New government, new opportunities, same concerns.

Author: Graeme Bartrim, President, NPAQ

 By Kgbo [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Kgbo [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

We firmly believe that extending and managing the protected area estate is very important for Queenslanders in the long term.

New faces, same concerns
Only a couple of months ago we were wondering what the outcome of the Queensland election would be. There was much speculation but now a Labor majority has been confirmed, along with the election for the first time ever in Queensland’s parliament of a member of the Greens, Michael Berkman. With Christmas and the New Year rapidly fading, new ministers, rearranged government departments and a new opposition front bench are settling into their work. Congratulations to all of those who have won seats and gained positions in the new parliament. 
The National Parks Association of Queensland (NPAQ) is looking forward to working with the new government and opposition, initially in finalising the Queensland Protected Area Strategy. We also anticipate the return of land clearing laws and implementation of greenhouse gas reduction projects through a $500 million Land Restoration Fund.
We await honouring of further election commitments relevant to protected areas (though unfortunately none were specifically related to national parks). It was stated that the government would purchase land proposed for development at Earl Hill (a local beauty spot and popular walk at Trinity Beach) and purchase land around Kimberly Plateau for conservation purposes and to link with Daisy Hill Conservation Park. The enactment of legislation supporting special wildlife reserves is also anticipated. 
The election also served as a reminder that politicians can make commitments in the heat of an election campaign that seemed like a good idea at the time. The then Environment Minister offering $5 million to support the construction of a track and accommodation on Whitsunday Islands National Park and $25 million in support for developers to redevelop disused/damaged resorts in the Whitsunday islands appears to be in this category. NPAQ has asked for the strategic prioritised decision process that led to these proposals but to date no response has been forthcoming.
NPAQ wishes Steven Miles well in his new portfolio of Health and hope that his keen interest in environmental matters will see Queensland Health actively supporting the generally accepted link between wellbeing and a connection with nature.
We look forward to working with Leeanne Enoch, Minister for Environment and the Great Barrier Reef, Minister for Science and Minister for the Arts. And similarly, with David Crisafulli, the Shadow Minister for Environment, Science and the Great Barrier Reef and Shadow Minister for Tourism, and with Greens MP Michael Berkman.

Platform and promises
Politicians generally work extremely hard and it is no easy task remaining true to a party’s platform and election commitments whilst dealing with the workings of parliament, budget realities and responding to the myriad of issues that arise.
The Labor Party platform Putting Queenslanders First was determined in Townsville in July 2017 and is over 100 pages long. It addresses a strong economy, creating jobs and opportunities, learning, industrial relations, our environment and future, healthy living, connected communities, and caring and secure communities. There are many priorities given to guide the party in government.
NPAQ supports a number of Labor priorities that are relevant to our purpose.  For example:

• “… conserving Queensland fauna, flora, ecosystems and genetic diversity by expanding the protected area estate”
• “…endorses the convention on Biological Diversity to preserve 17% of Australia’s land mass. To meet this target Labor will expand Queensland’s protected area estate.”
• “… will ensure that national parks and the protected area estate is managed in accordance with the cardinal principle.”
• “…will ensure that development and other types of activities within national parks and the protected area estate are managed in accordance with the cardinal principle.”
• “…ensure that comprehensive scientific management plans are established for all national parks and the protected area estate.”
• “…supports UNESCO co-ordinated World Heritage List… will work with Federal Government to manage listed properties in accordance with best practice and UNESCO recommendations and support new listings.”
• “...will provide incentives to freehold property owners and rural leaseholders to establish nature refuges on their property and introduce regulatory mechanisms to protect nature refuges and other protected areas from mining and other incompatible land uses.”
• “… commits to developing a new biodiversity strategy including prioritising corridors for climatic adaptation and climatic refugia.”

Competing priorities
Of course, other interest groups could point to the platform’s stated priorities that are aligned with their causes. Conflicting demands, a limited budget and the imperatives of day-to-day issues mean that the focus on lofty long-term goals can be lost. 
We firmly believe that extending and managing the protected area estate is very important for Queenslanders in the long term. Governments are spending much time and money on attempting to address degradation of the Great Barrier Reef. This has been triggered by clear threats to biodiversity being identified over many years and recognition that the state’s tourism income is at risk. Could short-term decision making regarding our land based biodiversity lead us down the same path? Long term solutions that prevent degradation could help avoid crises that will need huge investment.
We believe our objectives support the work of newly formed Department of Environment and Science and are committed to the development of a sound, scientifically-based Protected Area Strategy that is genuinely supported with government structure and both acquisition and management funding. 
We look forward to working with the new parliament and will be diligent in ensuring the conservation role of national parks is not forgotten or neglected among the range of competing interests.