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Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts
Australia's biodiversity in a changing climate
House of Reps
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Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts
Hall, Jill, MP
Washer, Dr Mal, MP
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Content WindowStanding Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts - 28/03/2012 - Australia's biodiversity in a changing climate
EVANS, Mr Kevin John, Chief Executive Officer, National Parks Association of New South Wales Inc.
CHAIR: I now call our next witness, from the National Parks Association of New South Wales, whom I welcome to today's hearing. Good afternoon and welcome. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the House. We also have a written submission from your association to the committee, but would you like to add to that submission or make an opening statement?
Mr Evans : Yes, thank you. On behalf of the National Parks Association I would like to thank you for inviting us to give evidence today and I would also like to thank you as a committee for coming to Sydney and broadening the dialogue with individuals and groups who will have a view on how this country can cope with climate change and protecting our biodiversity. I think it is an excellent example of our robust democracy that you do that.
As I am sure you would imagine from the name 'National Parks Association', our primary interest is in building a comprehensive and adequate reserve system in New South Wales. We have been advocating for that since our origins in the 1950s. New South Wales now proudly has nine per cent of the state in protected areas—national parks and reserves—which is equivalent to seven million hectares, so it is really quite significant. We have a very detailed and ambitious establishment plan for New South Wales which will see the reserve system expand to 15 per cent of the state and beyond. Of course, that is an extraordinarily ambitious target and is likely to take up to 50 years to achieve. One of the barriers for that of course is funding, not only funding for the onground work for the existing reserve system, but also funding for acquisition. Land prices increase significantly especially on the eastern seaboard and the price for acquisition increases all the time. So in terms of the federal government's involvement with the reserve system in New South Wales or anywhere else in Australia, it is in name only. I am sure, as you imagine, a national park is really not synonymous with the approach taken by the North American reserve system, which is funded and managed by the federal government, in this case it is funded by the state governments. Smaller budgets allocated to deal with onground management and acquisition are getting smaller and smaller. So an already ambitious target to achieve 15 to 20 per cent to build a very robust system of national parks in this state, is not going to be realised unless there is increased funding from the federal government and increased influence, I believe, to ensure that the national parks and reserves system remain for their core values of protecting Australia's biodiversity in the face of a number of threats, not just climate change but also invasive species and land clearing and such issues.
Obviously we have been working in the public reserve system for a long time. In recent times however we have moved beyond that. We feel that the resilience in our ecosystems cannot be achieved if we do not acknowledge the role played by private land management. We believe that there is lot of work that can be done to link private and public conservation initiatives to ensure that together we work as a community to protect the environment.
One of the two examples we outlined in our report is the Great Eastern Ranges initiative, and I would like to acknowledge Penny Figgis and say that I completely concur with her witness statement earlier. We are particularly proud to be a lead partner on the Great Eastern Ranges initiative. I think that the Chair asked the question about international leadership and what examples there are in other countries that we can learn from. In this case, the Great Eastern Ranges initiative is influencing policy internationally and we know, as a lead partner, that frequently we have dialogue with our organisations in North America, Canada, and even Spain and the United Kingdom, in how this public-private partnership arrangement works.
Essentially, the Great Eastern Ranges initiative is an initiative of New South Wales, and of course I can proudly say that it was our report initially that started the process of releasing state government funding for this program. We now have the opportunity with the $11 million that has been committed by the State government so far to this initiative to expand it beyond borders and make this an entirely national approach to biodiversity, connectivity conservation, which would be a tremendous initiative to protect biodiversity in the event of climate change. Victoria and Queensland governments are certainly receptive to this idea, but at the moment we are building a more robust regional partnership arrangement which will see the sixth partnership come online, the Dorrigo to Coffs Harbour regional partnership agreement, under the $4.4 million funding arrangement from the Environmental Trust here in New South Wales.
I think that you guys were touching on one of the barriers earlier. I think these kinds of initiatives do address one of the fundamental barriers of knowledge and education, and community buy-in to these kinds of programs to help support government initiatives—
CHAIR: The committee has been briefed quite extensively on the Great Eastern Ranges initiative in a previous hearing. I am just letting you know so that you do not need to go into a lot of detail about it.
Mr Evans : All right, thank you. That is good to know. I hope my enthusiasm for the project comes forward, because I do feel that—
Ms HALL: Absolutely, and I am sure that you are giving us a bit of a different perspective as well.
Mr Evans : Yes, as a not-for-profit organisation that tries to connect people to wildlife, we believe that this is a particularly important initiative in which we can help governments interpret policy in a different way. One of the misunderstandings out there is: what is climate change and how is it going to affect me, my family, my local environment and my national park?
