Paying the rent with our national parks
29 September 2022
‘The NSW Government recognises that land title is central to the development of a new model for Aboriginal joint management. Accordingly, it is anticipated the new model will provide for the potential handback of title to all NSW national parks – covering nearly 10 per cent of the state – over a 15 to 20-year period, subject to the land being leased back (long-term and for nominal rent) to the NSW Government for its continued use and management as a national park.’
On a cold wet Sunday in July this year, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), responsible for managing 10 per cent of the land area in NSW (about 80,000 km2 or the size of Austria), quietly announced plans to (eventually) hand over title of all the National Parks in the state to Aboriginal Groups in a new method of ‘joint management’.
Like many others who were concerned about drowning in the deluge that hit Sydney that July week, I missed the announcement. It was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, but received little media attention, even the ultra-Woke activists at the ABC missed it.
When informed by a reader of our Save Mount Warning Facebook page about the plan, I immediately thought it was an elaborate hoax.
Hand over title to ALL our National Parks to local Aboriginal Groups? Pull the other one! Next you’ll be saying the government is going to insert a clause into our constitution that gives some people more rights than others based on their chosen race…
But no, it appears in our state of NSW, our so-called conservative government is intent on doing exactly that.
Over the next decade or so, if we are given a continuation of the spineless politician phenomena, all of our NSW National Parks will be handed to disparate un-named and currently unknown Aboriginal Collectives and we, the public, will pay these groups an undisclosed rent fee.
To add to the insult, not only is the government giving away trillions in land value, we will continue to pay for NPWS to manage our parks in the incompetent manner they currently do.
Once again, the public lose on multiple grounds.
Perhaps if dismantling NPWS was part of the deal, and parks were also offered to other private or community groups to be managed privately, one might see some logic in it. But no, there is no logic just acquiescence by weak, unprincipled politicians to the whims and dictates of Woke bureaucrats playing games with race politics.
Included in the deal is ownership of parks bordering our majestic harbour, the iconic vistas of the Blue Mountains, world-class caves at Jenolan, sub-tropical rainforests in the north, rolling outback dunes, and the entire Snowy Mountains in the south.
Kerry Packer once joked, ‘You only get one Alan Bond in your lifetime, and I’ve had mine.’ For Aboriginal Groups in NSW, the Perrottet government with its flaky ministers is like Alan Bond on acid.
As part of the deal the government ensures us there will be ‘ongoing public access to the national park estate’. Apparently ‘any new joint management model will recognise the importance of ensuring everyone can continue to enjoy visiting our national parks’.
Given the looming closure of the Mt Warning National Park in the north of the state by NPWS to appease Indigenous groups (which includes banning public access parts of the previously public park), forgive me for being somewhat sceptical of this claim.
Likewise, the promises made by the lease holders at Ayers Rock in the 1980s that ‘they have no intention of unreasonably limiting access to Uluru National Park’, and ‘basically for the visiting tourist it will be business as usual’, set the scene for restrictions and closures of our parks in the future. It is clear that there is no guarantee on public access.
Before she died in 2007, the last Gulgan of Mount Warning Ngaraakwal Elder Marlene Boyd stated:
‘I do not oppose the public climbing of Mt Warning – how can the public experience the spiritual significance of this land if they do not climb the summit and witness creation!’
NPWS do not advertise this view to the public. Instead, the agency promotes the decree of a neighbouring Aboriginal group. Rather than Marlene’s life-affirming and universal statement, walkers are faced with the depressing message, ‘Under Bundjalung law, only certain people can climb the summit. Out of respect for their law and culture, consider not climbing the summit.’
In the Government Gazette, we are told that there are ‘at least eight separate stories about the mountain and its cultural meaning. Each story is equally valid; with no one story taking precedence’. The NPWS have been promoting one view above others for 20 years, and successive Ministers have done nothing about rectifying this. This does not bode well for the new ‘joint management’ model.
There appears no justification for the handover of our parks. In their announcement NPWS waffle on about expanding Aboriginal joint management, providing more opportunity for Aboriginal employment (12 per cent of NPWS employees already identify as Aboriginal compared to 3.3 per cent of the rest of the NSW public Service), enhancing Aboriginal business opportunities. All of this is achievable under existing arrangements, some of it is highly questionable and discriminatory.
How this idea even got to the Minister’s desk is difficult to fathom until one realises that most of the jobs within NPWS are now occupied by soft bottomed bureaucrats with degrees in sociology and gender studies rather than practical rangers of the past.
Similar to issues surrounding the proposed constitutional Voice to Parliament: who will determine who was custodian of what?
Which elders, mixed-race or otherwise, will end up on the management boards?
On what basis will contested claims be decided and the various new Aboriginal Collectives formed to take ownership of our parks and then lease them back to us?
What new entry fees will arise as the new owners seek to profit further from our government’s gullibility?
What tourist activities will be sanctioned by our new Aboriginal landlords?
Which businesses will be allowed to provide services in National Parks?
How many welcomes to country will be required as we pass through the entry gates?
What say will the rest of us have in managing the country we all care for? Apparently none!
Our National Parks and public lands belong to all of us. Our state governments have a responsibility of ensuring all of us and our children have equal rights in being able to access and benefit from our remarkable natural places. Anything less is not acceptable.
Marc Hendrickx Geologist and avid bushwalker. Author of A guide to climbing Ayers Rock