National Parks And Wildlife (Adjustment Of Areas) Bill
Debate resumed from 28 March.
Ms SEATON (Southern Highlands) [12.17 p.m.]: I lead for the Opposition in debate on the National Parks and Wildlife (Adjustment of Areas) Bill. I indicate at the outset that, whilst the Opposition does not oppose this bill, it has some grave concerns about the circumstances that led to the necessity for its introduction. We will be seeking strong guarantees from the Government that it will remedy the problems that are implicit in the bill. The Government tried to present this bill as a housekeeping bill, a bill that is designed to tidy up some minor national park boundary changes. When one looks at the detail of the bill and at the way in which the Government has handled these issues it is obvious that it is anything but a housekeeping bill. In fact, it sets several dangerous precedents in what is essentially becoming a formalised retrospective validation process.
In recent months the Government has followed that process not only in this bill but in TransGrid legislation, and it has done so regularly in relation to budget supplementation bills. A number of national parks areas have been affected by a variety of circumstances. The schedule that I have been given in relation to this bill is a summarised version of incidents. The Government is trying to minimise public information about one incident and to prevent questioning in relation to it. The schedule refers to 17 different national parks which have had their boundaries affected in some way. The first one, to which I will refer in detail later, changes the boundaries of Barren Grounds Nature Reserve. The schedule states:
That list sets out a number of instances in which, without any reference to Parliament and without any observance of the requirements of the National Parks and Wildlife Act, changes have been made to national parks, and territory has been encroached upon. Although many of the listed projects are worthy projects that were wanted by local communities and will be of benefit to them, the proper process was not observed. No-one in this place had the chance to see the plans proposed by the Government and to understand and assess their implications. Many of these projects have already been completed. The projects affecting Barren Grounds Nature Reserve, Blue Mountains National Park, Brisbane Water National Park, Broadwater National Park, Georges River National Park, Kororo Nature Reserve, Mundoonen Nature Reserve, Munghorn Gap National Park, Wamberal Lagoon Nature Reserve and Wee Jasper Nature Reserve have all been completed. The work was done—in some cases one might argue the damage was done—before Parliament was consulted.
Barren Grounds NR To correct accidental boundary encroachment by adjoining land owner.
Blue Mountains NP This area is in the existing Cliff Drive Car Park, which is currently managed by the Blue Mountains Council.
Brisbane Water NP Construction F3 Freeway by RTA (construction completed).
Broadwater NP To validate the boundaries between the park and the Pacific Highway …
Brunswick Heads NR Substantially modified land required for the upgrade of the Pacific Highway …
Cockle Bay NR Construction of bus turning circle at Empire Bay School by Gosford Council.
Georges River NP Required for part of road in Landcom subdivision (construction completed).
Karuah NR Area required by the RTA for upgrade of the Pacific Highway …
Kororo NR Widening of the Pacific Highway by RTA at Coffs Harbour …
Morton NP Former office on urban land that is isolated from the rest of Moreton National Park, and is no longer required.
Mount Warning NP Revocation of Mount Warning Road for Tweed Council, which was accidentally added to the park.
Mundoonen NR Construction of the Hume Highway by RTA …
Munghorn Gap NP Realignment of Main Road 208 by Mudgee Council …
Myall Lakes NP Area required by the RTA for upgrade of the Pacific Highway …
Sydney Harbour NP Removal of Bradleys Head Road from the Park, which was inadvertently included in the park.
Wamberal Lagoon NR Widening of The Entrance Road by Gosford Council …
Wee Jasper NR Substantially modified land required by Yass Council for tip site (the tip has already been established and encroaches onto 2000m2 of the reserve).
Some of the projects have yet to be completed. Those projects include those affecting Brunswick Heads Nature Reserve, Karuah Nature Reserve and Myall Lakes National Park. The Minister has commented that not all this work is done by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. I agree absolutely, but the fact that these things can occur in national parks without the service advising the Minister that the permission and oversight of Parliament is required in advance of the work being undertaken highlights the fact that the National Parks and Wildlife Service is not interested in these issues, it is not properly structured to undertake its compliance role, or it is not being correctly administered and managed.
