Parks purchases – passing the pub test?
Last week NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean added another feather to his National Parks buy-up cap purchasing Avenel/Mount Westwood Station, 150 kilometres north of Broken Hill and Koonaburra Station, 140 kilometres south-west of Cobar.
These purchases come under the Liberal-National 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. Majority of these acquisitions have been agricultural land in the far west.
As taxpayers, we rightfully deserve to be able to ask questions about these acquisitions namely how much did you pay for it? There’s been a few numbers kicking about, none confirmed by NSW National Parks or the Minister, but the number most people settle on is $30 million for the last tranche of properties.
It’s a huge amount of money and I don’t begrudge any landholder who willingly sells their property for getting a good price. What having a Government player in the property sales market has done is price young pastoralists out of the market. I know in previous sales to National Parks, the Government doubled the offers young farmers put on the table. It 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 countenance to that is at what price to the local community?
We know that pastoral properties on average 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 jobs 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 eco-tourism and 4WD tracks. History and experience from elsewhere in NSW shows us that the money brought in from tourism doesn’t even come close to making a dent in the economic loss.
Now, I’m not saying that these important ecosystems don’t deserve to be protected – they do – but National Parks staff aren’t the only ones capable of such work. Graziers and farmers are great caretakers of our land, if you’re sceptical look up the Enterprise Based Conservation program. This program was initially started as a pilot program to see if 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 we know from experience in having National Parks as neighbours that they’re not great in keeping on top of.
The Government holds the data and case studies from these programs. It is a proven model. It’s a win-win for conservation and farmers, farmers are able to diversify their income building resilience for dry times and ensure valuable environmental assets are cared for future generations. And yet instead of paying small annual fees to farmers, instead of setting up conservation agreements, instead of allowing farms to remain productive the Government is spending millions of your tax dollars to acquire properties willy nilly.
On one level is poor economic management, on another it shows the arrogance of the Department of Environment boffins in Sydney. There is absolutely a proven better way and it’s not this buy-up.
Lastly, the NSW National Parks staff are now responsible for vast tracks of land in incredibly remote parts of the State. We’ve heard nothing from the Minister about extra resources for the local Staff. I suppose they, like the community are supposed to just clap and praise the effort and ignore the fact that this is another PR grab for headlines devoid of any real detail. Something that I’m getting tired of and I’m a pretty tolerant bloke.
Shooters Fishers and Farmers MLC Mark Banasiak has put written questions to the Minister as part of Budget Estimates this past week. I look forward to scrutinising the Minister’s answers to some significant questions.