Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

Rees Hands National Parks to Tourism Industry

Joint Media Statement                         BMCS logo
Blue Mountains 
Conservation Society

The Rees Government has fallen short on its first major environmental test by opening up national parks to development. By backing the Tourism and National Parks Taskforce it has placed misguided faith in commercial activities to fund our national parks.

Today the Government released the final report by the Taskforce on Tourism and National Parks. The report recommends a suite of regressive changes to national parks and park legislation to facilitate tourism development on parks.

Recommendations include changes to national park laws to broaden the purpose of national parks to include ‘tourism' and new leasing arrangements to allow new ‘eco-resorts', cabins and semi-permanent camps, changes to wilderness laws to allow commercial tours and identifying new high-paying commercial uses to help fund park management.

“NSW environment groups are dismayed that the Rees Government has sold-out to the demands of big tourism. There is a clear strategy to deregulate the people's parks,” said Andrew Cox, NPA Executive Officer.

“The Government has rejected the need for more public spending on basic infrastructure such as tracks, signage and viewing platforms and improved management of national parks. By providing a more attractive visitor experience this had the potential to drive tourism development in neighbouring towns, creating jobs for rural NSW.”

“NSW national parks already host 22 million visits a year and pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy.”

The Government endorsed the taskforce report within days of receiving it. There was no opportunity for public comment and the interim report which was flagged as part of the process has been completely bypassed. Environment and other public interest groups were not represented on the taskforce but were originally offered a chance to comment on the draft report. This offer has now been withdrawn without reason.

“This unseemly haste to pander to the big end of town makes a mockery of public consultation,” said Tara Cameron, President of Blue Mountains Conservation Society.

“The only chance the public had to provide input was an invitation to comment on a page of terms of reference. No proposals were on the table until today. These are dramatic changes to the way national parks are run and the public deserves to be asked what they think.

“The NSW Government is clearly running a big tourism and development agenda, not a conservation agenda”, said Keith Muir Director of Colong Foundation for Wilderness.

“Industry lobbyists are being given everything they want. The Rees Government seems to think they can use the parks as just another political tool. But they don't own our parks, the people do.

Earlier this year the one-sided O'Neill report into Tourism in NSW was scathing of NPWS and prompted the establishment of the Tourism and National Parks Taskforce,” said Mr Muir.

Development lobby group the Tourism and Transport Forum was appointed to the Taskforce so they could pursue their long-standing agenda to weaken national park protection. One thing TTF was pushing for was to lower the limit for planning panel approval for ecotourism developments from $20 million to $5 million.

The Government caved in on this in November, ahead of the taskforce report. Prominent members of the Tourism and Transport Forum donated almost a million dollars to the NSW Labor Party in the lead-up to the last state election. 

“Our groups are keen to see increasing numbers of visitors to national parks and to support the Government's target to achieve this in its State Plan, said Mr Cox. “National Parks Association has been developing a detailed plan to deliver more visitors without compromising conservation values.”

“The Taskforce report offers nothing like this. Two of its objectives were to identify how to protect biodiversity and cultural heritage through park use and to show how park tourism can increase management resources. Instead the report focuses on how to develop parks with no analysis of costs and benefits.

“This fairy-tale idea fails to take into account that there is no clear evidence from anywhere in Australia that tourism can provide significant net income for park management. This is just a government handout to a small part of the industry.

“The Rees Government needs to send a clear message that conservation really does matter in our national parks. They need to drop plans to weaken park protection and carry out proper planning for nature tourism that will support regional economies, not just big companies that can afford full-time lobbyists and political donations.

NSW is still lagging behind on good tourism planning. Other supposedly leading states like Victoria have worked on detailed plans for nature tourism without softening park laws or creating conflict in the community. Environment groups stand ready to support a more considered nature tourism plan for NSW”, concluded Mr Cox.

For more information contact: Keith Muir, (02) 9261 2400 (wk); 0412 791 404 (mob)

                                         NPA: Andrew Cox 9299 0000 (w); 0438 588 040 (mob