7 November 2013
NATURE CONSERVATION AND OTHER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (NO.2)
Resumed from 20 August (see p. 2607).
Hon. SL DICKSON (Buderim—LNP) (Minister for National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing) (12.17 pm): I move—
That the bill be now read a second time.
I thank the Health and Community Services Committee for its prompt consideration of the Nature Conservation and Other Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2013 and note that the committee tabled its report on the bill on 9 October 2013, and I table a copy of the government’s response to that report.
Tabled paper: Health and Community Services Committee: Report No. 31—Nature Conservation and Other Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2013, government response.
I am pleased to accept the committee’s recommendation that it supports this bill. The committee’s report raises a number of points of clarification and recommendations for amendments. I want to address a number of these and will do so in turn. There are a number of recommendations for amendment to the bill which the government has accepted, and I will move these amendments during the consideration in detail stage. I am pleased to accept the committee’s recommendation that clause 24 of the bill be amended to clarify that the ‘interest’ that Indigenous people may have in protected areas is an interest under Aboriginal tradition or Islander custom.
The committee has requested I clarify the types of activity that the bill will permit in areas of high-conservation value and how those areas will be protected from potentially damaging uses. I can advise that the tenure transfer process outlined in the bill is not intended to impact on any activities or uses that are currently authorised or restricted on the various tenure classes. These changes will simply clarify the types of activities and uses that can already be authorised, nor will the new object and management principles for national parks and regional parks automatically result in new activities being authorised. As is currently the case, new activities that align with the management principles may be considered. The particular values of an area will also need to be considered in making a decision about future uses. There are existing decision-making framework, criteria and risk mitigation strategies for permitting activities in protected areas that are set out in legislation, regulation and policy. The government’s commitment to increase access to protected areas has been and will continue to be carried out under this framework.
The committee recommended that information be provided about the place of Aboriginal tradition and Islander custom in the proposed amendments to the management principles for national parks. I can advise that the proposed amendments will not alter the existing hierarchy of management principles for national parks or the place of Aboriginal tradition and Islander custom within the management principles. The cardinal principle for national park management includes a reference to cultural resources that recognises Aboriginal tradition. All other management principles are subject to the cardinal principle. So ecotourism, recreation and educational outcomes remain secondary to Aboriginal tradition. I am pleased to further advise that, to ensure absolute clarity on this matter, the Department of the Premier and Cabinet has recommended an additional amendment to the bill. The management principles of national parks will now include the term ‘cultural resources’ in addition to cultural values in sections 17(d) and 17(e) of the Nature Conservation Act.
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However, I cannot inform the House of the outcome of the current review of forest reserves before action is taken to designate those areas with a different tenure. The normal processes associated with tenure designations will apply and members will have the opportunity to review these designations following the review. Following Governor in Council approval of the new tenure dedications, the regulations will be tabled in the Legislative Assembly.
The committee recommended changes to the provisions for special management areas, or SMAs. SMAs have been designed to enable flexibility in the management of national parks and are intended to allow management actions to take place in a responsive and timely manner. As an operational tool, it is not appropriate to require a lengthy approval process as proposed by the committee. In addition, if SMAs were subject to disallowance provisions, it could lead to unintended consequences with regard to compensation for parties to which a permit has been granted.
I am pleased to accept the committee’s recommendation to guarantee protection of existing conservation parks. Mining, geothermal activities and greenhouse gas storage activities will not be permitted on land formerly dedicated as a conservation park or future areas with similar characteristics. Such activities will be permitted only on land that was formerly a resources reserve or future areas that have similar characteristics to a resources reserve. This will be achieved by amendments to the bill providing that in future a resource use area can be declared over a regional park only at the time of dedication of the park. This excludes the opportunity for a resource use area to be declared over a former conservation park.
The committee has sought a response to concerns about the requirement for a management statement potentially leading to contractual inconsistencies with obligations under existing Indigenous management agreements. I thank the committee for highlighting this particular issue. Under the provisions of the bill, I will have the discretion to require a management plan and am provided guidance on the matters to take into account in making a decision as to whether a management plan is required. One of those matters is the importance of an area’s cultural resources and values. The existence of an Indigenous management agreement is a clear indication of an area’s cultural resources and values. On that basis, and as a matter of policy, I will request a management plan be prepared for all protected areas that currently have an Indigenous management agreement where this agreement requires a management plan unless otherwise agreed with the Indigenous landholder.
There are a number of committee recommendations that seek to have the bill amended to include a higher level of prescription with regard to the consultation process associated with management plans. In particular those recommendations relate to consultation on a draft management plan, a draft amendment to a management plan and when the minister determines that a change is required to management plans to reflect a change in government policy. The bill has been designed to allow for greater flexibility in the management planning process due to the problems experienced as a result of an overly prescriptive process, as outlined in the Auditor-General’s 2010 report. In that report, it was found that the former government had prepared management plans for just 17 per cent of protected areas for which it was a requirement under the Nature Conservation Act. Further, it was admitted that it would take 30 years and $60 million to complete them all. This is clear evidence that the process was not working.
