National Parks Amendment (No 99 Year Leases) Bill 2015

Ms SANDELL (Melbourne) — It is a great pleasure to rise to speak in the debate on the National Parks Amendment (No 99 Year Leases) Bill 2015. I guess it is no surprise to anyone in this place that the Greens will be supporting the bill.

I would like to commend the government, especially the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water, for acting to withdraw the open invitation given by the former Liberal-Nationals government to developers to set up shop in our precious national parks.

As we have heard, national parks are among the most important tools government has to protect places of natural beauty and environmental significance. They are millions of years in the forming. Once these places are gone, you can never get them back. They are crucial to protecting our rich and wonderful biodiversity. We have heard a lot in the debate in this place about the economic significance of national parks to regional areas, and that is important, but we need to also recognise that national parks are about protecting biodiversity for biodiversity's sake. National parks are magical pockets of our country. The community can explore there, rest, be restored and rejuvenate by being in a wild, beautiful and natural place. That is something that humans need, and I am so pleased that governments can protect those places to provide that for us.

This is why it is so important to protect these places from developers who may be hungry for profits from luxury tourist resorts or entertainment complexes. I hope that this bill, by reducing the maximum lease from 99 years to 21 years in most cases, will discourage proposals for large-scale developments. There are plenty of other places where these developments can occur, if needed, in the regional towns surrounding national parks. These regional towns need investment. I grew up in a regional town, and I understand they need investment, so why not allow developers to develop those resorts, entertainment complexes and other facilities in regional towns where they are needed? Developers have a chance to develop projects within towns or on the edges of national parks, so why do we also have to give them those opportunities within the small spaces we have left for biodiversity in the environment? They should not be given that space.

The Greens would have liked to have seen leases shorter than 21 years in some cases — and shorter than 50 years in the three parks where 50-year leases will be allowed — but I hope the minister will use her powers to ensure that any developments given the very generous 50 years are appropriate and based primarily on ecologically sustainable principles.

Like a lot of people in this place, I have a deep personal connection to national parks. As I have mentioned before, I grew up in Mildura. My dad, Peter Sandell, spent his whole career in land management until he passed away 18 months ago. He started his career working with the Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory in the 1970s and 1980s. He then worked in park planning in the Pilbara before we moved to Mildura in 1990, where he worked on the establishment of the Murray-Sunset National Park right from its inception. He worked in environmental management, pest animal control and fire management right across Hattah-Kulkyne National Park, Wyperfeld National Park, Big Desert Wilderness Park and Murray-Sunset National Park — indeed all the Mallee national parks. Dad loved working in national parks, and growing up we loved spending time in them.

I have spent time in a huge number of national parks across Victoria. I have had some wonderful experiences from the Otways to Croajingalong, from walking at Wilsons Prom to a fateful journey along the Great Ocean Walk where a fox stole our hiking shoes. That was a memorable one. I would not recommend having to walk out of the Great Ocean Walk in thongs, but that is what we had to do.

I spent most of my childhood in the Alpine National Park. My parents thought it would be good idea to build a rammed earth house at the bottom of Mount Feathertop. It took them more than 12 years to build it themselves, but as kids we absolutely delighted in going there — to see the kookaburras, the lyrebirds and the king parrots, and to smell the mountain ash and the snow gums. It really is a magical place.

But it is in the Mallee parks that I spend most of my time and spent most of my childhood. Some people probably see the Mallee parks as a dry and hostile place, but to me they are magical. They are so rich and full of life. Some people can never bear to be away from the ocean, and some people feel a spiritual connection to the mountains — but I am a real desert person. I love nothing more than spending time in the semi-arid woodlands and scrublands under those big skies — that is what feels like home to me, and I would hate for us to lose any of that just because we wanted to make a quick buck from developers. It would be such a huge shame.

The Mallee parks, like a lot of national parks, are facing some challenges. When I was growing up I loved seeing my dad's photos. He showed me how degraded sheep country was managed back to something near its natural state. They have done some great work in the national parks in the Mallee — we now have parrots, lizards, snakes, Mallee fowl, echidnas and other plants and animals, and they are really thriving — but I always despaired at his tales of how foxes, rabbits and cats were really inhibiting the ability of our native species to regenerate.

It is a sad fact that the state of Victoria has lost so much of its natural environment. Victoria is, as the member for Oakleigh said, the most cleared state in the country, and that is a real shame. So many species have already become extinct — some of which we did not even know existed in the first place, which breaks my heart. There are habitats under threat right now, like our cool temperate rainforests and our grasslands, which are still being cleared. We may see them disappear; they are on the verge of disappearing. In a prosperous state like Victoria, where we can afford to look after not only ourselves but also the environment, this is such a shame. It should not be happening in a prosperous state like ours.

For too long we have let our national parks suffer, whether it be through lack of management, lack of funds for management or, more recently, through lack of action on climate change. Our natural places are the ones that will suffer, as we all will, if we refuse to take action on climate change. I am really pleased that the Andrews government wants to do something to turn this around, although we do need significantly more funds for park management and more action on climate change if we do care and want to make a big difference to biodiversity.

What really saddens me is that in so many parts of the world — I recently visited some national parks in South Africa and the US — there is bipartisan agreement on the importance of protecting natural places and the importance of national parks. However, in Australia and particularly in Victoria we have seen coalition governments pursue an aggressively anti-environment ideological agenda, which has destroyed bipartisanship around something that should be important to every single Victorian and every single human. I am really sad about that, and because the coalition has degraded our environment through laws at both the state and federal levels we now need progressive governments to step up and do so much more than they perhaps otherwise would have done. They need to take sweeping measures because we are coming from such a low base, and because we are coming from that low base and because we have seen such a lack of action from coalition governments, I hope this government will take much stronger action than it already has.