A lot of those things are difficult for governments to interpret in a way that communities understand. I believe organisations like ours and initiatives like the Great Eastern Ranges initiative provide the opportunity for them to understand at the local level and to know how as an individual they can participate and improve things on behalf of Australia.
The Great Eastern Ranges initiative is, of course, a really nebulous term—it is the Atherton Tableland right down to Victoria. But when you take it down to the individual level, someone living in Dorrigo who is going to be part of this eastern seaboard states initiative gets passionate and puts in so much energy and spreads the word about what the money is providing and what opportunities there are to improve biodiversity protection in their local patch. And when you have all those local patches working together, the connectivity gain is extraordinary and it really does provide a better understanding out there in the general community on these issues.
I take your point and I will move on to our other example, which is the travelling stock routes. I believe Wyatt Roy is on the committee and I think he may be the only one representing an electorate that has a travelling stock route—forgive me if I am wrong. Most of the travelling stock routes are in Queensland and New South Wales. Unfortunately, there are none in South Australia, Mr Chair. In New South Wales we have 700,000 hectares of travelling stock routes still protected under legislation. For those not entirely familiar with what a travelling stock route is, they have been used since Europe settlement. They were primarily used for drovers and farmers to move stock through the countryside, in the event of catastrophes like fire and drought, to where water was consistent so that they could protect their stock. The routes often followed Aboriginal trails, so 40,000 years of Aboriginal use then became a few hundred years of European use. They now provide a wonderful opportunity for connectivity which supports and links to the Great Eastern Ranges initiative and overlaps, bisects and connects our public reserve system. So this is an extensive system, with an absolute opportunity to provide a network of habitat for animals to disperse in the event of climate change, fire and a whole suite of other threats out there in the community.
The travelling stock routes are increasingly complex for Queensland and New South Wales to manage, and there is a real opportunity for the federal government to play a role here. We believe the iconic nature of travelling stock routes—the drovers' history, the poems of our early settlement period and the inherent biodiversity values that they now afford this nation—needs a national response to recognise them as a national heritage treasure or icon and to provide some funding to support them.
In New South Wales the Livestock Health and Pest Authority primarily manage these routes. Increasingly, farmers are expected to pay increased rates to fund the management of these travelling stock routes. But, as you would know, these days the travelling stock routes are used less to manage the impacts of extreme weather and more for shared use such as sustainable fishing, which is totally appropriate in travelling stock routes, and for biodiversity protection. So there is a lot of tourism linked to the cultural heritage issues around them as well as the biodiversity heritage. Because of the decline in rates to manage the system, governments are faced with the challenge of how to maintain and not break up the system where the ratepayers are unable to afford to manage them.
An LHPA review just handed down by the state government on Friday recommends that in areas where the travelling stock routes are no longer able to support agricultural use and therefore have less rates, those would transfer to the Crown. The danger there is the temptation, if legislation was changed, for those to be broken up and for their inherent connectivity values and biodiversity protection values to dissipate and be lost to the nation. You can put this in context with the far west of New South Wales. You mentioned earlier flying over Western Australia and seeing the consequences of land clearing and salinity. If you fly over New South Wales, the picture is pretty similar. You will see that in some areas of western New South Wales 99 per cent has already been cleared significantly. The biodiversity and habitat protection for remnant grasslands and forests in the travelling stock routes is the only opportunity for species that are still occurring in this area to travel through the land and persist. So it is vitally important that the opportunity from this current review is acknowledged by the federal government, to ensure that we can provide additional funding and protect them as a major component of our national approach to climate change and biodiversity protection.
CHAIR: Thank you for that and thank you for talking about travelling stock routes, because I had not heard of them—
Ms HALL: That's because you're a poor, unfortunate South Australian!
CHAIR: I disagree. We should have had them, because up until 25 years ago most of the cattle were brought down to South Australia, to the slaughterhouses there. So perhaps we do have them. I am going to defer to Jill Hall to see if she has any questions first, coming from New South Wales and perhaps being more familiar with what is happening in your state, Mr Evans.
Ms HALL: I am very aware of what has happened since 1995 with increasing the size of national parks within New South Wales. I can understand the desire to get some federal funding. I am wondering if the ongoing funding of national parks in New South Wales is currently under threat and if there is a move within New South Wales now to reduce the size of national parks, as opposed to the previous plan of increasing it up to five per cent. If there were federal funds, would it meet some political resistance, even though it is the overall plan, given the current approach to national parks within the state?
Mr Evans : I guess a simple way to answer your question is to say that politics plays a significant role—more in the marine conservation debate than terrestrial, often. We have a new government on board. They announced a new national park in New South Wales only last weekend, the Dharawal National Park, 6,500 hectares, a national park that our organisation has advocated for nearly three decades. It is an example that there is still ongoing commitment by this government to initiate the recommendations of the current establishment plan. We hope that will lead to more examples of their ambitions to move out west, which is underrepresented in the reserve system.
