Nature NSW Winter 2023

Opportunities and legacies 

NPA is an organisation that takes pride in our ability to achieve conservation gains through negotiation with governments of all persuasions.  Our fiercely non-partisan approach, that willingness to work across the political divide, is a big part of why we’ve been so effective in our advocacy for new parks and against inappropriate development in existing parks.   

None of which denies the excitement that comes with a change of government.  It’s not partisan to acknowledge that, through long office, all governments begin to falter under the weight of stale policies and cemented positions.  There is no denying that change brings opportunity for the positive action on issues that have long fallen into the too hard basket.   

So what does change mean in practical terms for NPA?  For starters we have the opportunity to make real strides on new park proposals that were blocked by the previous government.   

Foremost amongst these is the Great Koala National Park on the mid North Coast.  First proposed a decade ago, strongly endorsed by the Legislative Council Inquiry into the future of koalas and one of the issues that sparked the infamous ‘koala wars’ between NSW Coalition partners, it is an idea that has received a remarkable level of support across NSW.  I am not sure that any previous NPA park proposal has gained quite the profile and prominence of the Great Koala National Park.  It proved a defining issue in the recent NSW election, with Labor, the Greens and many independents highlighting support in their election platforms.   

What an opportunity!  An incoming government committed to protecting a forested landscape of more than three hundred thousand hectares, the largest forest park of a generation.  Yes, it is true that Labor has carefully stated that they support ‘a’ Great Koala National Park, and we certainly have our work cut out to ensure that it doesn’t become a ‘park lite’ through the advocacy of logging interests.  But compared to the previous Premier categorically ruling out the creation of the park, this is a welcome challenge.   

Of course, our ambitions go far beyond this one new park, magnificent as it will be.  NSW has finally acknowledged that establishing new Protected Areas is essential for maintaining biodiversity through the adoption of 30 by 30, the international goal to protect at least 30% of all lands and seas by 2030.   

The idea that protected areas are the gold standard of conservation has always been a central tenet of NPA, and as others come to that view, we have a unique opportunity to bring forward well researched, carefully documented reserve proposals.  In addition to NPA’s 50 parks report (LINK) we have recently completed an in depth assessment of the Jervis Bay region, title ‘A new vision for Jervis Bay’ (LINK).  At a much larger scale, our Western NSW project is starting to identify areas of high reserve establishment potential across the western two thirds of the state.  30 by 30 won’t be achieved if we rely upon over- stretched governments, now is the time to apply the expertise and determination of your NPA to bringing real conservation action to fruition.  

While these opportunities are welcome the legacy of past decisions also brings significant challenges for NPA.  Some legacy issues are state-wide, such as the urgent need to reform the state’s land clearing and biodiversity protection (LINK to NPA submissions).  Others relate to past development approvals in existing or proposed reserves.  Long forgotten approvals for zombie developments are impacting many local communities.   

The new Government went into the election stating that they would not override existing development approvals.  This stance has very real consequence for NPA, given that the previous Government approved a number of developments we consider entirely inappropriate in Protected Areas.  NPA is currently involved in legal action contesting the Snowy 2.0 transmission connection project.   

Our case argues that the former Minister for Environment should not have revoked a long-standing provision in the Kosciuszko Plan of Management requiring that any new transmission connections in the park must be constructed underground.  The issue at stake is not just the terrible impacts of clearing easements and access roads for overhead transmission lines, but about maintaining the central role and integrity of Plans of Management.  It’s an issue we cannot afford to lose if we expect parks to be managed for conservation outcomes in perpetuity.  Our case has major implications for the integrity of all the parks that will be created under 30 by 30 – why do so if protections can be overturned at Ministerial whim?  

There is no doubt that NPA will continue to confront both legacy and novel threats to our national parks.  It is an essential part of our role, but so is harnessing opportunities to build the best possible network of Protected Areas for our state.   

Gary Dunnett, CEO NPA NSW

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