June 27, 2013  |  Second Reading

National Parks Amendment (Leasing Powers and Other Matters) Bill 2013

 I am  pleased to  speak against  this piece  of legislation. I am not  necessarily pleased to speak  against legislation, but  I feel  the need to speak  clearly against this proposed  legislation. Having just listened to the  member for Gembrook, it seems  to me he is  very confused about what  this  legislation is about. He  seems  to think it  in  some way shows the coalition’s support for nature-based tourism, whereas Labor does not support it. That is quite wrong. As  a member representing a regional seat, a seat with some very beautiful nature-based tourism opportunities within it, and as somebody who has a  great enthusiasm for bushwalking,  having over the  years  walked through Cradle Mountain-Lake St  Clair  National Park and  many  national parks in  both Victoria and Tasmania, I have appreciated those parks, like so many others.

As  a former  teacher, and with my family, I have enjoyed the  opportunities for picnics and spent time appreciating the beauty of those national parks.

We  on  this side of the house,  the Labor Party, showed in  the 11 years of the Bracks and Brumby  governments  that we strongly supported nature-based tourism. We made a  lot of commitments both financially  and in terms of  energy to those areas, which I greatly supported. The member for Gembrook talked about  the need to support tourism in his area. Labor likewise supports  opportunities for areas in his electorate. He did not explain why you need to build in national parks to support  tourism in our rural and regional communities, because the fact is that you do  not. It  is almost  counterproductive to  say you  need to  build  major structures  within  national parks, because  in nearly all of  our national park areas  of  Victoria  there is private land available either in the locally based rural communities or in other places adjoining the parks.

Those  places  afford  opportunities  to  provide  the  accommodation  and other facilities  that some people would benefit from if they wanted to spend a longer time in our national parks.

During the term of the Bracks government I chaired the Victorian Trails Advisory Committee. It did a lot  of work looking at how  we can sell Victoria as a  site for  world-class bushwalks so that people would  not  just  think  of  going  to Tasmania to  walk in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, New Zealand or other  places  which   have  clearly  developed  their  industries  and  tourism opportunities  to  sell  themselves as  significant  world-class walking  sites. Victoria has world-class walking sites. We did a lot of  work on that committee. I  went  down to Cape Otway  and walked some of the  newly developed Great Ocean Walk,  which the Bracks government supported and developed. Now the trail is  in place, but there are still opportunities to ensure that we increase patronage in that area.

Yes,  there is a  need  to provide better  accommodation opportunities and other facilities for people who want to go into that area.

If  members consider the Great Ocean  Walk and  the whole  area from  Cape Otway through  to  Port  Campbell  and  then  on to Warrnambool, there are  plenty  of opportunities to build accommodation that is  not located in the narrow national park boundaries, and  that would be very beneficial to those  local communities. There is very little need to look at building in these iconic national park areas that people will want to come to if we promote them properly. Labor’s  position  is very  clear:  we support  nature-based  tourism.  With  my background  I know the value of going to national parks to appreciate the beauty of those areas  in our state, and we want to ensure that they are appreciated by other people.

We do not want them damaged by new  developments being built in them, which then require infrastructure. If you build substantial accommodation facilities — and the bill generally talks about accommodation as the major type of  facility  for which the  government is  proposing 99-year leases in this bill — then you need roads put  in, electricity and sewerage connected, and you  therefore change the nature of the national park in that area to provide those facilities. It is just not necessary.

There would be challenges for any developer who wishes  to go about that process because they would be operating, in  most  cases,  against the community view in those areas, as we have seen in the past, so it does not  make sense even to try to  promote those opportunities.  There  are sites associated  with our national parkland in  Victoria that are private land and that provide the opportunity for significant developments that will assist nature-based tourism.

I am stunned  by  so many of the things  that have been said by  members  on the other side. We know their  history in this regard. The Nationals during the time of   the  Bracks  and  Brumby  governments,  and  before,  never  supported  the establishment of new national parks when we have  proposed them. They said, ‘No, this isn’t a great thing. We want to be  able to go into those national parks in any way we want  and  use  them in any way we want, and we don’t need to set any guidelines, as the national parks do’.

In the early days of  the current government, the first thing that the so-called environment minister did  was to propose that we put cattle back into the Alpine National  Park.  It is a good thing that the federal government challenged  that and said, ‘On what scientific basis  will you  have so-called trials?’. It was a bit like the Japanese whaling system, because this government proposed trials of grazing  in  the Alpine National  Park,  an  area  we  know  is  very  sensitive environmentally.

  Mr Delahunty interjected.

  Mr HOWARD—  As  we  hear from  the  member  for Lowan, it  was  an  election commitment,  so  the government felt  it  needed to go with  it.  I am not  sure whether the member is saying, ‘If we hadn’t slipped up ahead of the election and hadn’t  made  a  promise, we wouldn’t have  gone  ahead  with  it’.  Anyway  the government couched it in the same terms as the Japanese did: ‘It’s a trial’.

But rather than a trial of killing whales, this was a trial of cattle grazing in our high country, and when the federal government — —

  Mr  Watt — On a point  of order, Deputy Speaker,  the member is quite clearly straying  from the bill. I do not know what Japanese whaling has to do with this bill, and I ask you to bring him back to it.

  The DEPUTY SPEAKER — Order! I do not uphold the point of order.

  Mr HOWARD— This matter is central to the whole issue of what national  parks are about: that you do not want to let cattle into our national parks.

Thankfully  the  federal   Minister  for   Sustainability,  Environment,  Water, Population and Communities  said,  ‘What is your  rationale for this  scientific trial of cattle grazing in the national parks?’, and of course  this  government could not provide any rationale for so-called scientific trialling of grazing in the  national parks. The way the Minister for Environment and Climate Change and this whole government value our national parks is a disappointment. I heard from the  member  for  Gembrook  that  we  can trust our Minister for Environment and Climate  Change and  that,  ‘If we allow  construction  in national parks,  this environment minister  will be very  responsible’.  This is the  same environment minister who, as his first act in office, wanted to allow cattle to graze in the Alpine National Park, the same minister who seems to take no interest in climate change issues. Support for the alternative energy industry has gone backwards in this state under the environment minister,  and there  are so many other ways in which he is clearly not standing up for the environment in this state.

It would be of  great concern to me to see this environment minister responsible for any construction of  buildings under 99-year leases  in our national  parks. This government really does not appreciate the value of  national parks as do so many others  across our state, and I  certainly do not support  the  bill; it is unnecessary. I state clearly  that  the  Labor  Party is strongly a supporter of nature-based tourism, and I  am strongly in support of nature-based tourism, but we  do not need to go down the track of building in national parks. We can build around  them  on private land and provide the facilities that  can  benefit  our rural and regional communities, where nature-based tourism exists.