The following article comes from The Age, journalists are Jason Dowling and Tom Arup.
The Napthine government has introduced sweeping changes to Victoria’s national parks allowing for 99-year private leases – in the same week Canberra is considering expanding its powers over the parks.
The state changes mean the historic Point Nepean Quarantine Station is in effect up for sale, according to activist Kate Baillieu.
The commercial real estate section of The Saturday Age carried an advertisement from real estate agents Jones Lang LaSalle to lease the Quarantine Station. The government has also asked for expressions of interest for private development of the 17-hectare site.
Matt Ruchel, executive director of the Victorian National Parks Association, said the new 99-year leases that will apply in all of Victoria’s national parks, including Wilsons Promontory, were deeply concerning. ”National parks are primarily for conservation, not development,” he said.
Environment Minister Ryan Smith said the 99-year leases would ”give investors greater certainty and a stronger incentive to develop innovative, high-quality proposals in our national parks”.
A spokesman for Mr Ryan said there would be exclusion zones where development would not be allowed in national parks.
In Canberra, the federal government is considering expanding its powers over national parks in response to plans by Coalition-led states to allow cattle grazing, shooting and logging in protected areas.
Environment Minister Tony Burke met as recently as Wednesday with conservation groups who want him to broaden his oversight over parks before the election.
The Australian Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Society wants a ”trigger” to be legislated, meaning a heavy-impact project in a park would automatically need review under national environment laws, and giving the federal minister scope to block it.
The fate of national parks in Queensland, NSW and Victoria has come to the fore in recent years with cattle grazing, recreational shooting, and possibly logging, among state government proposals for parks. Currently, the federal government can only intervene in a national park if it is heritage-listed, or a protected plant or animal is threatened.
Mr Burke said the community was right to be concerned that places they have been enjoying are under threat. ”I share that concern and I’ll be looking into the ways I can stop these state governments from trashing national parks forever,” he said.
In 2011, Mr Burke proposed listing most of Australia’s 500-odd national parks – the domain of state governments – under federal environment law, which would have given him the power to reject new logging, grazing and mining projects. He later withdrew the proposed regulations after stopping a controversial cattle grazing trial in Victoria’s Alpine National Park using heritage law.
”Since then [the listing withdrawal] state Liberal governments are launching new attacks on national parks every few months. My view is clear, national parks are for families and nature. They are not farms, rifle ranges, mine sites or logging coupes,” Mr Burke said.