I have consulted with a number of different groups and a number of members of Parliament about these adjustments. Representatives of the National Parks Association, the Colong Foundation and the Nature Conservation Council have indicated to me that they share the concerns I have outlined. They have also indicated to me that, bearing in mind the bill before us, it is hard to have confidence in the ability or the inclination of the Government to uphold the provisions of the National Parks and Wildlife Act. The bill makes a mockery of the Act. I have already mentioned that the bill raises issues of funding, staffing and management. Some of those issues relate to inadequate mapping.
The alteration to the Barren Grounds Nature Reserve involved a private house being built without anyone noticing. I do not know whether the Minister will put the responsibility for that back onto the Shoalhaven council, but the fact that land can be cleared and a house constructed with no-one in the National Parks and Wildlife Service noticing it for some time puts a huge dent in the confidence of those of us who seek to rely on the National Parks and Wildlife Service Act and the protection that is intended to be given to our high conservation value areas. Why was there no parliamentary consideration of these adjustments? These alterations were undertaken by other agencies and validation is now being sought from Parliament when it is too late, when everything has been done.
I mentioned earlier that a good example of the Government seeking retrospective validation was the TransGrid legislation. In my area, and in the areas represented by a number of other members, TransGrid has installed cabling along its existing poles and that has had some effect on the landowners' properties. There has been a lack of clarity as to what changes those arrangements might make to the existing agreements between TransGrid and the property owners. After the work was done the Minister came and told us about it and sought approval for it. That is the developing style of the Carr Government: retrospective approval. It has happened before in budget bills. Every year the Government seeks approval for its budget, and two or three times a year it comes up with a supplementary bill that basically says to members that there have been overruns, money has been spent and validation for those overruns has been sought after the event. What message does that send?
One example I have been advised about by the Minister's office relates to the Barren Grounds Nature Reserve. As I have said, it has been described as a correction of accidental boundary encroachment by the adjoining landowner. Apparently private landowners chose to build a house on a piece of land they believed joined the nature reserve, not understanding the area they chose was actually within the nature reserve. They occupied a 5.3 hectare area, cleared a good deal of it and constructed a house. Some thought was then given to how to correct or accommodate the problem. I accept at the outset, because I have no reason to believe otherwise, that this was a genuine mistake. However, the fact that a genuine mistake like this could have occurred and could have been accommodated in the way it has been sets a precedent for the National Parks and Wildlife Service which could be manipulated in the future by less genuine landowners.
I understand a number of options were considered to resolve the problem. It was suggested that the landowners be licensed to occupy that part of the reserve. That suggestion raised a number of liability issues and, at the end of the day, it was considered a cleaner solution to accept from the private landowners an offer of 16.1 hectares of land they owned, which contained a rainforest community and was apparently of high conservation value but was poorly represented in the reserve system. That land was given to the National Parks and Wildlife Service as compensation for what was described as a genuine mistake. My advice from the Minister's office states:
As I understand it, the advisory council believed it had little option but to take that path. It is important to note that perhaps the advisory council is not as happy with the situation and with the precedent it set as the Minister's briefing note would have us believe. In this bill the Government seeks to excise parts of 17 national parks and nature reserves and to add, at a future time, 880 hectares of land to the national parks estate from a variety of sources, including council land, Landcom land and Roads and Traffic Authority land. At present we do not have any detail about exactly where that land is. I have not been given the courtesy of being shown any maps; neither have honourable members been given a full briefing on the conservation values of the compensatory land that will be added to the national park estate.
Opinion on the matter was sought from the NPWS Advisory Council who discussed the various options and agreed that the revocation and land transfer option would enable essential environmental benefits that would not be achieved otherwise.
Basically, the Government has told us to take this on trust. It is saying, "Trust us, this land is of a higher conservation value in net benefit than that which has been lost." I have yet to see proof of that. I should like the Minister to comment on that. I would like to know why there is not a full list of that compensatory land and why there is no information about exactly what sort of conservation values are represented in that land. I have no idea whether the surplus Landcom land or council land is degraded or denuded land, and what sort of conservation values are involved. Yet we are being asked to take this on trust. There has been no chance to debate this matter in advance of the national park boundaries being excised. It is simply a matter of the Government saying: "This is what we have decided to do. We will seek your approval to post-validate decisions and actions we have already taken. Trust us."
