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State Budget 2016: Parks Funding Slashed and Burnt

1 June 2016

Ms O'CONNOR question to MINISTER for ENVIRONMENT, PARKS and HERITAGE, Mr GROOM

It is the centenary of Tasmania's world class national parks and reserves.  We have just experienced devastating bushfires that burned an estimated 21 000 hectares of the TWWHA, yet the Budget papers show more than $6 million cut from an already underfunded Parks and Wildlife Service across the forward Estimates.  Full-time remote area firefighters in Parks have been cut from 19 to 10 statewide, and there is only one FTE Parks employee dedicated to fire management covering the entire north-west and west coasts.  Given the enormous threat bushfires and climate change pose to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and other national parks, how on earth do you justify these cuts, or are you so busy working to exploit Tasmania's protected areas for a selected few developers you have forgotten about the need to properly fund Parks land management responsibilities?

ANSWER

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her question.  Yet again we see the member for Denison, Ms O'Connor, seeking to misrepresent the position.  The budget papers make it very clear that the adjustment to Parks funding is a consequence of the transfer of responsibility for the fuel reduction program, and also that Australian Government funding for management of the World Heritage values of the Tasmanian wilderness area comes to an end in 2018-19 and will be renegotiated in accordance with normal practice.  This suggestion by Ms O'Connor that somehow this Government is not committed to properly resourcing Parks, or somehow has some agenda to undermine Parks, is absolutely wrong. 

What the Budget does is provide a strong commitment to ongoing investment in our infrastructure in our parks, which is very important.  What we are seeing, which is very pleasing, is a significant increase of people wanting to visit our parks.  That is what the parks are about - ensuring we preserve these precious places and share them with the world.  The $5.7 million on infrastructure is very important.  We will be looking at doing things like upgrading the camping ground and facilities at Fortescue Bay, upgrade to amenities at Pirates Bay, replacement of the Mount Mawson day shelter, infrastructure improvements on Bruny Island, and construction of new amenities at the northern end of Wineglass Bay.

In addition we are looking at new initiatives, like trying to identify an improved management structure for Maria Island; the Government has committed $220 000 to that.  This is a very important initiative of the Government.  It is one of the great assets we have.  Frankly -

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of Order, Madam Speaker.  On your direction, I only asked one question and it related to cutting of the Parks budget so they cannot do fire management works.  The minister has not gone anywhere near it.

Madam SPEAKER - I think you are misinterpreting a ruling.  There was still an introductory preamble to your question.  We all know what happens when that type of question is asked - it opens the door for a minister to have a fair bit of latitude on the subject matter.

As I have reminded the House, I am not a mind reader, as much you would all like me to be.  I do not know what the minister is going to say in response to a question, but he should be allowed time to address the question, or several questions as the case may be on a number of occasions.

Mr GROOM - Thank you, Madam Speaker.  Another important initiative is the investment of $800 000 over four years in the Aboriginal joint management -

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Madam Speaker.  The minister is reading out propaganda.  He is not going to the issue of fire management in reserves.

Madam SPEAKER - That is not a point of order.  The minister will resume his answer.

Mr GROOM - It seems Ms O'Connor is not interested in the answer.  This is important and I am going to talk about $800 000 over four years in the Aboriginal joint management of our parks and reserves.  This is an important initiative for the Government.  It is a step forward, working constructively with the Aboriginal communities of Tasmania, and we are proud of it. 

This suggestion that we do not have appropriate resources dealing with fire in the parks is not right.  Consistent with the practice of previous governments, including the previous Labor-Greens government, there are employees engaged on a seasonal basis when it comes to firefighting.  The fire crew consists of 19 permanent positions, 12 based in Hobart, four at Scottsdale and three at Ulverstone.  The agency engages seasonal firefighters each year, with the number varying on the seasonal outlook.  The fire crew has always been engaged to supplement the regional staff response to fire.  Within the wider agency there are approximately 171 staff trained as firefighters, incident management team staff and other support roles that are available to respond to bushfires and engage in planned burning operations. 

There are 83 arduous-rated firefighters who can respond to remote fires and 43 moderate rated firefighters who can respond during vehicle-based operations.  Of these 171 staff there are 27 firefighters and 10 incident management team staff based in the north-west region working out of field centres including Strahan, Arthur River, King Island, Stanley, Cradle Mountain, Lake St Clair and Ulverstone.

This is an attempt by the Greens to criticise the fire response of Parks and this Government's commitment to the proper response to fire.  It bears no resemblance to the truth.  This Government is absolutely committed to taking the risk of fire seriously.  We are making sure there are appropriate resources.  It was this Government that introduced the fuel reduction program - $28.5 million that the previous government did not invest.

Ms O'Connor interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order, I warn the member for Denison, Ms O'Connor.  Throughout that entire question there were constant interjections and criticisms.  I ask the House to watch their language.