Bills - National Parks and Wildlife Amendment Bill 2021
It will come as no surprise to the environment Minister that I speak on the National Parks and Wildlife Amendment Bill 2021. I ask that the Minister address the concerns I raise in his reply speech. I have raised many issues with the Minister regarding national parks and State forests since being elected to this place, including National Parks and Wildlife Service staff conducting aerial culling of goats in parts of my electorate where the mustering of goats for the meat market forms a key part of the local economy. National parks have been dubbed a really bad neighbour in Barwon, not paying their portion of shared fencing costs, allowing feral animals to overrun parks and flow into neighbouring farms, allowing the proliferation of weeds to spread well outside park boundaries—the list goes on.
The latest purchase of farmland in the Far West for new national parks has people in all camps asking questions, from the pro-parks camp to the pro-conservation-alongside-farming camp. They are all asking the same question: How can the National Parks and Wildlife Service possibly manage this additional land without additional staffing resources? It is already struggling. The Community and Public Sector Union is asking the same question—500,000 hectares of additional national parkland and no additional staff members to manage it. The recent feathers in the cap of the environment Minister's national parks buy-up—Avenel and Mount Westwood stations, 150 kilometres north of Broken Hill; and Koonaburra Station, 140 kilometres south-west of Cobar—are both within the Barwon electorate. Those purchases fall within the Liberal-Nationals Government's plan to expand the national parks landholdings by 400,000 hectares—double what the Government initially set out to acquire.
The Government has now acquired 520,000 hectares of land since August 2019. The majority of those acquisitions have been agricultural land in the Far West. As taxpayers, we rightfully deserve to be able to ask questions about those acquisitions, namely: How much did the Government pay for it? A few numbers have been kicking about, none confirmed by National Parks or the Minister, but most people settle on around $30 million for the last tranche of properties. Through his department, the Minister has not answered questions asked about the cost by my colleague in the other place. It is a huge amount of money, and I do not begrudge any landholder who willingly sells their property getting a good price. But having a government player in the property sales market has priced young pastoralists out of the market. In previous sales to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Government has significantly exceeded offers that young farmers have put on the table and priced them out of the market.
"Now, Roy," I hear some say, "in an open market the highest bidder has the right to win on the day." My response to that is: At what price to the local community? On average, those pastoral properties put back half a million dollars annually into the local community, as a base. In good times that can rise significantly. There are jobs on the property and in the local community for contractors and supply businesses. Overnight, those jobs and customers have disappeared. The Minister has said that economic activity will be replaced through ecotourism and four-wheel drive tracks. The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers [SFF] Party strongly supports access to State forests and national parks for recreation. I know the Minister enjoyed mountain biking with the member for Orange. However, history and experience from elsewhere in New South Wales shows us that the money brought in from tourism does not even come close to making a dent in the economic loss for communities in Barwon.
I am not saying that those important ecosystems do not deserve to be protected. They do, but National Parks and Wildlife Service staff are not the only ones capable of such work. Graziers and farmers are great caretakers of our land. Members who are sceptical should look up the Enterprise Based Conservation Program. It was started initially as a pilot program to see whether a payment-based conservation scheme could work on private properties, and it did. Landholders managed designated conservation areas on their properties. Contracts stipulated the conservation outcomes and management techniques, and landholders were paid a small fee for meeting the requirements. Weed management, pest and feral animal control, and soil erosion were all part of the deal—things that we know from experience, having national parks as neighbours, they are not great at keeping on top of.
The Government holds the data and case studies from those programs, and it is a proven model. It is a win‑win for conservation and farmers. Farmers are able to diversify their income, building resilience for dry times and ensuring valuable environmental assets are conserved for future generations. Yet instead of paying small annual fees to farmers, setting up conservation agreements and allowing farms to remain productive, the Government is spending millions of tax dollars to acquire properties with many questions unanswered. On one level, it is poor economic management; on another, it shows the arrogance of the environment department boffins in Sydney. There absolutely is a proven better way, and it is not the buy-up.
In another part of my vast electorate sits Baradine, which was once a bustling timber worker village. The timber workers of Baradine earned a living cutting cypress pine. It is pretty good stuff—resistant to termites, making it ideal for building houses. Bob Carr ended Baradine's fortunes with the stroke of a pen. He declared 350,000 hectares of the Pilliga iconic. It took a major employer out of the town, but it also killed off some of the biodiversity. Some areas of the Pilliga are now so locked up that species that should be found there are no longer there. Reports from the Government prove that statement. We must again question why the National Parks and Wildlife Service staff think they are the only ones who can manage land for environmental purposes. I ask that the Minister consider the Baradine experience when making environmentally focused decisions. He does not want a reputation like Bob Carr has in Baradine.
It would be remiss of me, as a member of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, not to talk about the benefits of volunteer conservation hunting on suitable public land. It might shock members to know that volunteer conservation hunters perform beneficial environmental work and save the taxpayer money. They also spend money in local economies, helping business to continue and providing more employment—shocking, that, for a group of people some parties in this place like to demonise. It costs the taxpayer over $3,000 per hour for aerial shooting to occur. In one example that the SFF has uncovered, government-employed aerial shooters spent 40 minutes hunting down just one deer. I urge the Minister to work with the SFF on a plan and process that would give access to volunteer conservation hunters to assist in pest management and control in suitable national parks across New South Wales. Such a plan would be a massive win for the Government bottom line—something that I know will prick up the Minister's ears as Treasurer—and for Government plans to eradicate pests in parks.
I take this opportunity to talk about the establishment of an Aboriginal ranger program in western New South Wales, which the Minister went close to talking about in his second reading speech. The program, which I have lobbied for and will continue to lobby for, must be well resourced and well funded with recurrent funding, rather than by way of another grant process. The Minister should look to the Federal Government's Working on Country program, which predominately operates in northern Australia and currently supports over 118 ranger groups and funds over 831 full‑time equivalent jobs. Aside from the many environmental benefits of Aboriginal rangers, the ranger jobs have many social and economic benefits.
A report commissioned by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet found that Aboriginal land and sea management delivers up to $3 worth of environmental, social and economic value for every $1 spent. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have reported flow-on benefits, including increased role models, better mental and physical health, strengthening of culture, women's empowerment and more. With over 16 per cent of people living in the Barwon electorate identifying as Aboriginal, an Aboriginal ranger program would have enormous benefits to my communities. I again encourage the Minister to establish such a program in New South Wales.
Given that the substantial purchases of new parks are in regional New South Wales and will take money away from local economies, the benefits of biodiversity offsets need in some way to be directed to regional New South Wales developments. If biodiversity offsets are part of this bill, it needs to be made clear that developments that are of public good in regional New South Wales are able to access these offsets to facilitate the developments going ahead. This change could make the difference between regional developments with a clear benefit to a community going ahead or not. Minister Kean is a nice bloke, and I get along with him well. He is the type of bloke that if he and his neighbour shared fence that was falling down, he would chip in half. Fair is fair, after all. I make a simple request of him today: Get the National Parks and Wildlife Service to be a good neighbour. Get it to pay half of the shared fence costs, both materials and installation. Address the outrageous situation we have now where the National Parks and Wildlife Service pays less than half the cost of the fencing materials.