Another important issue that has been raised with me is the potential for corruption that exists within the precedents that have been set in these 17 examples. It is possible that people who are less than genuine in their intentions could see the precedent that has been set with Barren Grounds and see that if so-called mistakes are made the Government intends to come back to the Parliament from time to time to seek post-validation. It is possible that people who are less than genuinely motivated could see the potential to corrupt public officials or to attempt to corrupt the system to get a financial gain from a structure that they have seen validated by Parliament. Again, I am not suggesting that any such thing has occurred in the case of Barren Grounds Nature Reserve. I am saying that there is absolutely no—
Mr Martin: You are clutching at straws. Talk to the issue!
Ms SEATON: If members opposite are willing to guarantee that there is absolutely no potential for mismanagement or incorrect and improper procedures to occur as a result of the precedent being set, I would like to hear them say that. I would like to hear them rule that out. It is possible that people could look at the precedent and see the potential, first, to negotiate with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and push the limits of what would otherwise be considered unacceptable and beyond the leave of the National Parks and Wildlife Act or, second, to deliberately seek to obtain a financial gain for themselves through this precedent.
This is entering new territory. The Government has correctly looked at issues such as tradable water rights and tradable emissions as ways to deal with environmental problems. However, under this bill, it is formalising what I see as a tradable breaches system, by which it is possible to commit the sin and then come back later and say, "Sorry, we didn't mean to do that, but here is a bit more land that we do not want. We will throw that in and hope you will just give it a big tick."
Many people in the conservation arena are seriously concerned about the implications of this issue. I seek a guarantee from the Minister that if at any time in the future changes are required to national park and nature reserve boundaries as a result of freeway extensions, road widening, infrastructure development or any legitimate and community supported projects, that Parliament will have a chance to consider those changes, understand the implications of them and, more importantly, assess what sort of compensatory land or other environmental benefits are being proposed to make up for the loss.
That is missing completely from this particular proposal. However, if the Minister expects people to continue to have confidence in the national parks system and all the important things it does, and if we are to continue to have confidence in the Act and the protection it is supposed to provide to our important natural areas, it is important that we have an opportunity to consider any changes. The Opposition will not be opposing the bill, but I seek those guarantees from the Minister. I seek also the Minister's comments on the important issues of concern that I have raised on behalf of the many people who have had a chance to look at the bill.
Mr GAUDRY (Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary) [12.35 p.m.]: This bill is, in effect, a housekeeping bill which identifies approximately 116 hectares of land to be revoked from parks and reserves and transferred to the Minister for the Environment. As has been said, negotiations are being finalised to transfer approximately 880 hectares of compensatory land to the National Parks and Wildlife Service in terms of the provisions in the bill. As has also been said, the bill's provisions will impact on 17 parks and reserves. The bill can be regarded as a housekeeping measure when one considers those 116 hectares of land proposed for revocation in the context of the 1.4 million hectares of land that have been added to the reserves and national parks of this State since 1995, when this Government came to office. Some 250 new national parks and reserves have been created—a 33 per cent increase. That is the context in which the revocation of this land is occurring, at the same time as the transfer of compensatory land.
Under the National Parks and Wildlife Act, land must be reserved as a national park or dedicated as a nature reserve, and can only be used for activities that accord with the Act. That position has been confirmed by the Land and Environment Court, which found that activities inconsistent with the purposes of a national park were not valid uses; and if such activities had occurred, the impact of those activities had occurred before the court's ruling or as a result of inadvertent action. The areas of land to be revoked include areas of land from certain national parks and nature reserves, where the land is already part of a public road or highway, is required for the widening of a road or highway, is required for the upgrade of the Pacific Highway, is no longer required for the purpose for which it was acquired, or is needed to correct reserve boundary inconsistencies.