In regard to your question about ongoing funding for the reserve system, yes, there have been budgetary pressures. New governments, of course, do tend to make cutbacks. In fairness, they have been across departments and not targeted at the environment. There has been up to a 20 per cent reduction in operational budgets pretty consistently across the board. That has been pretty hard felt for protected area management in New South Wales, and it is something that we are monitoring and will certainly have a view on in our ongoing discussions with the environment minister.
It is increasingly tough to find the money. Every time you increase the estate, you have to find a corresponding amount of money to manage that decision. So you get the goodwill but then you get the budgetary pain in the back pocket later. So we certainly do not have all the answers to try and find the funding regime that is possible, but I guess—using the example of the Great Eastern Ranges initiative again, where there is a robust private-public partnership arrangement, where funding is shared between a number of sources—there are opportunities for creative thinking about how we can fund the national parks estate and the expansion and ongoing management of it to make sure that we mitigate the effects of climate change and all the other threats there.
Ms HALL: On the Great Eastern Ranges project, what sorts of commitments have you got from Queensland and Victoria to the expansion of the project?
Mr Evans : The Victorian government are looking at signing an MOU with New South Wales—in fact, it could already be signed by now—to expand it. The land tenure arrangements in Victoria are very different from those in New South Wales. Much more of the Great Eastern Ranges is in forestry and already publicly owned compared to New South Wales. Only 48 per cent of the Great Eastern Ranges in New South Wales is in national parks. In Queensland they are a lot further behind New South Wales with their ambitions for reservations. The targets for reservations there have not been consistently aligned with the Great Eastern Ranges to date. Again, there is an opportunity with a new government coming on board who may be receptive to listening to other views, and linking with New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT on the Great Eastern Ranges would probably be of interest to them going forward.
Ms HALL: I am actually going out to have a look at a project in the Upper Hunter in the near future to see what has happened there. I am very familiar with the Dorrigo to Coffs Harbour region. How strong is the environmental fund these days?
Mr Evans : It is still pretty robust. There is a whole suite of initiatives that are funded by the trust.
Ms HALL: It would be really handy for the committee to learn about that.
Mr Evans : I am not sure exactly how long ago the Environmental Trust was established. It provides funding. I fully acknowledge what you were saying earlier about chasing grants—our organisation is in that category—and many of the grant opportunities come from the New South Wales Environmental Trust. What may be of interest to the committee is that this round has changed from one year of funding for on-ground regeneration programs—which, as you said, is very problematic—to six years. So initiatives that require a long-term commitment to restore the habitat can now have a guarantee that it is not going to be one year of funding and then the challenge of doing it again; it is now six years for some of the large scale projects, which we believe is a big step in the right direction. It is very competitive, of course. There are thousands of not-for-profit organisations chasing a finite amount of money, so it is increasingly difficult for organisations to meet the criteria on which you can successfully get a grant.
Ms HALL: It was brought up during evidence this morning that there is a need to combine an education component with the activities of preservation within the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Would you like to share with the committee what happens now and what the prospects are for including education and linking that with the preservation of biodiversity within this state?
Mr Evans : That is a good question and it is an area where I believe a lot more work could be done, especially on greater cooperation between all tiers of government. Increasingly we see local government taking leadership in biodiversity information and knowledge and connecting people to biodiversity in the urban area and in local government authorities, and that is to be applauded. But there is probably a gap where governments are not working together to ensure that the messaging is consistent and that we are applying similar methodologies and similar approaches in response to things like climate change and invasive species issues. So I think there is a great opportunity to come together. There might be an opportunity within COAG to have a dialogue about how we design material in a way that educates and communicates in a simple way about the issues. I think that is really important. At the moment our organisation is certainly of the view that our work on communicating biodiversity protection through our publications, through our website and through the biodiversity survey work that we have been doing for some time connects people in a way that they can have a much better understanding. They are playing a vital role in doing simple scientific assessment under supervision which can then feed into the federal government's Atlas of Living Australia. So initiatives like that are increasingly important, because people find their family can contribute something which is meaningful to all Australians by entering a presence or absence of a particular bird in their garden or a national park. Over time, that will provide information that can influence better management.
Ms HALL: How many people are employed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service in New South Wales and what is the break-up in the areas and roles they fill within the department? If you do not have it with you, you can send that information to the committee—that would probably be a good way to do it.
Mr Evans : I can take that on notice and provide you with that information.
