact commercial tours (62 per cent). In fact, only 7 per cent of Australians consider large-scale infrastructure such as mountain bike tracks to be an important benefit of national parks.
It is abundantly clear that there is a disconnect between public and political priorities. We do not want to see development in national parks (78 per cent), but that’s where our politicians keep putting their money and efforts. What we do want to see is small-scale development like toilets, interpretation areas and visitor centres that help people enjoy national parks (83 per cent) and development in towns and areas adjacent to national parks and protected areas (66 per cent Australians) that will draw attention to our iconic nature and wildlife, at the same time as growing regional economies.
You might think that would be enough to convince our leaders to step up and represent their communities. However, we know that sometimes we need to spell it out, so we asked how these concerns might change the way Australians would vote. Half of us said we would be more likely to vote for our local member of parliament if they actively prioritised and advocated for national parks (50 per cent Australians). Only 4 per cent of Australians said that would make us less likely to vote. And again, more than half of us said we would be more likely to vote for a political party at the next federal or state election if they had a policy for better funding for management of national parks and conservation areas (57 per cent Australians).
What stood out was that we are united on these issues. We care deeply and selflessly about national parks and protected areas, for nature’s intrinsic value and for future generations. These numbers make it obvious: it’s good politics, no matter your political stripes, to have a clearly articulated vision for conservation of nature and wildlife, and national parks. Now we’ve spelled it out, we hope our leaders step up to properly prioritise and advocate for national parks with some clear policy commitments.