There is concern statewide about safety issues relating specifically to the Pacific Highway. A dual carriageway on the Pacific Highway from Hexham to the Queensland border is necessary. The community must be consulted about the path that the highway will take, and there must be comprehensive environmental impact statements, including a full and comprehensive review of the impact on fauna and flora. The Government can guarantee that areas of land will be revoked only after full and comprehensive consultation. In many cases the areas of land to be added, after negotiation, have important fauna and flora communities that will improve the national park.
I refer to two of those areas. Some 16.384 hectares will be transferred for the Karuah bypass, which is currently in an advanced stage of design. It is also proposed that the RTA will transfer 89 hectares of similar habitat value vegetated land. That habitat is extremely important for threatened species such as the glossy black cockatoo, the koala, the east coast free-tail bat and the greater broad-nosed bat. A number of measures will also be implemented in the transfer, to minimise other impacts on the existing reserve.
I also refer to the 28.36 hectares of land required by the RTA for the upgrade of the Pacific Highway from Karuah to Bulahdelah. In compensation for that, it is proposed that some 573 hectares of similar habitat value vegetated land will be transferred. It is a habitat for threatened species such as the squirrel glider, the powerful owl, the glossy black cockatoo and the plant tetratheca juncea. The honourable member for Wallsend would be well aware of the fact that the plant tetratheca juncea was pivotal to a conservation hold-up on the Glendale athletics stadium. The Government is extremely aware of the need to preserve threatened species and habitat, to enable not only their current growth but their survival over the long term.
Members who have driven along the bypass constructed between Karuah and Bulahdelah would have noted that the issue of threatened species conservation and the preservation of habitat was very much taken into account in the construction of the bypass. Members would have noted that there are fauna protection fences with floppy tops which prevent koalas and other threatened species from crossing the barriers and being obliterated on the Pacific Highway. There are also transfer points for fauna to cross underneath the highway. An extensive design process has been undertaken following the preparation of comprehensive environmental impact statements.
This approach indicates that the Government is very keen not only to expand its conservation areas under the control and management of the National Parks and Wildlife Act but also to seek to revoke the reservation or dedication of certain areas of land by this Act of Parliament, which is housekeeping legislation. I understand from the Minister's second reading speech that it is one of five similar housekeeping bills introduced in this House over the past 22 years to deal with these issues. The Government recognises that areas that were formerly within national parks need to be treated by way of revocation. Where it is possible for the Government to do so, it ensures that recompense is made to the public estate by the transfer of similar land, or in some cases land with even more conservation value, from the public authority. In many cases this would be the council, the RTA or another public authority that has ownership or control of that land. With those comments I commend the bill to the House.
Mr MILLS (Wallsend) [12.44 p.m.]: I speak in support of the National Parks and Wildlife (Adjustment of Areas) Bill. In doing so I wish to emphasise the conservation gains that will be made by this bill for the national parks estate of New South Wales. Since coming to office the Carr Labor Government has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to conservation. One of our proudest achievements over the past six years has been the establishment of more than 150 new national parks and reserves covering more than one million hectares. The Government has previously enacted five bills to allow for the excision of land from national parks and nature reserves. Similarly, the bill will revoke land that is currently part of a public road or highway, land required for the widening of a road or highway, land required for the upgrade of the Pacific Highway, or land no longer required for the purpose for which it was acquired; or to correct reserve boundary inconsistencies.
Many of the areas proposed for excision under the bill have little or no conservation value. The areas are already impacted on by existing uses—for example, highways and public roads—which have resulted in the disturbance and modification of the land. More than half of the proposed revocations are for parcels of land of less than one hectare each. This bill will allow for land uses which are at odds with the character and purpose of the national park or nature reserve to be excised. Though this bill will involve the excision of approximately 116 hectares of the national parks estate, it will result in the additional protection of more than 880 hectares of compensatory habitat.
