Parks Bill wrong on all counts

Elabana Falls in Lamington National Park, part of Gondwana Rainforests World Heritage Area.
Elabana Falls in Lamington National Park, part of Gondwana Rainforests World Heritage Area.

By Professor Ralf Buckley

The Health and Community Services Committee of the Queensland Parliament is currently considering the Nature Conservation and Other Legislation Amendment Bill.

There were 74 public submissions, most opposing it strongly. You can read them yourself at Mine is #11. The Bill itself is there too, and the Minister’s speech, public briefings, and Explanatory Notes.

The Committee questioned six witnesses in person. I was one of them. The others are listed on the same website. Hansard transcripts will be available soon.

Tourism industry associations supported the Bill. I think, however, that they are being naïve, and possibly even unwitting agents for other industries.

The Bill would indeed allow what tourism associations lobby for endlessly, which is small‑scale up‑market African‑style eco‑lodges in remote parks.

But it would also allow what Australians definitely don’t want, which is giant high‑impact private property developments inside popular national parks already visited by lots of locals.

The way to use parks to boost tourism is to improve government budgets for parks services, so they can improve visitor infrastructure. That brings more customers, for more days, for private tourism businesses outside parks. And that brings more taxes for government.

A scattering of little new lodges, in contrast, won’t make much money for either industry or government. There’s ample evidence of that from around the world. Details are in my submission as above.

The Public Briefings and Explanatory Notes present this Bill as low key and eco-friendly, but the actual legislation is very different.

The briefings say the Bill will only legalise existing service corridors, such as power lines, across state forests. The actual Bill, however, would allow almost unrestricted new large‑scale development inside national parks.

A small discrepancy between the Bill itself, and the way it is publicised, could be due to poor drafting. But such a large discrepancy must surely generate suspicion.

Good legislation is like an intricate machine. It is very specific about what it allows, what it requires, and what it prohibits. Planning law or tax law provide good examples. They have stable structures that stand the test of time, across governments of all political colours.

Governments also use legislation for short-term political purposes, to get away with something that suits their own particular ends. Such legislation is typically short and vague. It rarely survives the next election; but its negative effects do, and generate endless trouble.

That’s what this Bill looks like. If the government really wanted a Bill to do what the Explanatory Notes say, it would be written very differently.

Professor Ralf Buckley is Director of the International Centre for Ecotourism Research