National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Adjustment of Areas) Bill 2016

31 May 2016


Mr ANOULACK CHANTHIVONG (Macquarie Fields) (20:09): I make a contribution to debate on the National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Adjustment of Areas) Bill 2016. The great joys in life are often the simplest. There are not many healthier, more sociable or relaxing activities than to experience our preserved and protected national parks. I find walking down the Wentworth Falls track in the Blue Mountains—although walking up I must say is a little more effort—or trekking along the cliffs of the coastal walk in the Royal National Park with a daypack filled with snacks and lollies such enjoyable experiences. That natural beauty is available and protected for all of us now and into the future. There is growing evidence that for a person to maintain their physical and mental wellbeing they must stay in contact with natural environments and open spaces. While initiatives to boost infrastructure should be encouraged, it is also important that we balance development with environmental appreciation. One positive strategy for governments is to dedicate certain areas of significance as national parks. This allows us to preserve the natural beauty and heritage of our country indefinitely, so that future generations can enjoy the resources that benefited previous Australians.

Labor has a proud record of environmental conservation. One of former Premier Carr's greatest legacies was the establishment of new national parks. The Carr Government was responsible for saving the coastal forests in the State's north-east and south-east and created more than one million hectares of new parks in western New South Wales. Between 1995 and 2011 Labor added 3.07 million hectares to the national park estate. Since coming to office the Coalition Government has added only 55,000 hectares. At this rate, as stated by the member for Maroubra, it will take the Coalition Government 219 years to match Labor's achievement. I suspect no-one in this Chamber will be here to see that occur. I know I will not. It seems, however, that the Coalition has no intention of matching Labor's achievements and would prefer to take national park land away from the people.

I have stated previously in the House that open space should not be misconstrued as vacant land ready to be commercialised at any cost. Open space is a crucial resource that helps our society function. Its physical benefits climatically and psychologically far outweigh the parasitic accumulation of a few hectares here and there for purposes other than conservation. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald states that open green space can assist in heat reduction in our communities as compared to a community covered in concrete and cement. Revoking urban green space such as the Penrith Lakes Regional Park for more urban development will be detrimental to communities that are already suffering from unfettered urban sprawl.

At a time when the nation's population is increasing and the natural world is shrinking it is fundamentally important to protect and expand public open space. It is truly one of the few remaining public assets. Preserving and protecting our environment should be a primary guiding principle in public policy. Creating national parks should be a binding promise. In his second reading speech, the Hon. John Ajaka argues that the purpose of national parks is conservation, not development, and that park boundaries need to be adjusted and areas revoked for key public assets to be established. Protected land is already a public asset producing a valuable public good. I fail to understand how revoking and readjusting park boundaries produces any result other than a public asset being turned into a public asset.

Why would we create national parks if we did not believe they were valuable to the people? Why would we dedicate a specific amount of land to national parks if we did not think it was a necessary natural curtilage to protect places of great heritage and aesthetic value? Every hectare we take from national parks causes greater stress on our air quality, boundary ecosystems, and the safety of endangered plants and animals. Although proposed plans to upgrade Mona Vale Road and, subsequently, disturb less than a hectare of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park have attracted compensation, other land in the bill will not be as lucky. The rationale for removing land from other national parks without compensation has been the result of boundary errors and road access issues. One would assume that if such issues existed, an exact figure for land could be calculated.

National park land, no matter the size or degree of biodiversity, must attract compensation if it is reclaimed. The land, like any other form of property, was designated for a reason. To remove it requires compensation. Compensation does not mean gifting national park land to the St Ives Pistol Club; it means adding lost hectares of land to another national park, or extending the land at another boundary of the national park. If that land were a person's property, I imagine they would fight to retain it or to receive adequate compensation no matter the area involved. National parks are the people's land; it is a communal asset.

Like anyone else, I support infrastructure development opportunities. However, to revoke a national park land designation without consulting specific communities and the public at large is not acting for the public benefit or in the public interest. People need open space just as much as they need infrastructure. One need not always be truncated by the other on the mistaken impression that roads or the hobbies of vested interest groups are more important than the air we breathe and the biodiversity we cherish. Using drawing errors, mistakes and inappropriate purpose as an excuse to justify the removal of national park land is flawed. It lacks proof and lowers the level of transparency and accountability. Let us be specific, let us know what we are giving up before we let it go, and let us recognise that the public interest in national and regional parks is valid and should not be tampered with or compromised unless the public benefit is clear.