Under the provisions of the bill, ownership of the land would pass to the Minister for the Environment. The Minister would transfer ownership on the completion of negotiations, including, for most proposals, the transfer of compensatory habitat to the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The compensatory gains which will flow from the bill include, as referred to previously, the protection of more than 880 hectares of land through addition to the national parks estate; the protection of the habitat of threatened species including the glossy black cockatoo, the koala, the squirrel glider, the powerful owl, and the plants tetratheca juncea and Davidson plum, in addition to a maternity site in Wee Jasper nature reserve for the common bent-wing bat; and the protection of a State environmental planning policy 14 wetland, rainforest communities and a karst area.
This bill represents a move in the right direction. The excision of land under the bill is not contradictory to the philosophy of the National Parks and Wildlife Act. It will result in the protection of additional important habitat and landscape features. The much smaller loss of land from the reserve system mainly involves substantially modified land of limited conservation value. The bill does not represent a degradation but, rather, an enhancement of the State's reserve system, not only in total land area reserved but also in the quality of the conservation values protected.
The National Parks and Wildlife Act provides that land reserved as a national park or dedicated as a nature reserve can only be used for activities that accord with the Act and for purposes for which the park or reserve was established. The Land and Environment Court has found that activities that were inconsistent with the purposes of a national park were not valid uses. Prior to the court ruling, some public roads and utilities were constructed in parks and reserves because they were seen as public purposes and were therefore considered to be valid. This bill revokes certain lands previously reserved or dedicated. I again emphasise that substantial areas of compensatory land have been set aside.
I wish to refer to the Pacific Highway and the impact that the highway has had on some of the lands referred to in this legislation. Substantial compensatory areas have been put aside in this bill for the three Pacific Highway upgrade sites that are referred to and are nearing completion. It is important that the Pacific Highway be upgraded. The safety of travellers on that highway from Hexham to the Queensland border is a vital political and social issue for New South Wales, and indeed for the nation. The Carr Government is committed to a construction program, with hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent on the project over future years. The Federal Government is also contributing to the funding of the upgrade of the Pacific Highway from Hexham to the Queensland border. For the safety of travellers and for the benefit of the people of New South Wales, that needs to be done. Because there are a large number of national parks in the area between Hexham and the Queensland border, inevitably some minor impact on the national parks estate will occur.
In the Brisbane Water National Park, which is referred to in the bill, 42.5 hectares will be affected by construction of the F3 freeway by the Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA]. That is the purpose of the excision for which compensation is surplus RTA land. In the Broadwater National Park, five hectares will be excised to validate the boundaries between the park and the Pacific Highway which were agreed to by both the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the RTA some years ago. Because the purpose of the excision is a boundary validation, no compensatory land needs to be provided.
In the Brunswick Heads Nature Reserve, the land to be excised is 5,221 square metres, which is not a large piece of land. It is about the size of a football field which measures 100 metres by 50 metres and is a total of 5,000 square metres. That is the size of the land that will be coming out of the Brunswick Heads Nature Reserve, and the land is substantially modified land which is required for the upgrading of the Pacific Highway from Brunswick Heads to Yelgun. This is an important social and safety project that is supported by the Carr Labor Government and by the Federal Government. The proposed RTA land transfer includes the creation of one new nature reserve of approximately 150 hectares and additions to three existing nature reserves involving a total of approximately 50 hectares.
The proposed additions will result in the protection of a regionally rare and threatened species, the Davidson plum. The Davidson plum may be regionally rare and threatened, but because I go walking in the Booti Booti National Park at Pacific Palms I know that there is a stand of Davidson plums in a rainforest area of the park, so Davidson plums also can be found south of Brunswick Heads in the Booti Booti National Park. The compensatory additions will also include State environmental planning policy [SEPP] 14 and rainforest communities. It is wonderful to see those inclusions in the national parks estate as a result of this legislation.
Karuah Nature Reserve is impacted by this bill and an area of 16.3 hectares, which is required by the RTA to upgrade the Pacific Highway for the Karuah bypass, will be excised. The bypass is in the planning stages and I look forward to its construction in the near future because it will provide a great deal of benefit to travellers who are heading north, particularly during holiday periods. All honourable members would know the enormous queues that occur on the Pacific Highway caused by traffic clogs, traffic lights and activity at Karuah. It is excellent that the land is to be excised for the purpose of upgrading the Pacific Highway in that area and that the compensatory measure is a transfer of RTA land of approximately 89 hectares of similar habitat. The transfer land is a habitat for the glossy black cockatoo, the koala, the east coast free-tail bat and the greater broad-nosed bat. The transfer land represents a real conservation gain as a flow-on from the excision of land for Pacific Highway upgrading purposes.
