The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS ( 14:48 :29 ): l seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation a question regarding the classification of the Para Wirra Recreation Park.
The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS: At the outset I would like to place on the record that I am a long-term member of the Friends of Para Wirra group, although a relatively inactive one. Having said that, the very active members of the Friends of Para Wirra group have long been working towards the goal of having the classification of Para Wirra changed from a recreation park to a conservation park. Members of this group have worked hard to increase the biodiversity of the park, particularly for the enjoyment of local walkers, and have been concerned about recent suggestions of introducing activities such as mountain biking in the park, which could threaten vegetation and the general nature of the park.
It has recently come to my attention that, despite a recommendation that the park be reclassified as a conservation park and the Friends of Para Wirra being informed of such, the department, in its February round of declarations, maintained the status of Para Wirra as a recreation park. Two representatives from the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources were scheduled to attend the recent annual general meeting of the Friends of Para Wirra to discuss with the group the prospect of attracting more visitors to the park and the group's view on what is desirable for Para Wirra park. Unfortunately, this attendance at the AGM was cancelled by the department at a relatively late stage. My questions to the minister are:
1.Why did DEWNR maintain the classification of recreation park for Para Wirra, given the departmental recommendation to declare it a conservation park?
2.Will the minister reconsider the decision to reclassify Para Wirra park?
3.When will the Friends of Para Wirra group get the opportunity to discuss the issue with DEWNR officers?
4.Will the minister commit to consulting with the Friends of Para Wirra group before developing and implementing strategies to attract more visitors to the park?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 14:50 :50 ): I thank the honourable member for his most important questions and for the ability it gives me now to talk about our achievements in terms of our protected areas system in the state. I will give him some specific answers to his questions in a moment. It is important to understand that we've enhanced the management and extent of the protected areas system in South Australia through the development and implementation of the state's protected areas strategy, Conserving Nature, 2012-20.
The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting:
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Although the Hon. Michelle Lensink invites me to respond to her interjections, Mr President, of course I understand that would be out of order, just as her interjections are. I will refrain for the point of time but there may be some issues that she might actually learn from listening to me about this process.
The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: I don't think so.
The PRESIDENT: No; the Hon. Ms Lensink, if you don't want a 10-minute answer I'd advise you to let the minister answer the question. Minister.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Perhaps she should go out for a cup of coffee, Mr President, while I take up a few minutes of the chamber's time to talk about the brilliant achievements of the government. In 2013, we continued this great tradition by providing the iconic Nullarbor Plain with South Australia's highest level of conservation protection as a wilderness protection area. It has almost doubled the area of South Australia which receives this level of protection to 1.8 million hectares. When the Labor government came to power in 2002 it was just 70,000 hectares of South Australia that had wilderness protection status; we are now up to 1.8 million hectares.
We are extremely proud, as a government, to have given the highest level of protection to approximately two million hectares of land and the species that this land provides habitat to. Over the past 12 years, 67 new parks have been proclaimed and there have been 72 additions to parks. Over 2.2 million hectares have been added to the state's reserve system or reclassified to a higher conservation status under the National Parks and Wildlife Act and the Wilderness Protection Act.
As part of its 2014 election commitments, the state government has committed an additional $300,000 over two years to improve South Australia's system of parks and reserves in order to protect more of the state's unique environment. The growth of our state's public reserves system has been complemented by an extensive and growing area of protected areas on private land, and this is another area in which we have led the country. South Australia now has the largest percentage of land area, in both public and private protected areas, of any Australian mainland jurisdiction, a total area around the size of the state of Victoria. This is an incredibly valuable environmental, economic and social resource for our state.
In 2012, the Labor government protected Arkaroola through the passage of the Arkaroola Protection Act, protecting the area's conservation values from mining. We have also given Arkaroola state heritage listing and are currently finalising a management plan for the Arkaroola protection area. Labor is also committed to establishing the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary to protect internationally important habitat for migratory shorebirds.
The state Labor government has already invested $2 million in the purchase of 2,300 hectares of salt flats to add to the bird sanctuary. The sanctuary is proposed to stretch for 60 kilometres from the Barker Inlet in the south to Parham in the north and provide a protected area for more than 200 species, including 50 shorebird species. The area is a key part of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. It has the potential to be an exciting drawcard for bird watchers from interstate and overseas and it supports tourism and the environment in South Australia.
The government is committed to invest an additional $1.7 million over four years for the establishment of ongoing maintenance of the sanctuary. Land that is added to the reserve system is generally crown land that is managed by the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. Before land is proclaimed as a park or added to an existing park, the department consults with local government, native title interests, neighbouring landholders and local community groups that have an interest in the land, and that also includes friends of parks groups.
