50th Anniversary of the National Parks and Wildlife Service

In Parliament | 14.09.17

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE (16:00): This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of our State's much-cherished National Parks and Wildlife Service. In 1967 the then Liberal Government—

The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps: Liberal Government?

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: Yes, Liberal Government. In 1967 Premier Tom Lewis established the National Parks and Wildlife Service. On 24 August it was 50 years since the legislation was passed in this Parliament to establish the service. As national parks are one of our greatest public assets one would have thought that this Government would have celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, but there was nothing. This year should be a time of reflection and commitment. This Government has an opportunity to build a reserve system that is the envy of the world but instead there has been silence. The reason becomes apparent when we investigate what is happening to the National Parks and Wildlife Service. New South Wales has some of the most beautiful, diverse and environmentally significant natural areas in the world. For more than 50 years we have protected many of these places in more than 870 parks and reserves that cover more than seven million hectares, or 9 per cent of the State, including four World Heritage sites, many National Heritage sites and 17 Ramsar-listed wetlands.

In 2008 the National Parks and Wildlife Service was considered to be one of the top five conservation agencies in the world by the International Union of Conservation and Nature. So much has happened since then, and so much has happened since 2011. I have spent a lot of time of trying to get to the bottom of what is happening in the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The Government has obfuscated, it has withheld information and it is hard to work out what is going on. We know that deep staff cuts and deep budget cuts have occurred as well as a massive underspending of the money that was allocated to the service. We estimate that over the past year and this coming year approximately $121 million will be taken out of the national parks budget. This represents 27 per cent of this year's entire National Parks and Wildlife Service budget, which is a staggering reduction with devastating consequences.

The current restructure underway in the National Parks and Wildlife Service has seen the Government take the axe to the jobs of many dedicated and experienced staff. These people are highly qualified; they understand our parks and how they must be managed. This is an appalling cut to regional jobs. The negative impacts on everyday park operations is significant. At least 246 fewer full-time staff have been sacked or made redundant and the number of national park rangers has plummeted. In addition, a number of national park employees are facing modified job classifications, which is basically a massive pay cut. They can keep their jobs but they have to take a massive pay cut to work for the service they love.

This has had a deep effect on the morale of the workforce and many people have contacted my office anonymously to share their grave concerns because their jobs are on the line. They tell me that ranger numbers have decreased by more than 30 per cent in recent years. In addition, more than 200 field‑based staff have lost their jobs in the past 18 months, and there is more to come. The most recent cuts involve administration staff, public contact staff, and specialist and project staff whose roles now have to be picked up by overworked and understaffed rangers and field officers. The cuts have also been compounded by drastic reductions in direct, recurrent capital works and labour funding.

I have a long list of the negative impacts that have occurred as a result of the cuts to our national parks. They include an increased fire risk to life and property as a result of the loss of critical skills, experience and knowledge among staff; critically important pest and weed control programs have been discontinued; facilities such as picnicking and camping areas in national parks across the State are being decommissioned due to a lack of resources while facilities maintenance in some areas is almost non-existent; many threatened species protection projects are being discontinued across the State; a significant escalation in illegal activities has occurred, which can include risks to public safety as there are simply not enough staff for compliance operations, especially in remote areas; and rangers and field officers have their time taken up with administration and human resource functions that were previously undertaken by other staff.

Despite less resources, all field-based staff have been given significant increases in geographic areas of responsibility, leaving them stretched thin; rangers are facing reduced salaries and hard barriers in their career paths; and there have been significant cuts to travelling, camping and accommodation. That is important when we look at the vast area of national parks. Staff are not staying at swanky hotels; they are camping out. Many regional and area offices in national parks are being locked to the public due to the lack of public contact staff. The National Parks and Wildlife Service is 50 years old. It should be celebrated, not slashed to the bone by this Government.

HANSARD - NSW Legislative Council, 14 September 2017