In the Kororo Nature Reserve, 327 square metres only will be excised for widening of the Pacific Highway by the RTA at Coffs Harbour. Compensation will take the form of surplus RTA land. In the Myall Lakes National Park, which is an area that honourable members from the Hunter region all know well, and love, there is a 28-hectare area of land which is required by the RTA for upgrading the Pacific Highway for the Karuah to Bulahdelah project. My colleague the honourable member for Newcastle referred to that earlier. The compensation for the excision of 28 hectares is the addition of 573 hectares of similar habitat land. The threatened species of animals on the compensation land include the squirrel glider, the powerful owl, the koala, the glossy black cockatoo and the threatened species of plant is tetratheca juncea, which is a most interesting plant.
The honourable member for Newcastle referred to tetratheca juncea causing a significant delay in construction of the new Glendale regional athletics centre undertaken by a partnership between the State Government, that is, the Department of Sport and Recreation, and the Lake Macquarie City Council. A half dozen tetratheca juncea plants were growing on the site and I should remind the House of the compromise reached in that case. The Hunter Region Botanic Gardens removed those plants as part of a study of how propagation of tetratheca juncea could be achieved in an artificial setting, such as in a botanic gardens. That propagation work is continuing through the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens and represents a sensible outcome which allowed construction of the Glendale regional athletics centre to proceed.
It is interesting that tetratheca juncea is right at the bottom of a list of vulnerable plants in schedule 2 to the Threatened Species Conservation Act. Tetratheca juncea was included in the list not because it is hard to grow and not because it does not occur widely; rather, it was included because if all bushland in the region between the Hawkesbury River and Bulahdelah were cleared, tetratheca juncea would disappear. The favoured growing place of tetratheca juncea is degraded areas. The Cardiff railway workshops operated for many years adjacent to Glendale and tetratheca juncea loved to grow among rubbish that was left lying around in the workshops and in bushland which was traversed by traffic associated with the railway workshops.
It also loves to grow in cleared areas underneath power lines. It grows all over the place and is really widespread in the Lake Macquarie area. However, it is included on the threatened species list and must be treated with respect. It is pleasing to note that land which has the plant tetratheca juncea growing on it and which is as far north as the Myall Lakes National Parks is being included as a conservation gain. In that way, this Parliament and this Government are respecting the need for biodiversity in the Australian plants.
Some of my constituents worry when they hear that parts of the national park estate are to be revoked. The point must be made that compensation is being provided and that the boundaries of parks and excisions for human activity are prone to human error in land use recording. I cite a couple of examples of normal human error. One example occurred a couple of years ago in the Wallsend electorate when the Lake Macquarie City Council and the RTA wanted to widen Macquarie Road, which is main road 527, between Cardiff South and Warners Bay. Funds were allocated to carry out the road widening, but as people started to delve into the details of the project, it was discovered that the RTA did not own the land. The land was privately owned by Coal and Allied Industries Ltd, yet the plan was all ready to be implemented to widen the road. The road surface had been laid and the road had been used for decades by the public but had not been properly sorted out. Human error and human oversight play a significant part in the excisions and boundary changes.
Another example concerns the Cardiff Bicentennial Park which was being set up by a community group with which I was involved in 1988. Again, everything was ready to go but a 12-month delay occurred because when the great northern railway line was moved 150 metres from low-lying land in Cardiff to a place on a hill, someone had omitted a triangular strip of land measuring about one-third the size of this Chamber. The land was simply not recorded in the land titles system which meant that the necessary transfers could not be effected to enable the Lake Macquarie City Council to establish the park. That error was also caused by human oversight.