Protection under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 and continued work with the community will secure the long-term conservation values of these areas and allow better management of issues, including the ability to undertake prescribed burning. It provides a formal statutory opportunity for community input into the management plans and gives a stronger focus to working with the community on the use of land for local recreational pursuits and broader tourism opportunities. In many cases it also provides a formal means for the co-management of the land with Aboriginal people.
Mr President, I make those points because you can see from that short explanation that it is vitally important from the government's perspective that we involve the local community in their parks and in the construction of their parks. We are involving local community members in the construction of the bird sanctuary. I am not sure whether it has ever been done before in such a coordinated manner, but it is vitally important to have that community buy-in to the park, to have their support, to have their sense of ownership over it, and that is the way that we work in relation to all of our parks.
The government also made an election commitment about upgrading our parks in the near city area. Just yesterday I was down in the Onkaparinga recreational reserve talking to the Friends of Onkaparinga Park about the $2 million investment from our election promise—
The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins: You've been going for five minutes and I asked you about Para Wirra.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, it's a very important question and I want to give a very detailed answer. The honourable member does fantastic work—
The PRESIDENT: Order! The minister has the floor.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: —with the Friends of Para Wirra. As I said, we will work with local community groups and friends of parks groups to get the best outcome for the spend that we are doing and upgrade our parks along the city area, and that will sometimes mean talking to disparate groups, not just friends groups but the whole community, the community that use the parks and the community that perhaps do not use the parks but probably would if we put in some of the facilities that they would find more attractive. We want to get people into the parks to foster that sense of ownership of their local parks and make them feel like they have a stake in their protection into the future.
We have been working with community groups. I have met with a range of people in the south of Adelaide in terms of how we will spend the money promised during the election campaign. I am upgrading the southern area of the parks. We have another $5 million promised for the northern area of the parks, and we will be commencing a program of community engagement up there.
In terms of mountain biking in parks, we know there is irresponsible mountain biking taking place in some parks. The way to actually manage that is not by putting a ban on people using mountain bikes in parks, but actually upgrading facilities for mountain bike riders who will then use the appropriate pathways and, through peer pressure, encourage those who would be biking through the parks to avoid the very delicate and sensitive ecosystems where we do not want bikes going through the park and utilise the exciting park bikeways that we will be putting into the park for their benefit.
So, we are talking to those biking groups to codesign interesting and exciting mountain bike paths that they will want to use to actually attract them away from sensitive ecological niches. That is the right way forward: talking to community organisations, involving local community in park design and getting their input so that they want to protect the park into the future. In respect of the question about why the park has not been up-classified from a recreation park to a conservation park, I am not aware of the answer to that. I will ask my department for their response and bring that back for the honourable member.
The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS ( 14:58 :07 ): Supplementary. Yes, I would be very grateful for that, because it seems as though that decision has not been proceeded with. Will the minister confirm that the departmental recommendation to reclassify the park as a conservation park will be continued with?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 14:58 :33 ): I am not going to prejudge what the department might tell me about why it was not proceeded with at a particular point in time. There may be a lot of very good reasons why it has not been proceeded with as soon as the honourable member would like. I will ask those questions first and then come back to the chamber.
The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS ( 14:58 :48 ): Further supplementary: the minister in his first answer referred to the transfer of crown land into the parks system. Will the minister concede that the department's handling of the transfer of the Humbug Scrub crown land into the Para Wirra park took many years and was a great delay to groups such as the Friends of Para Wirra?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 14:59 :18 ): The honourable member seemed to blithely ignore large parts of my explanation in response to his question. The department and the government are vitally concerned to speak to a whole range of community organisations about what they want from their parks, not just friends groups. Friends groups are very important, but they are not the only user of parks, and there is another group of people in the community who should be using parks and who probably aren't as much as they should. We need to know what stops them from using those parks and how can we design the parks, or what sort of facilities can we put in place to encourage them to use the parks more.
So there is a whole range of reasons why we might move priorities around in terms of pushing up the classification of one park over another in a different part of the state. It will come down to balancing our resources, doing the research—scientific research if necessary—on threatened species, and actually putting forward priority parks, and we will get to the others as we can. I can just advise the chamber that I am having a roundtable meeting in the north of Adelaide on 5 March to consult with community organisations about how the government will improve parks in the north of Adelaide.
The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS ( 15:00 :25 ): Supplementary. Will that meeting in the north of Adelaide include a visit to the Para Wirra park?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 15:00 :32 ): It is unlikely at this point in time—but it may well be in the park; I don't know. That will be organised by the department, and I will be talking to the broad community organisations that turn up at the round table and ask them what they want in their parks. Not tell them but ask them: what do they want in their parks, how can we best resource those parks, how can we encourage more people to use our great parks in this state and to value them into the future?