Luke Foley's Speech to the National Park's Association Dinner

In Parliament | 17.10.15

Speech: Luke Foley, Leader of the Opposition NSW

NPA 2015 Annual Dinner

Almost two centuries have passed since William Wordsworth called for a:

‘…a sort of national property in which every man [sic] has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy’ 

Wordsworth was speaking of the Lakes District in the United Kingdom, but his wish captured something about the importance of public ownership, public access and public enjoyment of a nation’s natural heritage.

Half a century later, Ulysses S Grant signed into being the Yellowstone National Park. Just seven years afterwards, Sir John Robertson and others, established the Royal National Park here in New South Wales.

On 26 April 1879 land in south of Sydney was dedicated ‘for the purpose of a National Park’ under the 5th section of the Crown Lands Alienation Act of 1861. This section of the Act provided for the making of reservations ‘…for public health and recreation, convenience, or enjoyment’.

At first, national parks were created for human interest and for the physical health and recreation of those living amongst the dirt and fetid air of industrialised cities.

Today, biodiversity conservation is the first principle of our national parks system. Australia and New South Wales have clear international obligations to protect our biological diversity.

Despite significant efforts more than 1,000 of Australia’s native species face extinction. This terrible reality is only exacerbated by the fact that our flora and fauna, in the main, is unique to this ancient continent. 

Our obligation to preserve natural heritage remains—for our state, our nation but also for the planet itself.

Labor has a proud legacy of environmental protection in New South Wales.

The very first Labor government protected large tracts of the Sydney Harbour foreshore, including what is today the Taronga Park Zoo and Nielsen Park.

William McKell, the architect of modern Labor in this state, created Australia's great alpine national park, the Kosciusko State Park in 1944—now the Kosciuszko National Park [complete with correct spelling!].

Neville Wran's Government saved the northern rainforests, expanded the Blue Mountains national park system, created the Wollemi National Park and banned sand mining in coastal national parks.

Wran also brought into being Australia’s first Wilderness parks .

Bob Carr’s Government saved the coastal forests in the state’s north east and south east, created over one million hectares of new parks in western New South Wales and banned large scale clearing of native vegetation.

In our last year of office, Labor protected the river red gums, and the cypress forests of the south west region. I took my family down to the river red gums for a week following the state election.

The decision to protect these forests is one of the finest decisions that Labor took in its 16 year period of office.

For all of that progress, the job is not yet done. There is always more to do.

Tonight I again commit Labor to further building New South Wales’ national parks estate.

Between 1995 and 2011, Labor added 3.07 million hectares to the national parks estate — that’s roughly 190,000 hectares per year, every year, for 16 years.

Since coming to office in 2011, the Coalition Government has added 55,000 hectares to the national parks estate—that’s only 14,000 hectares per year.

Labor’s record is 190,000 hectares per year. The Coalition’s is 14,000 hectares per year. At this rate, it will take this government 219 years to match Labor’s achievement.

Last year, when the World Parks Congress met in Sydney, Labor explicitly committed itself to further building a fully comprehensive, adequate and representative public reserve system.

Tonight, let me make it clear that the Labor Party I lead maintains this commitment.

International scientific consensus confirms that a comprehensive national parks system, managed primarily for conservation, is the central piece of an effective biodiversity protection regime.

We celebrate the conservation achievement of the New South Wales national park system.

However, the job is not finished. Many ecosystems are under-represented in the national parks estate.

To conserve the full diversity of this state’s landscapes, fauna and flora, and to protect places of important Aboriginal and non-indigenous cultural heritage, more parks and reserves are needed.

I very much regret that the current government has not delivered a new National Parks Establishment Plan. They promised to do so by mid-2014.

In the absence of an updated National Parks Establishment Plan, Penny Sharpe, the Shadow Minister for the Environment, and I will be guided by the plan the Labor Government delivered in 2008. 

Tonight, I recommit my Party to the priorities identified in the New South Wales National Parks Establishment Plan 2008, namely a commitment to:

  • targeting unrepresented ecosystems and habitats, particularly those most under threat from climate change, future development pressures or loss of natural river flows
  • a focus on critical landscape corridors which facilitate the daily and seasonal movement of animals across the landscape and the intergenerational translocation of plants and animals in response to gradual environmental changes, such as climate change,
  • lands within important water catchments that protect important downstream aquatic ecosystems, such as high conservation value coastal lakes, wetlands, streams, estuaries and coastal near-shore marine environments
  • culturally important places with aesthetic, historic, scientific or social value, with particular focus on places of cultural importance to Aboriginal people
  • places of geological significance
  • areas important for effectively and efficiently managing existing reserves and which buffer reserves from surrounding land uses and climate change.

