Tourism-centric national parks allocation as a Budget for jobs forgets about conservation

Co-authors: Fred McKie, NPAQ Communications Officer, and Yvonne Parsons, NPAQ Assistant Honorary Secretary

Image used in graphic courtesy Queensland Museum

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The State Budget has allocated an extra $40 million over two years for national parks, however conservation efforts are clearly taking a back seat in what is predominantly a tourism spend disguised as environmental dollars.
 
Despite the Queensland Government bragging about delivering a record $275 million for the environment, including $175 over five years to improve water quality of the Great Barrier Reef, just $5 million of the $40 million national parks allocation will potentially go towards operational funding and conservation planning. That equates to less than 30 cents a hectare each year. The other $35 million is for capital works and infrastructure projects, with an aim of improving visitor experience and recreation opportunities. In other words, tourism.
 
Minister for National Parks Steven Miles has actually stated that the funds will be used to “create an eco-tourism industry to rival Tasmania”, while one of his Ministerial statements even quotes Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind referring to areas of great conservation value – such as the Daintree and the Gondwana World Heritage Area that includes Lamington and Springbrook national parks – as "major tourism drawcards”. There is simply no denying the strong tourism bent to the allocation.
 
Of the $5 million over two years to support operational funding and conservation planning, Dr Miles has spoken of a need to manage national parks effectively so that they can also be enjoyed by future generations.
 
“Because when it comes to eco-tourism, you can only create jobs by protecting the environment,” he says.
 
Here, here. It’s just a shame the spending is so lop-sided.
 
NPAQ certainly commends the State Government for recognising the economic value of our national parks and other protected areas, including the Reef. However, the funds for visitor services, infrastructure and recreation opportunities in comparison to funding for conservation management and the resources required for our national parks to be maintained, is sadly disproportionate.
 
Theme parks and Gold Coast aside, it is indeed our natural assets that draw tourists to Queensland, however it is pointless to have a fantastic lookout, campground, amenities or information centre if Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) rangers are unable to present our parks free from feral pests or weeds and maintain their conservation value.
 
We fully support a separate Budget allocation to expand the Indigenous Land and Sea Rangers program, enabling another 25 rangers, as this is an important step forward in giving our traditional owners an opportunity to work on their country and take pride in their heritage. However, as  personnel numbers within QPWS has declined steadily over the past few decades, the pressures on park management with ever-evolving priorities is an issue that needs serious funding attention.
 
If our park staff are to adequately deal with the decline in species and quality of habitat due to climate change, pathogens and feral species, we must consider that jobs for the conservation sector are also important. To claim that infrastructure and recreation facilities will create jobs is a very short-sighted statement, as once projects are complete, the job disappears.

How the overall environment spend stacks up

"Jobs for Queensland" has been the government’s catchcry in selling the Budget. But at what cost?
 
The investment in developing strategies to manage risks of climate change ($15 million over three years) is far less than the support being offered to the natural resources industry - still seen as a jobs creator - despite coal mines being a major contributor to the problem.
 
A total of $42.75 billion will be spent over four years on infrastructure projects bringing about an estimated 40,000 jobs versus only $175 million on trying to save the Reef – a natural asset that the government’s own papers says supports 69,000 jobs and brings in $5.7 billion to the economy. The numbers don't add up.

Consider also that the local economy of Cairns is heavily dependent on the Reef, yet more money has been allocated to a single infrastructure project in the city ($176 million for the extension of its convention centre).

Deloitte’s calculation of the total economic, social and icon asset value of the Reef at $56 billion, made public this week, adds weight to the argument.

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This article was first published in Issue 59 of the National Parks Association of Queensland (NPAQ) e-bulletin Neck of the Woods in June 2017