Dr WASHER: I would like to ask more about this travelling stock route and reserve. I want you to know, Chair, that we have the Canning Stock Route in Western Australia, which you may not have heard of. I am not an expert on it, but the Canning Stock Route as you know is well travelled because of the waterholes. People take their caravans, often a four-wheel drive caravan, hopefully, and four-wheel drives and travel that track. As far as you are aware, the cost of maintaining these areas is still generally shared by agriculture or station owners in those regions. Is there a right of way? In other words, if I go through a station, say, on the Canning Stock Route—I read this last night and was kind of fascinated, because of a lack of knowledge. I know about the Canning Stock Route, but I know plenty of people who have. Do you have a right of way through stations to go on this stock route?
Mr Evans : Yes, indeed. You do not need a permit to enter a travelling stock route if you are on foot—if you are walking and a doing passive activities like birdwatching or just enjoying it like you would a national park. If you are going to engage in droving, moving animals, firewood collecting or a number of other activities like that you will need to apply for a permit to get approval to do that. But, yes, it is public land and there is a right of way for people. It is relatively inconsistently signed in areas. Where it borders on townships and local communities often it is well signed and there is knowledge shared. You mentioned the grey nomads. If you Google travelling stock routes you will come up with all sorts of blogs about travelling stock routes. People use them a lot to engage in tourism activities, which we believe is a fundamental part of telling the story, which will lead to greater knowledge and, hopefully, to protection.
Dr WASHER: So you would seek those permits from the state government, currently.
Mr Evans : From a statutory authority called the Livestock Health and Pest Authority; you would contact them and apply for a permit to undertake that work. The rates that are paid for by the landowners that border on the travelling stock routes go to the Livestock Health and Pest Authority, which has 14 authorities across the state that manage the travelling stock routes.
Dr WASHER: You have taught me one heck of a lot.
CHAIR: Did you say that the land that these travelling stock routes are on is all public land or do some of the routes cross privately owned land?
Mr Evans : It is all public land, except in the Western Division.
CHAIR: Just looking at New South Wales, which is obviously where you would have the greatest level of expertise, are there any areas which in your opinion are currently under serious threat and which are not being adequately protected?
Mr Evans : Yes. In the New South Wales context, anywhere west of the Dividing Range is now underrepresented in the reserve system—it is where land clearing for agriculture and mining has been most active. I guess there is less population there to care and to raise issues of concern. Of course, it is more affordable for governments to purchase land for reservation out there, but it has not occurred, because I guess there has been more priority for coastal acquisition in more recent times.
Again, I believe the travelling stock routes provide such an amazing opportunity for the nation. As opposed to the Great Eastern Ranges initiative, where a lot of work needs to be done to restore, with the travelling stock routes there are 700,000 hectares already there out in the west and central west. Federal intervention to help fund and protect would do an amazing amount of good for protecting our biodiversity.
Dr WASHER: That is in New South Wales alone?
Mr Evans : In New South Wales. I am talking about it in our context, but Queensland has an even more extensive system of travelling stock routes than New South Wales.
CHAIR: In respect of the various other legislation that exists around Australia, from your own experience do we have problems between federal and state legislation that are also causing concern to you in terms of managing the work that you have to do?
Mr Evans : Yes, there is terminology and there are legislative complexities that cause problems, especially where you have national parks going across state borders. This occurs between Queensland and New South Wales and between Victoria and New South Wales. That can get quite complex, and it leads to confusion and harm to the environment as a result of that confusion. Additionally, the main piece of legislation that is used to make it possible to provide better protection in New South Wales is the EPBC Act, which is a federal piece of legislation; a threat to a federally endangered species can activate that legislation. I think the influence of that act over the top of the state legislation is commonly misunderstood. So there is quite a bit of confusion. It is even more confusing with marine protection. A lot of the terms used between states are completely different, with 'sanctuaries', 'protected areas' and 'national parks' in marine areas in one state. So it is certainly very complicated. We advocated for COAG to try to resolve these things so there is a common response to legislation and terms used in protected area management to try to resolve that.
CHAIR: With respect to that, is there any work being done at all? You said you have made representations and that COAG might pick it up. Have they?
Mr Evans : No, not at this stage. Certainly in the marine debate we think it is vitally important that we get that messaging right.
CHAIR: I am aware that in my own state there are currently proposals to look at marine conservation areas, and that would be running simultaneously with the federal proposals, I think. So it is an interesting area of overlap. Don't the states and the federal government take different lines in terms of where the boundary begins between one government and the next? I do not have any other questions, but I do not know if Jill or Mal does.
Ms HALL: I would just be really interested if you can get those figures.
Mr Evans : Will do.
CHAIR: Thank you for your attendance here today. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence, to which you can request corrections to any transcription errors. Once again, thank you for coming along and for your presentation to us.
Mr Evans : Thank you very much.
Resolved (on motion by Dr Washer):
That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.
Committee adjourned at 12:58