I support our NT parks

Dear Parks and Wildlife Commission
(cc Chief Minister Gunner and Minister Uibo)

I welcome the development of the Parks Masterplan Consultation Paper. Developing a long-term vision for our parks and reserves on land and sea will help ensure that they protect our wildlife and culture for future generations, and bring long-term benefits to all Territorians.

Our parks provide a vital haven for native wildlife, are the backbone for our tourism industry and core to our identity as Territorians. However, current funding for protected areas is insufficient and out of proportion to the economic value of the parks estate, including tourism and ecosystem services. An increase in funding is urgently required.

A credible allocation from general revenue should be the principal means of funding the protected area system. Investment in protected areas should be proportionate to the public goods and services they provide. This investment should support active management such as Aboriginal ranger programs to conduct on ground management addressing threats like fire, ferals, and weeds - people caring for country.

Protecting more of the NT is good for nature and culture, and makes economic sense. The NT government should properly assess and value the contribution protected areas make to the state’s economy and reinvest a commensurate amount to make sure their ongoing management and expansion maintains natural and cultural values. The NT’s tourism industry directly contributes $852 million to the state product. Investing in our parks and reserves not only makes economic sense but it’s something our children and grandchildren will thank us for.

Protected areas on land and sea should recognise and prioritise Aboriginal interests and the leading role of Aboriginal communities in management, recovery and restoration of biodiversity. The improved management of existing parks as well as the expansion of protected areas throughout the NT needs to be done in a way that is fair and just to Traditional Owners.

We need to balance the role of parks in protecting biodiversity and supporting tourism, maintaining our outdoor lifestyle while embracing and supporting Aboriginal culture, connection to country and economic opportunities. While tourism provides tangible social and economic benefits, tourism and recreational use should be well managed so as not to come at the expense of natural and cultural values.

The Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1976 needs extensive modernising to ensure that it provides the legal framework to improve protection and management of coastal waters and to support Traditional Owner management of sea country. It is essential that NT’s Aboriginal peoples are involved in the design of the legislation.

Despite being one of the Territory’s most extraordinary and favoured coastal destinations, Cobourg Marine Park (Garig Gunak Barlu) has suffered from years of under-resourcing. If we are to protect the health of Cobourg Marine Park, we must properly implement the park’s zoning plan and provide adequate resources.

Limmen Bight Marine Park’s healthy waters, incredible marine life and remoteness attract recreational fishers and visitors from across the country. This is supporting an expanding tourism economy. However, with growing threats to the region from industrial expansion, pollution, and mangrove dieback, the protection a marine park provides is needed more than ever. A strong marine park zoning plan, with good management and funding, will protect our wildlife and create significant benefits for the Territory’s people, fishing and tourism economy.

The NT Parks Masterplan provides a unique opportunity to strengthen our much-loved parks estate on land and sea. We commend the NT Government for taking this important first step and recognising the value of our parks to all Territorians.

Please accept this as my submission to the NT Parks Masterplan Consultation Paper 2022-2052.