The response of the former government should have been to address the problems in the process. Instead, it continued to acquire protected areas without the plans or resources required for their management to ensure they continued to exhibit their conservation values. The result was protected areas that were locked up to run rampant with feral animals and weeds at the expense of our native flora and fauna. That is the legacy that this government was left to work with.
This government is a grown-up government. Already, all our national parks are covered by a management plan or statement. Through this bill, we are seeking to implement a more streamlined management planning process so that we can get on with the important task of ensuring that our protected areas are effectively managed so that they are available for future generations to enjoy. The approach adopted in the bill is to provide a minimum standard for consultation—that is, to publish a notice on the department’s website. This does not restrict me from determining that additional approaches to public notification, such as newspaper advertising, are required. It means that, when additional consultation is not appropriate, resources are not wasted in fulfilling an unnecessary legislative requirement.
It is already my department’s practice to notify interested stakeholders via a stakeholder mailing list that a draft management plan is available for comment. This current practice will not change as a result of the bill. Stakeholders can register their interest by contacting my department
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and nominating to receive updates on all protected area management plans or a specific protected area.
There are a variety of examples where it is not considered necessary to undertake public consultation on amendment to a management plan when that amendment is to reflect a broad change in government policy. For example, there has been an historical perception that bicycle riding in national parks is prohibited. This has resulted in a number of management plans excluding this activity.
Given that there are no legislative impediments to allowing this activity to occur and the government’s policy to increase recreation opportunities in national parks, management plans need to be updated. While targeted consultation may still be required in identifying specific trails, in the majority of cases the management plans can simply be updated to reflect the new policy position. In other cases, consultation on a state government policy may have already been undertaken prior to the policy being put in place, therefore removing the need for an additional round of consultation. An example of this is the government’s election commitments which are scrutinised by the largest public consultation there is—a general election.
I am pleased to accept the committee’s recommendation that the bill be amended to provide consistent minimum periods of time across legislation for making submissions on draft management plans and amendments to management plans. However, the government does not support the recommendation that the bill be amended to provide that a gazette notice approving a management plan for a protected area, marine park or recreation area must be tabled in the House and be subject to the disallowance provisions in the Statutory Instruments Act 1992. The suggested requirement that a copy of the management plan be tabled at the same time as the gazette notice is not supported either. Management plans are intended to be a management tool that address operational concerns and issues. On this basis it is not appropriate to require a lengthy approval process that involves tabling the plan in the Queensland parliament and providing for disallowance. In addition, the requirements under the Statutory Instruments Act 1992 are only intended to apply to the tabling of subordinate legislation. Management plans are not subordinate legislation.
I can confirm that there is no drafting error in clause 77 of the bill which provides for renumbering required as a result of the passage of the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011. This is because these provisions were scheduled to commence on 29 October 2013. The committee has sought a response to concerns raised by the Queensland Law Society in relation to the civil liability provisions contained within the bill. It is common sense that if there are a greater number of people visiting our protected areas undertaking a wider range of activities then the risk of being sued will also increase. An analysis of recent trends indicates that there has been a growth in claims against the state which has resulted in a significant level of resources being dedicated to managing these claims. The status quo for civil liability on protected areas—that is, a reliance on common law, and some limited provisions in existing legislation—simply does not provide the level of certainty required by park managers as they go about their business of managing parks. The Law Society has emphasised that each situation needs to be considered on its merits which, in their view, is why common law provides a better approach than providing a legislative framework. From a park management perspective this is problematic because it places individual park managers in the position of trying to second guess how claims of negligence will be considered in the courts. For example, trying to anticipate how many warning signs are required at a water hole to ensure that if someone dives in and hurts themselves they will not be found civilly liable. Visitors are attracted to these places because they want to view and experience a natural place. This experience can easily be eroded by a lack of certainty around what is required to avoid a claim of negligence. Amendments are also proposed today to further clarify the civil liability provisions for the state, state officials, plantation licensees and plantation officials under the Forestry Act 1959.
I thank the committee for raising the concern about a potential inconsistency between native title rights and the proposed new offence to sell or give away dugong or marine turtle meat from commercial premises. Following the recent High Court decision in Akiba v Commonwealth, a concern was raised in the committee process that implementation of this provision might require the state government to pay compensation to traditional owners under section 24HA of the Native Title Act. Legal advice has confirmed that the commercial sale of turtle and dugong meat is not authorised under either state or Commonwealth legislation and that there is no recognised native title right to such commercial sale. On this basis, the legal advice confirmed that the enactment of s88BA is not a future act under the Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993 and there is no inconsistency between the provision and existing native title rights.
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This bill fulfils the Queensland government’s commitments to improve access to national parks and other protected areas, to improve management of protected areas and to provide for a streamlining of legislation and cutting of red tape, unnecessary duplication and waste. I commend the bill to the house.