Minister proposes national protection for National Parks
Australia’s leading environment groups today congratulated Environment Minister, the Hon Tony Burke MP, on his plan to give greater protection to Australia’s National Parks.
In a speech at the Sydney Institute on Thursday night, Minister Burke announced that he would write to his state colleagues to seek their views on extending National Environmental Law to better protect areas with high biodiversity, such as National Parks, as Matters of National Environmental Significance.
“Most Australians expect that once an area is declared a National Park or highly protected area of some kind, it is safe for wildlife forever,” said Alexia Wellbelove, Humane Society International’s Senior Program Manager. “However, increasingly our parks and reserves are being subject to significant pressures which threaten to compromise these values.”
Earlier this year environment groups around Australia were outraged when the Victorian Government allowed cattle grazing in the National Heritage listed Alpine National Park, under the guise of a ‘scientific grazing program’.
Minister Burke’s proposed new regulation would mean that any new proposals to introduce grazing, logging, mining or inappropriate clearing would ‘trigger’ the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act), the Commonwealth’s primary piece of environmental legislation.
“Australian wildlife has world-class biodiversity significance. It is in the national interest to ensure that areas of significance for unique wildlife and wild places are protected under national law.” said Christine Goonrey, President of National Parks Australia Council. “As well as their role in protecting our rich biodiversity, we rely on our protected areas for clean air and water. They are an integral part of the natural services which underpin our society.”
“The move by Minister Burke ensures we will not be taking any ‘backward steps’ at a time when our biodiversity is in crisis,” said Keith Muir of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness. “Indeed we need to step up the conservation effort if we are to meet our commitments under international agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity.”
“We applaud this as a great first step, and we do hope it will be part of a broader package of reforms,” said Samantha Vine, Birds Australia Conservation Manager and convener of a conservation working group pushing for reform of the EPBC Act. “Recognising ecosystems of national importance, such as the National Reserve System, as Matters of National Environmental Significance is just one of the many recommendations outlined by Dr Hawke in his independent review of the reforms necessary to protect our natural environment,” she said.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) is the Australian Government’s primary piece of national environmental legislation. An independent review of the Act by Dr Allan Hawke has found these laws need a substantial overhaul to meet present environmental challenges. Dr Hawke published his final report in October 2009.
Prominent environment groups have since been seeking support for comprehensive reform of the EPBC Act sufficient to provide the basis for reversing the slide to extinction of thousands of species, protecting landscapes and ecosystems before they become degraded (the most cost-effective form of conservation), restoring ecological health to already damaged ecosystems, and providing nature with the best prospects of surviving climate change.
The Review recommends that the EPBC Act be amended to include ‘ecosystems of national significance’ as a new matter of national environmental significance. In this context, areas established under the National Reserve System (NRS) and captured as part of an ecosystem of national significance would be afforded protection under the Act (pg190).
The Gillard Labor Government committed at election time to ‘consider the recommendations of the Hawke review carefully, to ensure that our national environmental laws are supporting efficient and effective environment protection and to facilitate sustainable development, while at the same time cutting red tape and increasing certainty for business. The Labor party committed to ‘introduce new legislation into Parliament during our second term to implement any reforms identified to better achieve these objectives.’