National parks under pressure: visitation skyrockets but Berejiklian-Barilaro Government slashes staff and funding

In Parliament | 08.02.18

The latest survey of visits to NSW national parks has revealed the public’s love affair with our national parks continues to grow with visitation skyrocketing in the last two years, going up 32% from 39.2 million visits in 2014 to 51.8 million in the latest 2016 report.

However, this growth is being undermined by savage cuts of $121 million inflicted by the NSW Government.

The increased visitation is putting significant pressure on the National Parks and Wildlife Service, leaving overworked staff under pressure to keep facilities operating, make repairs, provide visitor services and education, as well as undertaking core park priorities of conservation programs, fire and pest management.

Shadow Minister for the Environment Penny Sharpe condemned the Berejiklian Government for a series of brutal budget cuts, staff reductions and a restructure that have the left the organisation reeling and struggling with more visitors and fewer resources.

Last year’s Budget Estimates hearings revealed devastating cuts to the National Parks and Wildlife Service budget and a steady reduction in staff numbers since the Liberals and Nationals took office in NSW.

With the bungling Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton at the helm, funding cuts and “efficiency dividends” have smashed the national parks budget worth more than $121 million cut over two years. This is on top of a cut of $24 million to the National Parks and Wildlife Service in 2014.

At the same time, permanent national parks staff have been drastically reduced. Since 2011 – staff cuts mean that 26% of permanent rangers have been lost and 35% of area managers are gone. There are fewer field officers on the ground to maintain the parks, assist visitors and undertake bush fire management operations. The ecologists in the Service have been made redundant and the staff coordinating the work of volunteers who are working to protect threatened species is rapidly diminishing.

Quotes attributable to Shadow Environment Minister Penny Sharpe 

“This survey reveals that we absolutely love our national parks, and with such a diverse range of ecosystems and wildlife it is great to see people appreciating our state’s beautiful natural assets – but this government seems hell-bent on destroying them. 

“The Berejiklian Government is without doubt the greatest danger to our treasured national parks estate since the National Parks and Wildlife Service was established in 1967. 

“I’ve been approached by experienced former national parks staff almost in tears at the way this great public institution is being ground down – their greatest fear is a deliberate campaign of neglect, in which the Government leaves parks to ruin so they can be opened up for logging or shooting instead. 

“With the Government prioritising spending $2.5 billion on stadiums in Sydney, it is appalling to see our national parks and the staff who manage them treated so poorly. 

“Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton has bungled everything she has touched while failing to protect the environment, whether it’s cuts to national parks, botching the container deposit scheme rollout, introducing laws to bring back broadscale land clearing, or failing to ban plastic bags.”