I believe that the honourable member for Southern Highlands should be reluctant to accuse people of base motives in the way she did during her address to this House a short time ago. I am upset that the honourable member questioned the professionalism of officers of the National Parks and Wildlife Service and questioned the commitment of those officers to maintaining the integrity and the conservation values of the national park estate. Such conduct does the honourable member no credit. The honourable member has not been a member of this House for very long. I suggest that she should speak to the honourable member for Gosford, a former Minister for the Environment who introduced similar legislation. Perhaps she should also speak to Tim Moore, the former honourable member for Gordon and a former Minister for the Environment, because such bills are necessary from time to time to bring into reality in exact detail the boundaries of the national park estate.
Mr MARTIN (Bathurst) [12.59 p.m.]: I support the Minister and the National Parks and Wildlife (Adjustment of Areas) Bill. I echo the remarks of the honourable member for Wallsend, particularly in relation to the contribution of the honourable member for Southern Highlands, whose only constructive comment was that the Opposition would not oppose the bill. If the honourable member had been serious about what she said she should have opposed the bill. It is unfortunate that she questioned the integrity and management of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Honourable members know that no government department is perfect but—given its role and the great expansion of areas that it covers, and the practices that have been implemented under this Minister and also the previous Minister—they would agree that there have been major advances in the management of our national parks and that those who run the service should be congratulated rather than condemned. The honourable member for Southern Highlands threw around all sorts of conspiracy theories and used the word "corruption", and the tone of her speech did not do her any great favours.
The aim of the bill is to excise from parks and reserves those land uses that are not appropriate for land reserved and dedicated under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. This Government is committed to preserving the character of parks and reserves as required by the National Parks and Wildlife Act. The Act sets out the purpose of each type of park and reserve. Those purposes relate to nature conservation, protection of cultural heritage and the provision of recreational opportunities. For a wide variety of historical reasons, including gazettal of parks over existing uses, land uses which are now considered invalid exist in parks and reserves.
In some instances the boundary between national parks and existing roads and other infrastructure has not allowed for the widening or upgrading of the infrastructure without encroaching upon reserve boundaries. Therefore, changes to the boundaries are necessary to allow for the upgrading of the infrastructure. Honourable members have heard many examples of road works, in particular. This is a commonsense and cost-effective way of making those adjustments. As a result of a Land and Environment Court ruling, public utilities such as those within national parks and nature reserves may now be considered unlawful if their purposes were to be challenged in the courts. The proposed excisions involve only minor, not entire, areas of parks or reserves.
Most of the areas are highly disturbed and where conservation values are to be lost, for example, with the upgrade of the Pacific Highway, the negotiations for compensatory habitat have focused on gaining back those values and more. This is not the first time that such a bill has been proposed. Five housekeeping bills of a similar nature have been enacted over the years with the aim of excising land which involved land uses not appropriate for inclusion in the National Parks estate. It is appropriate to point out to the honourable member for Southern Highlands, who has railed against this Government for introducing this type of legislation, that the Coalition in its last term passed similar legislation at least once. Anyone with commonsense would agree that this approach is necessary to manage such a vast estate.
By excising these uses, the land can be transferred to the appropriate land manager. In terms of administrative improvements, the transfer of land would reduce any inconsistencies arising where the service is the owner of the land but does not manage on a day-to-day basis the associated land use. An example of that is the number of existing highways, roads and road developments proposed to be excised from the National Parks estate under the bill. The bill allows for the Minister for the Environment to take on subsequent ownership of excised land. The Minister can then negotiate the transfer of ownership to the relevant infrastructure manager—in most cases the Roads and Traffic Authority. That can only be a positive outcome for parks and reserves, the service and the infrastructure manager of the highway or road.
In addition to the many outstanding areas of compensatory habitat that will be added to the National Parks estate as part of the negotiations for the transfer of land, the bill represents the opportunity to right history, which has seen inappropriate and invalid uses included in these protected areas in the past. This bill provides the opportunity to reinstate the integrity of parks and reserves presently affected by inappropriate uses. I commend the bill to the House, and congratulate the Minister on the way in which he has accomplished this task.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Fraser.
[Mr Deputy-Speaker left the chair at 1.05 p.m. The House resumed at 2.15 p.m.]