Expression of Interest (EOI) a new threat to our national parks

The Queensland government has recently released a call for Expression of Interest (EoI) from private entities to provide eco-tourism developments in three Queensland national parks. 

 The EoI relates to Thorsborne Track, Cooloola Great Walk and Whitsunday Island Trail

The EoI relates to Thorsborne Track, Cooloola Great Walk and Whitsunday Island Trail

You can read the proposal for yourself here: http://bit.ly/2IWMsSa

NPAQ believes accommodation should be located outside national parks to protect their natural value. We are concerned that this proposal will use taxpayers money to support commercial eco-tourism that could undermine our national park system. National Parks already receive inadequate funding to achieve their primary purpose - protecting biodiversity - without additional tourism pressures being placed on our parks.

The following is a summary of the most significant flaws in this EoI process:

1) That Queensland has one of the most diverse and beautiful environments is recognised, however, the existing health of these environments and threats to their long-term viability is not stated. The Queensland Government’s own State of the Environment Report provides information on this.

2) There is a lack of clarity provided within these documents, for example, on the desire to present and profile our national parks. While we agree with providing access to national parks this must be conditioned on biodiversity values not being compromised. The current EOI document do not provide enough safeguards for the nature conservation role of our national parks.

3) It is stated that the Queensland Government would be a successful proponent’s partner. We consider there to be considerable conflict in the Queensland Government taking on a landlord role in relation to our national parks. The Queensland Government has a responsibility to administer regulations relevant to national parks, nature conservation and vegetation management. We do not feel the Queensland Government can act as an unbiased party if it becomes a partner, indeed takes on an initiating role, in financial ventures in national parks.

4) The lack of new money for national park expansion in the government’s most recent budget can be interpreted as an unwillingness to expand our national park estate. The EOI document indicates that national parks could be made available for eco-accommodation development under 30-year leases. This would have the effect of giving over community assets to private proponents and would have the effect of reducing Queensland’s protected area estate.

5) The Queensland Government is offering public funds to support proponents by providing base infrastructure. It appears that community funds are intended to be used to develop the community’s assets (our parks) with the intent of limited commercial gain for private interests. We do not think that this meets community expectations.

6) We request an expanded explanation on the invitation to proponents excite the world. What requirements does the Queensland Government plan to put in place to ensure these projects increase awareness of nature and caring for it? How will impacts to park natural values be factored into project cost-benefit modelling?

7) In seeking partnerships, it is stated that “safe, sustainable, job generating tourism opportunities” are sought. In evaluating proponents how does the Queensland Government intend evaluate the competing priorities of job generation, tourism industry visitation growth and sustainability? These are competing interests and we would like to know what weighting is given to the different priorities.

8) The EOI document provides no context to potential proponents. One example is the 17% target for Queensland Protected areas which is not mentioned.

9) The guidance in the EOI document is not fair to potential proponents. It does not provide clarity as to how a one government approach would be applied. The EOI document does not provide advice on the reality that state, federal and local government regulatory and legislative frameworks would need to be satisfied for any project to advance. These matters require a time and resource investment for any proponent. The EOI should advise of the likely need for an upfront bond to ensure the community carries as little risk as possible. Further it is silent on potential community reaction and the outreach that will be required to support these proposals.

10) National parks are a key resource, accessible and owned by the public. Proposals to provide access to private enterprise for revenue making opportunities on national park land to the exclusion of the public are contrary to commitments taken to previous elections in Queensland in 2015 and 2017 that public assets would not be privatised.

We have written to the Premier, Minister for Tourism and Minister for the Environment and requested that the EoI be withdrawn. A proper consultation and engagement process must occur before any permanent commercial enterprise or development takes place in our parks.

We believe that if consultation is properly executed industry and conservation partners can be a part of optimising tourism through national parks without degrading our precious environment spaces. Queensland deserves a genuine plan for protected area growth and management in the long term.

We encourage you to contact:

The Premier thepremier@premiers.qld.gov.au
Minister Jones
tourism@ministerial.qld.gov.au
Minister Enoch
environment@ministerial.qld.gov.au