As the old saying goes, we do not inherit this earth from our parents, we borrow it from our grandchildren. In thinking about my grandkids, when they reach my age I cannot imagine how degraded our environment will be. It breaks my heart to think that without action on climate change — —

An honourable member interjected.

Ms SANDELL — Under all governments — under coalition and Labor governments we are not seeing enough action on climate change to protect our climate, that is a fact. It really breaks my heart that my grandkids are going to see a much more degraded environment than I will and that they will not be able to enjoy our national parks in the conditions I enjoyed them in when I was growing up. I think that is something that saddens a lot of people. We already have pressure from lack of management, from lack of funds and particularly from climate change, and for those reasons we cannot afford to sell our few remaining wild spaces to developers for short-term profit, which is why we are supporting the bill.

Protecting our national parks is not a cost at all, it is actually an investment — and it is a very small price to pay to ensure that our native species remain on this earth and that we as humans can enjoy clean air and clean water. It is something so simple. I hear others talking and joking in the chamber and talking over me, but this is a simple matter of life or death — we need clean air and clean water, and other species should be able to enjoy these things as well.

Here in Australia and in Victoria we have species that are found nowhere else on earth, so I cannot believe that people who are presiding over decisions about our national parks, particularly on the coalition's side, can have it on their conscience that entire species become extinct, just because they want to make a quick buck. It is really disgraceful.

Mr Burgess — Did that happen between 2010 and 2014?

Ms SANDELL — Absolutely. There was so much legislation brought in between 2010 and 2014.

Mr Burgess — What made all of those animals go extinct?

Ms SANDELL — I am hearing interjections from the floor asking what actions the government made to ensure that species became extinct. There have been many actions from successive coalition governments that have resulted in species becoming extinct. Many of them we cannot even name because we did not know they were there in the first place.

Mr Burgess — Name one. Name one that we killed.

Ms SANDELL — You cannot even name most of them, because you did not know most of them were there, and yet — —

Honourable members interjecting.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Carbines) — Order! The member for Melbourne has the call. Interjections are disorderly. She will not respond to interjections.

Ms SANDELL — As the native American saying goes:

When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realise that one cannot eat money.

I can only imagine that Liberal and Nationals members must enjoy tucking into a dinner of dollar coins, because I cannot see any other logical reason why they continue to fight to destroy our natural resources and environment.

I move on to talk about one specific park that is mentioned in the bill, the Arthurs Seat State Park, which is one of three parks, along with Point Nepean National Park and Mount Buffalo National Park, which will be allowed to have a 50-year lease rather than a 21-year lease. The Greens are not particularly happy about that. I want to bring one particular issue to the government's attention in the context of this bill. The state government signed the 50-year lease agreement with Arthurs Seat Skylift in July this year, but the group Save Our Seat has consistently voiced the concerns of the community about the skylift proposal. My colleague Sue Pennicuik, a member for Southern Metropolitan Region in the other place, raised this matter earlier in the year.

I urge the minister to revisit some of the issues that have been raised by Save Our Seat, particularly in relation to heritage, amenity and access, as well as the environmental issues relating to the development proposal. However, there are also, especially in the context of this week, some real concerns in relation to bushfire risk in the development of Arthurs Seat. I hope the minister will revisit those issues.

Mount Buffalo, Point Nepean and Arthurs Seat are exempted from the 21-year lease maximum and have been allowed 50-year leases. These leases really need to be granted with the utmost care. They need to have really strict conditions put on them, because these areas are sensitive and have significant environmental values, which is why they are national parks. I urge the minister to do everything in her power to ensure that these areas are just as protected as any other area. We have a particular concern about the development at Arthurs Seat. It really should be a privilege not a right for developers to develop in our national parks, and so we should be doing everything to make sure that they are ecologically sustainable. I will be contacting the minister about the specific issues regarding Arthur Seat.

In conclusion I hope the government continues to be proactive and strong in its support for the environmental protection of our national parks. One issue I would like to see the government take up is the issue of logging in the Central Highlands and East Gippsland. That issue is something the Greens and community organisations have been fighting for for over 10 years, and it is one of the reasons I started to become active in my local community. I hope the government will announce that it supports the Great Forest National Park in order to protect one of the most wonderful areas in Victoria, which is about to be lost to us forever, as is one of our most important species, our fauna emblem, the Leadbeater's possum.

Ms Ryan — It is bushfires, not logging.

Ms SANDELL — The member for Euroa says, 'It is bushfires, not logging'. I think she needs to read the latest science from the Australian National University, which shows that logging increases the risk of bushfires in those areas and directly contributes to the engagement with and the possible extinction of the Leadbeater's possum. I suggest the member for Euroa should do some scientific research before she makes comments like that again.

Creating the Great Forest National Park is just a no-brainer. It will bring money and tourism to the area and will protect our environment.

Mr Nardella — Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Ms SANDELL — The member for Melton interjects, 'Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah' as if it is not a big deal. It is actually a massive deal. We are losing money in this state because of logging. If the member for Melton is happy to have that on his government's head — that we are actually losing money from logging, losing species and losing the carbon and water value of those forests — then I would be quite disappointed if someone in the Labor government does not realise what a no-brainer the Great Forest National Park is. It does not stack up economically to log this area, and it does not stack up ethically. I hope the government realises that. I will be right up there supporting the government when it creates the Great Forest National Park, which is something we have called for for ages.

We look forward to working with the Andrews government on any other legislation it wants to bring forward to protect national parks, in particular the Great Forest National Park. I am very glad it has brought this piece of legislation to the house, and I will be very happy to vote for it.

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