National Parks: what are they for?

Development is coming to Victoria’s National Parks.

In a 2012 report of the Victorian Parliament’s Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee, calls were made to open National Parks for exploration and mining. Under section 6 of the  Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990 all land that is National Park, Marine National Park, Marine Sanctuary, Wilderness Park or State Park under the National Parks Act 1975 is ‘not available’ for mining or exploration. These protected areas cover about fourteen percent of Victoria’s total landmass. The report recommended that the Victorian Government consider improving access to crown land for exploration and Mining.

The state government has made a number of attempts to use our National Parks for things other than the conservation of the natural environment. First, there was the failed attempt to return grazing to the Alpine National Park. In April this year, the State Environment Minister released guidelines which allow tourism development, including accommodation and restaurants, in formerly off-limits National Parks. Areas of high environmental value, such as the Port Campbell, Wilson’s Promontory and the Grampians National Parks, are affected by these new rules. These will include the grant of ninety-nine year leases to developers, effectively granting them private ownership of sections of the State’s environmental heritage. And, most recently, the Victorian Environment Assessment Council released a report requested by the State government that recommends the opening up of larger areas of National Parks to mineral prospecting.

The Federal Government is also unwilling to ensure Victoria’s National Parks are protected from development. It recently turned down an opportunity to include National Parks as a ‘trigger’ condition for federal intervention under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This would have allowed the greater oversight over any development, and allow the federal minister to reject any development.

These developments raise an important question: what actually is the purpose of National Parks? On the one hand, many take for granted the view that National Parks should be areas where biodiversity and the natural environment are protected so they can thrive unharmed by human activity and be enjoyed by people now and in the future. As the above examples show, the current state government does not share this view: it is of the view that National Parks should be used and developed, even in ways that may cause harm to the natural environments within the Park.

No one should be suprised to know that the EDO think that National Parks should be used to conserve the natural environment. We have already done some work to try and protect national parks, particularly in relation to prospecting and cattle grazing. With your support we can continue to work to keep National Parks for nature conservation.

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