19 August, 2013

National park plans 'betrayal of public trust'

Tom Arup
The Age, August 19, 2013 

Former state governor and Olympic legend John Landy has joined a group of eminent Victorians urging the Napthine government to abandon moves to open up national parks for tourism development.
In an open letter sent to Premier Denis Napthine on Sunday night the group, which also includes Nobel prizewinner Professor Peter Doherty, hit out at the development plans, which will be debated in State Parliament this week.

The letter, titled Privatising Our National Parks - A Betrayal of Public Trust, says allowing tourism development is risky, deprives Victorians of their public land and is not in keeping with the environmental values of national parks.

The state government is opening up two-thirds of national park land for ''nature-based'' tourism development - including low-rise hotels, restaurants and jetties - and has called for potential developers to come forward. Under the changes, the government will grant leases in parks such as Wilsons Promontory and the Grampians to private companies for up to 99 years. Projects will need approval from the environment minister before they go ahead.

''In reality, a 99-year lease transfers ownership of a public asset, something we all own and can share, to a private benefit enjoyed by a privileged few,'' the letter says.

Also among the 21 signatories are former Australian of the Year Sir Gustav Nossal, retired Family Court judge John Fogarty, and founder of SANE Australia Dr Margaret Leggatt. The group points to the troubled tourism project at Seal Rocks on Phillip Island in the 2000s - which resulted in the state government being sued, costing taxpayers $55 million - as an example of what could go wrong.

''Low-risk, attractive development could be encouraged in outstanding locations just outside our national parks,'' the letter says.

Another signatory, RMIT Professor Michael Buxton, said national parks were more crucial than ever in conserving biological diversity and landscapes.

''But on a broader level what worries me is this is part of a systematic destruction of the conservation state and environmental policy by this government,'' Professor Buxton said.

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