NATIONAL PARKS ASSOCIATION OF NEW SOUTH WALES
The Hon. ROBERT BROWN
[6.43 p.m.]: I take this opportunity to expose the extent of hypocrisy exhibited by the National Parks Association of New South Wales and other so-called conservation and bushwalking clubs. The National Parks Association of New South Wales portrays itself as a conservation organisation that "seeks to protect, connect and restore the integrity and diversity of natural areas in New South Wales." However, the truth is that the National Parks Association of New South Wales and other so-called conservation groups have a long history of systematically flouting the rules governing the activities that can be undertaken in our national parks. The various Acts, regulations and codes governing the activities undertaken in national parks are there to help protect our natural places, yet the National Parks Association of New South Wales thumbs its nose at those rules.
I list just a couple of examples of openly publicised multiple breaches of the rules that are designed to protect the natural heritage of our national parks. First, on the weekend of 11 to 12 October 2008, the National Parks Association of New South Wales organised a bushwalking event at Deep Pass Canyon in the Wollemi National Park. The group comprised 26 participants, including 13 children, which in itself exceeds the maximum group size for the adventure activities they were undertaking—canyoning and abseiling. This event was reported, complete with photographs, on the association's website. It rained that weekend, so the National Parks Association of New South Wales group lit a fire in a cave to cook their dinner and dry their clothes—another clear breach of the regulations. Even more concerning is its blatant disregard for the safety of others. One adult carried a 4-year-old child on his back when abseiling down a wet and very slippery section of rock. That activity risked the safety of the young girl, and should have attracted a penalty of up to 30 penalty units.
On this single bushwalking incident the National Parks Association breached no less than five regulations codes, including their own codes of conduct: the Wollemi National Park Plan of Management, National Parks and Wildlife Regulation 2002, the National Parks Association of New South Wales Policy on Appropriate Recreation in National Parks, the National Parks and Wildlife Service: Canyon Code of Ethics, and the Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs New South Wales: Bushwalkers' Code. The association clearly acts with impunity and without fear of prosecution by a duplicitous New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service that appears to turn a blind eye to environmental degradation perpetrated by hoards of National Parks Association of New South Wales members and other bushwalking club members that invade our national parks every weekend.
On the weekend of 28 to 29 March 2009, Sydney University bushwalkers organised a bushwalking trip to the Colo River in the Wollemi National Park—again highlighted on the website. This particular group breached multiple sections of the national parks regulations, as well as various bushwalking codes including the Wollemi National Park Plan of Management, National Parks and Wildlife Regulation 2002—multiple sections, and the Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs New South Wales: Bushwalkers' Code. The photographic evidence taken from the website shows what apparently appears to be an alcohol-fuelled mob of 34 persons cavorting in the pristine Colo River drinking beer. The trip report also includes this pearler, "a big old carpet python happened across our activities." A photograph shows the old carpet python being handled by one macho bushwalker. That is in direct contravention of the regulations, which explicitly prohibits interference with any wildlife.
The objects of the National Parks and Wildlife Act require the Minister, the Director General and the National Parks and Wildlife Service to give effect to the public interest in the protection of the values for which land is reserved under this Act, and the appropriate management of those lands. Despite the Act being binding on the Crown, the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water and the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service to manage group numbers, there is no evidence in the annual reports for 2005-06, 2006-07 or 2007-08 of any prosecutions for exceed maximum group size of 20 person; exceed maximum group size of 12 persons, for adventure activities; and exceed maximum group size of eight persons, for canyons involving abseiling. This is surprising since most conservation and bushwalking clubs advertise walks in advance and then publish their trip reports revealing where breaches have been committed—that is where I collected the evidence of the multiple breaches.
That the annual reports of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water show no convictions for exceeding permitted group sizes for the period in question, I can only assume that the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water and the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service is turning a "blind eye" to the activities of conservation and bushwalking clubs. If that is the case, then the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water and the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service is failing to uphold their statutory obligations regarding the protection and preservation of scenic and natural features for which land is reserved under the Act.