Queensland’s Environment Minister Steven Miles this week (30/11/2016) signed off on 366,000 hectares of new and expanded protected areas across the Sunshine State. This is welcome news and will protect vital habitat for rare and threatened species still being lost to bulldozers on private land.
The announcement provides an excellent case in point about the dual function of national parks both in Queensland and across the country. As part of the National Reserve System, they are the single most important asset in protecting Australia’s globally significant biodiversity, and in Queensland, they also underpin a $23 billion tourism industry.
The Palaszczuk government’s brand-new tourism initiative- I know just the place, demonstrates Queensland’s reliance on marine or national parks to attract ever-increasing numbers of tourists. Protecting more of Queensland for its natural and cultural values makes good economic sense.
Moreover, many of the new parks are in areas that will help protect populations of endangered species from the weather extremes associated with climate change. Using the latest science, we are better able to predict changes within the landscape and identify strategic areas that are important for conservation now, and well into the future.
The new parks are found from the far north in Queensland’s Gulf country, along the Great Dividing Range and west to include additions to places like the much-loved Carnarvon Gorge. They will provide much needed habitat for rare and threatened species including the Cassowary, Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby, Glossy Black-cockatoo, and Northern Quoll along with many other species.
That’s the good news. But while the creation of these new parks is a great step – unfortunately as it presently stands, funding for nature conservation remains dismally inadequate. While these new parks have been guaranteed $16 million over four years in management funds by Minister Miles, compared to other government portfolios, investment into nature conservation including national parks is miniscule.
At the Commonwealth level, funding for new park acquisitions no longer exists.
Yet, the Queensland park expansions were only made possible with funding from the National Reserve System, a program originally put in place by Paul Keating in 1992. Under the program, dedicated funding was used to buy properties to save threatened species habitat and endangered ecosystems. These became national parks and helped Australia make substantial progress on our international commitments to protect biodiversity.
These programs were maintained under both the Howard and Rudd Governments, but in 2012 it was absorbed into the Gillard Government’s Biodiversity Fund. After the Abbott Government took office in 2013 the fund was scrapped entirely, scuttling any federal assistance for new national parks and reserves.
Today, there is no national leadership on protecting Australia’s landscapes.
If the Turnbull Government was serious about protecting threatened species, they would be re-establishing the National Reserve System and building a more resilient national park estate to cope with the impacts of climate change. The opportunity for the current Commonwealth Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg to lead on a cohesive national approach to building our national reserve system is there for him to take.
This investment should be matched by the states by lifting the funding for national parks that is commensurate with their overall contribution to our social, cultural, economic and environmental wellbeing.
Andrew Picone is the Northern Australia Campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation based in Cairns. Twitter: @andrew_picone