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Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Page: 5482

Senator WILLIAMS (7:30 PM) —I rise to talk about the environment, especially national parks. I take the Senate back to what I said in my maiden speech to this chamber last September:

I disagree with a lot that the New South Wales government has done over recent years. Bob Carr had a policy of creating new national parks, which are not managed properly. You cannot simply lock them up and leave them. If you do, fire will destroy them.

That is what I want to talk about tonight. The national parks in New South Wales have been developed and simply not managed. The three things necessary for a raging fire are high temperatures, wind and fuel on the ground. It is a disgrace—that is the correct word—to see the damage caused in these national parks when you drive through those areas after these fires. Two and a half years ago I drove through the Pilliga area of New South Wales. A huge fire had raged through that state forest and national park. The fuel levels were far too high—there was no grazing and no management. All that was left were black sticks and trees burnt right to the crown. A hot fire reached to the top and that is what devastates those trees. These fires kill both the small animals and those larger animals that cannot move quickly, such as koalas.

In the previous year we had a huge fire in the Goonoo State Forest between Dubbo and Mendooran. It was the same thing: hundreds and hundreds of thousands of acres burned to a cinder. The question I ask is: why is this policy in New South Wales? The answer is simple: it is the pressure of the Greens. To secure their vote in the Legislative Council, the government is pressured by the Greens to lock up national parks to be seen to be conservationists—to be seen to be green and looking after the environment. The result is destruction. When you lock these areas up and do not manage them, the fuel levels grow, lightning strikes and fire burns from one end to the other, killing the animals and the trees—and people call it conservation. I call it stupidity. That is what it is.

A few years ago a bloke addressed a National Party gathering in Sydney. His name was Professor John Wamsley. He spoke about how Australia used to be before the fox was introduced to this country. We had a great many small species of kangaroos, for example, that grazed the grasses heavily and those fuel levels would not build up, so when the Aborigines lit fires or lightning strikes caused fires you would get a gentle fire creeping through the forests and the heavily timbered areas, not a raging fire. Unfortunately, one of the stupid things we did—hindsight is a wonderful thing—was to bring things like foxes and cats to this nation that have destroyed so many of our native animals, including and especially our birdlife.

My concern is that this policy simply continues. We saw the federal government, in conjunction with the New South Wales government, buy the 90,000-hectare Toorale Station at Bourke. About 100 jobs are gone and the food production is gone. It has been shut up to become national park. Unfortunately, someone is going to stand up in this place in years to come and say, ‘Toorale Station just burnt from one end to the other as well.’ The fuel levels will increase, lightning will strike and fire will burn from one end to the other, killing the animals and the trees—and what happens then? The country just comes up in what are called woody weeds. It becomes a haven for wild pigs and feral goats and nature is destroyed. This is the effect the Greens are having on governments throughout this nation. They think that having more and more national parks is the way to conservation. It is not the way to conservation; it is the way to destruction. It is destroying those areas of our environment. If governments are going to establish more national parks, surely they must at least have the manpower there to manage those areas. They should be grazing those areas.

When Canberra was under threat from the huge fires some years back, Peter Cochrane stated, ‘The old-timers warned you: let the grass keep growing and, when stinking hot days come with savage, severe winds and high fuel levels, what do you have? You have a build-up of enormous potential danger and trouble.’ We have to learn to manage this country and keep the fuel levels down.

We think of Black Saturday in Victoria. What a tragedy that day was. I was in Victoria the week before. I think it was 44 degrees, and that hot weather continued. Of course, the winds blew up, but what were the fuel levels? The fuel levels were extreme. I recall seeing on TV that one bloke had cleared an area of a couple of hundred metres around his house. He cleared the trees and kept the grass down. He was fined $50,000 by the local government for clearing out natural vegetation. The insurance companies should have given him the $50,000 for the fine because it was the only house left standing. They did not have to rebuild his house because he managed the environment around him. This is what we have to learn: to manage these parks and the fuel levels. As Senator Ian Macdonald said, the fuel levels are out of control. Sure, we have had some droughts and some lean years, but the rains do come, especially in the northern and subtropical areas. The fuel levels are just getting higher and higher and, when the hot weather and the winds come and lightning strikes, how could you ever control a fire? The simple answer is: you cannot.

These are the problems we are having with national parks. This is all politically driven. The Greens are driving this very issue in order to wave their fist of power, especially in the Legislative Council of New South Wales. And the Labor Party is caving in to them. It is crazy. Bob Carr said his would be the greenest government New South Wales has ever seen and all we have are firebombs ready to go when the weather warms up again.

It is a tragedy when you are driving through these areas after they have been burnt and for 30 kilometres or so there is nothing left alive. When you walk in there, there is not a bird; there is no noise; there is just silence because everything is dead and those animals that were lucky enough to escape the fire, however they travel, have moved off to other areas. When are we going to learn our lesson about this? Surely, after the tragedy in Victoria, common sense will prevail to allow grazing in these areas. The best ways to keep your fuel levels down are to either graze the land or to use hazard reduction burning. Hazard reduction burning requires a lot of manpower—manpower that we do not have. Governments are not employing people to manage the national parks. Surely, after the mess we saw last summer, some common sense should be brought into the equation to allow grazing—whether sheep or cattle; it does not matter what it is—to reduce those fuel levels and to reduce the heat of the fire and the danger.

As I stated in my maiden speech last September, if we are going to be serious about managing our environment then we need to get the politics out of it. Do not allow the Greens to go around gloating about how they have got more national parks, because under the current management of those national parks all we are doing is destroying them. To me, that is a tragedy. So let us hope that soon, because of what we have learnt from the past, common sense will prevail and proper management of our national park areas will be put in place to prevent these sorts of things from happening again.