Labor remains opposed to commercial logging, amateur hunting and grazing of hooved animals in our national parks.

These activities are incompatible with the management of public reserves for their primary purpose—the conservation of our native flora and fauna.
The principal objects of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 are the conservation of nature and the conservation of objects, places or features (including biological diversity) of cultural value within the landscape.

This is why commercial logging, hunting and grazing should not occur in this state’s national parks and will not occur under a Labor Government.

An updated National Parks Establishment Plan is now well overdue.  And I know the National Parks Association will keep the pressure on the government to finally deliver it.

In addition to building the terrestrial reserve estate, Labor in office delivered 6 marine parks covering roughly 345, 000 hectares. The missing link remains the Hawkesbury Shelf bioregion.

Labor shares your commitment to the creation of a Sydney Marine Park. It will permanently protect one of Australia’s internationally recognised icons. 

Sydney’s is one of the most biologically diverse harbours in the world. More than 3,000 species call Sydney Harbour home—more fish species are contained in Sydney Harbour than the entire coast of the United Kingdom.

The pressures on Sydney Harbour are significant and growing. Climate change and contamination continue to threaten our harbour’s ecology.

A Sydney Marine Park is needed to replace the ad hoc approach to the management of the Harbour’s marine environment.
What Sydney’s Harbour and need waterways is a consistent approach based on the best available science. 

Tonight, let me acknowledge the National Parks Association’s campaign for a Great Koala National Park.

Following extensive consultation with the NPA and the North Coast Environment Council, Labor took to the 2015 election, a commitment to a new national park to cover 315,000 hectares of forest inland from Coffs Harbour, including all public land within two meta-populations of koalas.

The Coalition parties have consistently mocked this proposal. This is part of a long tradition of scare campaigns around the creation of national parks estate.

In 1944, during the parliamentary debate on the Kosciusko State Park Bill, Mr Roy Vincent MP, the Country Party member for Raleigh, said that the McKell Government was:

“Attempting to filch from the state 144,000 acres of forest land that cannot be spared…. A crime is really being committed in revoking the state forests by virtue of the passage of this legislation.”

The Deputy Premier, Troy Grant is keeping this tradition alive today. In parliament recently he said that my policy for the North Coast;

‘…was to put a heap of koalas there and drive thousands of people out of forestry jobs’

But as you know, and as the Deputy Premier should know, koalas need not be put on North Coast of New South Wales—they are already there.
The proposed Great Koala National Park would protect the habitat of 4,500 koalas—some 20% of this state’s remaining wild population.  

This is crucial. We know the state’s koalas are vulnerable. In 2012, Labor’s then Federal Environment Minister added koala populations in Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT to the threatened species list. Over the past twenty years koala numbers in NSW have dropped by a third .

The time to act is now.

Despite the status of the koala, no nationally recognised reserves have been set aside to ensure the protection of this species in the wild. What we are trying to achieve, in creating conservation reserves, is the preservation of this endangered species.

Like China’s panda reserves, a Koala National Park will help preserve this species in the wild and attract tourists to northern New South Wales.

Almost two centuries have passed since Wordsworth wrote of a national property that we can all perceive and enjoy.

And while much has changed, much remains the same. We still aim to preserve our nation’s national heritage. We aim to protect the planet’s biological diversity.

I use we deliberately here, for without the leadership of the National Parks Association, the job would be next to impossible.

Governments never achieve anything in a vacuum.

Since 1957, the National Parks Association has agitated and advised governments and parliamentarians on the conservation of our natural heritage.

For decades, the NPA has reminded governments of all persuasions of the critical importance of our national parks. And so it is in partnership with you that future Labor Governments will enhance the national parks estate.

A future Foley Labor Government will build on the conservation legacy of previous Labor governments.

I am proud of our record in building our great New South Wales national parks estate. But I also acknowledge the responsibility that Labor has to keep building a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system.

Four and a half years into the life of this conservative government, it is clear that the Liberals and Nationals have no vision for our national parks estate.

In this Parliament, my colleagues and I will defend the integrity of our reserve estate against the constant attacks that are waged on it by the opponents of nature conservation inside and outside the Parliament. 

And in future, the next Labor Government will nurture and further build our world class New South Wales national parks system.

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