The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS(14:26:26): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation a question regarding the reclassification of the Para Wirra Park.
The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS: At the outset, I would like to again place on the record that I have had a long-term association with the Friends of Para Wirra group. On 24 February this year, I asked the minister a question regarding the lapsed reclassification of Para Wirra Park from a recreation to conservation area following concerns raised by the Friends of Para Wirra group. In response to my supplementary question on the matter, the minister said:
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.
Given that it has now been a month since my initial question and, following this meeting, the Friends of Para Wirra seem no closer to achieving the reclassification of the park from recreation to conservation, my questions to the minister are:
1.Since the minister stated in his answer to my previous question: '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 feedback did the minister receive at the meeting and were plans for the parks, other than the codesign and installation of mountain bike paths, discussed?
2.Given that the minister, when questioned about whether he would visit Para Wirra Park as part of this meeting process, said, 'It is unlikely at this point in time,' will the minister advise the council of whether he has actually visited the park or plans to in the near future?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER(Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change)(14:28:26): I thank the honourable member for his most important question and I also recognise his long service and support for our parks and long service with Friends of Para Wirra as well. Of course, this government has enhanced our protected areas in South Australia through our protected areas strategy 'Conserving Nature 2012-2020: A strategy for establishing a system of protected areas in South Australia'. In 2013, we continued this tradition by providing the iconic Nullarbor Plain with South Australia's highest level of conservation protection as a wilderness protection area. This almost doubled the area of South Australia which receives this level of protection to approximately 1.8 million hectares.
I have said it before in this place, but it bears repeating: when this government came into power in South Australia in 2002, only 70,000 hectares of South Australia had wilderness protection status—only 70,000 hectares.
We are extremely proud, as a government, to have given the highest level of protection to approximately 1.8 million hectares of land, and the species that this land provides habitat for. I should go back and check the records, but my recollection is that not one extra hectare was added during the Liberal government's tenure in office—not one single hectare was increased in terms of its conservation status. That is my recollection, and I am very happy to go back and do that research because I think it will bear me out, that, in fact, the Liberal government did not declare a single hectare of wilderness protection. But I will check on that and come back with another response in relation to that, because I don't think they actually care about wilderness.
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. It is important to bear this in mind, because when the opposition come into this place and ask questions about parks and wilderness status, they come in here with absolutely no credibility in the community in terms of their parks.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: I say there is the notable exception of the honourable member who asked the question, who has a long-term relationship with the Friends of Para Wirra Recreation Park. I accept that completely, and I acknowledge that, but the Liberal Party has an appalling record—an appalling record in this state—in terms of their commitment to our parks system.
In relation to the direct question on the matter of Para Wirra, it is important we put on the record their past incompetence and lack of commitment in terms of national parks. On Thursday, 5 March, I had the pleasure of officially opening the first community round table to discuss how we can improve the services and amenity in our northern parks. I was joined at the Tea Tree Gully Golf Course by representatives from schools, sporting and leisure associations, local government, conservation organisations and community groups based in the northern suburbs. From recollection, the member for Morialta and a member of his staff joined me as well, and a member of staff of the member of Napier was also present.
The purpose of this inaugural roundtable meeting was to begin a discussion about how we can best enhance visitor numbers and experience in our parks in the northern suburbs. South Australia is incredibly blessed with the number and quality of our national parks. We have over 300 parks covering almost 20 per cent of our state, I am advised, and 29 of those parks are right here around our metropolitan area, making them easily accessible to Adelaide residents.
Since coming into government, this Labor government has focused on growing our state's public reserves, including extending protected areas on private lands. As I have mentioned in this place previously, we find that with the exception of a few of our most popular parks, many of our parks tend to be underutilised. The northern suburbs boasts some wonderful parks offering an enormous range and diversity of activity.
For example, there is Para Wirra, with great bushwalking opportunities through its classic Australian bush and creek landscape, and Anstey Hill offers a rich natural and cultural heritage and a huge range of bird and animal species. Cobbler Creek has mountain bike trails for people of every skill level, and Port Gawler has beautiful mangroves and links to the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary to come. For the most part, such activities can be great fun for the whole family and are cheap. Our parks offer inexpensive and exciting recreational opportunities, and experts have shown us that they are good for our mind and our body.
The South Australian government wants to create a diverse and interesting nature experience to encourage more visitors to our parks. In March 2014, we committed $10.4 million over four years to improve facilities and amenities in our metropolitan parks. That includes $6.5 million to be spent on infrastructure in northern parks, as well as improvements to our parks in the southern suburbs and turning the Mount Lofty Ranges into an international mountain biking destination.
We want to ensure the facilities that we invest in are the facilities that the community want. This is why we are undertaking such a thorough engagement process with local communities because it is these people who understand the area best and who will ultimately use these facilities most. Local communities, friends groups and user groups have a central role to play in determining the type of facilities that we will develop and where we will develop them.
I am told that the northern parks round table resulted in quite lively discussion, with a wide range of ideas being suggested and debated. While I was there the debates centred around biking trails versus walking trails, and the views of some members of the community were that the two did not mix together very well. Ultimately, we talked about how we can make those two different approaches to using trails in the parks more compatible.
Some of the ideas that received the greatest support included establishing camping opportunities within the parks, which I would not have thought of, myself, given that they are so close to the residential areas; of course, walking and cycling trails, which we already spoke about; and connecting youth groups, schools and families to parks through educational and recreational infrastructure such as adventure trails.
The consultation phase will run approximately for the next six months, and this round table is just the first step. We will also be offering online surveys and information via social media and special parks open days to get as many people involved as possible. Once the projects have been agreed upon, they will be designed, with construction scheduled for 2016-17.
I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all the participants and organisers of the northern parks round table for generously taking the time to become involved in this important initiative, and I encourage anyone with an interest in improving their local parks to get involved in this exciting process.
In relation to the honourable member's second question, whilst it is generally my view that I don't answer questions in this place about where I have been or where I am going, I can tell the honourable member that I was in Para Wirra with the member for Wright just last year taking in some of the beautiful views and talking to some local community members as we enjoyed the local ambience of his favourite park, Para Wirra.
The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins: Why didn't you remember that last time?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: I didn't want to tell you.