GREENS BILL: Public say on private developments in National Parks passes Upper House

Today the Greens' Private Members Bill to ensure that any proposed private developments in National Parks are subject to full public notification, representation and appeal rights was passed by majority in the Upper House but opposed by the Liberal Government.

Planning, Development and Infrastructure (Reserves) Amendment Bill 

Below is a transcript from Hansard of the speeches prior to Mark summing up the debate and vote on the Bill:

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I rise to support the Planning, Development and Infrastructure (Reserves) Amendment Bill. The Labor opposition supports this bill, because we favour transparency in our planning system, and we believe that developments in our national parks should be appropriately assessed. At the outset I wish to emphasise that we are not opposed to any and all developments in national parks. National parks should be visited, and they should be enjoyed. We value the contribution national parks can make to our tourist economy, and we value the associated job creation, but we also believe that any developments should respect our native flora and fauna and limit their encroachment on untouched, pristine wilderness.

All of South Australia's national parks have established management plans which include guidance on appropriate developments inside their boundaries. These plans have been developed in accordance with the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972, which includes a public consultation process. However, at present these management plans are not required to form part of the development assessment processes for developments proposed inside national parks. They are not required under the Development Act 1993, and they will not be required under the new planning system underpinned by the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act 2016.

At present our planning system relies on the Minister for Planning placing a notice in the Government Gazette for national park management plans to form part of development assessment processes. This bill, appropriately, removes this arbitrary process by placing national park management plans within the Planning and Design Code.

Recent experience has shown the need for this reform. The development assessment process used to assess a development application inside Kangaroo Island's Flinders Chase National Park did not include consideration of the national park's management plan. As a result, the State Commission Assessment Panel provided planning consent for a development application for the construction of several tourist accommodation dwellings in locations not zoned for development in the Flinders Chase National Park management plan.

The approved tourist accommodation facilities at Sandy Creek and Sanderson Bay are located in isolated locations many kilometres from the existing Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail. These developments will require new roads to be cleared through native vegetation so that vehicles can have access to the construction site and provide appropriate food and sanitation transport.

This was not what was originally envisaged. When the former state Labor government called for expressions of interest from private developers to construct eco-sensitive tourist accommodation facilities in the Flinders Chase National Park, and when it subsequently awarded the Australian Walking Company more than $800,000 in a Future Jobs Fund grant, it did so under the understanding that the tourist accommodation facilities would be located alongside the existing wilderness trail. This would have been in keeping with the national park's management plan.

This is the issue at the heart of the public opposition to the proposed development. Opposition to the location of the tourist accommodation facilities has underpinned the objections of a coalition of local activists, including Eco-Action Kangaroo Island and the Friends of Parks association. It also underpins the objection of the shadow minister for environment and water in the other place, the member for Port Adelaide. Appropriate consideration of the Flinders Chase National Park management plan would likely have ensured that the development of tourist accommodation facilities would have been close to the existing wilderness trail and not have required the clearance of wilderness.

In supporting this bill, Labor also acknowledges that South Australia’s national parks belong to all South Australians. That is why we are supporting provisions within this bill that will classify all development applications in national parks, with the exception of public amenity developments, as ‘restricted developments’ under the new planning system. This will ensure that all development applications will have to proceed through SCAP.

It means that the public will be notified, it means that all supporting documents to the development application will be published and it means that any member of the South Australian public will be permitted to make a representation to SCAP, in writing and in person, and have accompanying rights of appeal against a development application which has received planning consent. This will provide appropriate public scrutiny to developments proposed inside national parks.

Labor supports the bill because, although we support appropriate tourist developments inside our national parks, we do not want our pristine wilderness attractions to be spoiled in the process. I commend the bill to the council.

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment): I rise on behalf of the government to offer the government's response to the honourable member's bill. As we know, South Australia's national parks are a major attraction for the state's tourism sector. That sector employs some 38,900 people and currently generates $7.6 billion for our state's economy, and it is a very important part of regional South Australia's economy.

Ecologically sensitive development in parks presents a significant opportunity to grow our nature-based tourism and drive significant tourist potential for our state. The previous government had very much a focus on nature-based tourism. Our government is committed to growing nature-based tourism here in South Australia and is actively seeking to grow this initiative and expand this into more areas to enhance the visitor economy.

The government is seeking to increase the contribution of nature-based tourism in South Australia to the South Australian economy to $350 million and to create an extra 1,000 new jobs by 2020, including a focus on growing our regional economies. Incidentally, that is the 2020 plan endorsed by the previous government.

We are also encouraging private sector development in our parks to develop high-quality tourism experiences sensitive to the environment and capable of attracting high-value tourists. Nationally and internationally, development is undertaken in parks and reserves that builds people's connections to the environment and has minimal impact.

The government is also seeking to streamline the process and to provide greater investor certainty through the implementation of the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act. This bill will constrain the government's ability to support economic growth through ecologically sensitive development in national parks. Accordingly, the government opposes the bill.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: In summing up the debate, I would like to thank the Hon. Clare Scriven on behalf of the Labor Party for indicating their support for this bill. I thank the Hon. David Ridgway for his contribution. However, I am gobsmacked by his assertion that letting the public have a say over private developments in national parks constrains the ability to properly manage our environment, or that if you insist on national parks management plans being taken into account by decision-makers in relation to development that somehow constrains the ability to protect the environment, which is, after all, what our national parks are for.

I am very confident that we have the numbers on this bill tonight. I have spoken to colleagues on the crossbench, who I think, given the lateness of the hour, might not be making a direct contribution, but it is in the hands of the chamber and no doubt the President will decide this on the voices. I am very confident that we have the numbers to pass this bill, and I would urge the government, when it gets to the lower house, to take it more seriously than it has today. It is only procedural matters. It does not dictate what can and cannot happen in a national park. It mandates public consultation and it mandates consideration of the approved national park management plan. It is not too much to ask, and I hope that the government will reconsider when it gets to the lower house.

Bill read a second time.

Committee Stage

Bill taken through committee without amendment.

Third Reading

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I move:

That this bill be now read a third time.

Bill read a third time and passed.

You can read Mark's speech on introducing the Bill here and a copy of the Bill can be found here.