By national regional and rural reporter Jess Davis
6 JULY 2019
HOW about this …
-why didn’t we hear about this before/during the recent state election?
-why has it taken all these months to hear about the cut?
-are we voters being manipulated here to believe owing to budgetary circumstances our National Parks require investment from the private sector?
-are we witnessing the downgrading of more public assets deliberately so that they can be
.turned over to private operators?
What has taken decades to achieve could be lost in the next 4 years ..
When rural electricity distributor tries to shed 200 jobs all hell breaks out and the government acts to stop it, especially as most of the jobs were in National Party electorates … they did nothing for the Park Rangers!
Former rangers, traditional owners and conservationists are warning Australia’s national parks are reaching an environmental tipping point, with funding cuts at both a state and federal level leaving them in poor condition.
- $121 million was cut from NSW national parks in the 2016-17 budget, shedding about 100 ranger jobs
- In the latest NSW budget, $80 million has been cut from the department overseeing parks
- Former ranger Ross McKinney believes the impact of the cuts could be brutal
Kosciuszko National Park is Ross McKinney’s backyard.
“You can’t get much more stunning than today; the beautiful fresh mountain stream just lets you know how important the mountain catchments are to our water supplies. So, it’s a special place,” he said.
The former ranger first fell in love Kosciuszko in 1970.
Moving from Canada he landed a job as a search and rescue ranger, called up for his expertise in the snow.
It was the start of a long career spanning more than four decades with the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service and later serving as the Federal Department of Environment’s assistant director.
But Mr McKinney holds grave fears for the future of the park and more than 500 national parks like it across the country.
“If it’s not addressed urgently, we will sit here with a degrading set of circumstances, and the task will become greater by the year.
“I’m hoping it won’t take more extinctions to wake people up.”
Those fears come down to one key problem: a lack of funding for national parks management.
“When I was working with parks, I was extremely fortunate looking back, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service was graded as one of the top five in the world. Now it doesn’t even rate,” Mr McKinney said.
“It’s not because the people aren’t dedicated, it’s not because they aren’t hardworking — they’re not being resourced and they’re not being allowed to do it.”
In the 2016-17 budget, $121 million was cut from NSW national parks and according to the NSW Public Service Association that resulted in about 100 ranger jobs being lost.
In the latest NSW budget, $80 million is being cut from the department that oversees parks.
In a statement to the ABC, the NSW Government said those cuts would come through more efficient work practices in the department:
[The] NSW Government has a strong record on environment funding recently committing $632.3 million for national parks, walking trails, public parklands and gardens to improve liveability and sustainability and increase tourism.
Mr McKinney is sceptical and believes the impact of the cuts could be brutal.
“There has been restructure after restructure after restructure, and so many people have left,” he said.
“No nature conservation agency can manage properly when you’re seeing those sort of cuts.”
With resources to parks decreasing, Mr McKinney warns threats are on the rise, with climate change, pests, weeds and growing visitation all posing challenges.
“Our pest management programs, whether on private land, national park land or public lands, is expensive, it’s time consuming, and you need expertise to do that,” he said.
“There has to be a concerted effort over a long period of time and that was the case, but is now starting to crumble.”
Australian Conservation Foundation nature campaigner Andrew Picone said there had been a steady decrease in both state and federal funding over the past decade.
“Across the board the values that underpin national parks aren’t being properly monitored or necessarily being managed from the threats that undermine those values,” he said.
“We need about a billion dollars annually from the Federal Government to lead environmental restoration and management across the country because what we’re seeing in a lot of places is ecosystems collapsing.”
The creation of new national parks has also stalled, with the federal fund dedicated to supporting new parks scrapped in 2012.
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said she did not believe there was a need for more national parks but she would like to see them better resourced.
“We do need states and territories to adequately manage the parks under their control and address issues such as invasive pests and weeds,” she said.
“The longer we resist tackling these, the more the natural habitat deteriorates, impacting both threatened species and neighbouring farmers.”
While Mr Picone said levels of funding varied between states and between parks, he believed governments were consistently failing to fund basic management of parks.
“It comes down to treasury making a budget decision, and deciding to put in $10 billion for defence and scraps and crumbs for the environment,” he said.
“The environment, particularly the natural environment, is just as an important a defence against climate change.“
At the Great Sandy National Park in Queensland, Butchulla traditional owner Luke Barrowcliffe watches the steady stream of 4WDs speeding along the beach.
“I think the dramatic increase of visitation has been facilitated by people’s use and access to 4WDs and also the population increase of the Sunshine Coast,” he said.
The Queensland Government has committed $10 million for ‘national parks revitalisation’ in the 2019-2020 budget, with the Great Sandy National Park set to benefit.
But Mr Barrowcliffe said the lack of resources was magnifying the impact of those increasing visitors.
“There needs to be more of an emphasis on revenue raised from these areas, going back into these areas and not just in terms of staff numbers but also in terms of adequate facilities,” he said.
“When you see detrimental activity to the environmental values of the beach, it’s a clear indicator that those activities aren’t being managed properly.”
*Mr Picone said the resources that were going in tended to be diverted to supporting tourism and private enterprise, rather than the environment itself.
“At the moment it’s imbalanced. It’s being, I guess, used as a cash cow for the tourism industry but there isn’t any funding going into looking after the environmental values, or not a commensurate amount,” he said.
“Even just adequate management of the threatened species population, addressing the threats such as environmental weeds, invasive predators and things like that, all those things need management.
He warned if the situation continued, national parks would reach an environmental tipping point and be irreversibly damaged.
“If we lose the values that the park is famous for or iconic for we lose a fundamental part of the national park … and part of the Australian culture is lost with that.”
For Mr Barrrowcliffe, the threat to the land is all too real.
“If these areas aren’t looked after properly and it’s already happening, they’re being loved to death and it’s not until the dingo or the Wongari are extinct that people will turn around and realise what they’re missing.”