Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

Call to reinstate the Parks Service as the Department of Environment and Conservation sells World Heritage short

“The embattled Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) no longer vigorously defends national parks and World Heritage Areas from damaging development.  I am stunned that DEC did not make a submission on the Newnes Junction sand quarry that is set to be the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area’s most dirty and noisy neighbour.  Our environmental watchdog is incapable of effective action because it can’t properly separate its regulatory role from its role as a manager and defender of national parks”, said Keith Muir director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness.

“I urge the Coalition Parties to support my call to reinstate the National Parks and Wildlife Service.  The National Parks and Wildlife should be split off from the Department of Environment and Conservation, for the same reason that Sydney Catchment Authority was split off from Sydney Water Corporation.  Regulatory roles need to be separated from management roles or you get bad management and bad regulation.  The DEC did not object to the quarry development because that would conflict with its role in development control,” Mr Muir said.

“The Foundation’s assurances from Bob Debus, the Minister for the Environment, that his Department would make a submission on the proposed major sand quarry adjoining the World Heritage Area were ignored, probably because of a legal technicality.  Changes to planning laws and government restructuring have tied the hands of the state government department most likely to object.  The DEC would have to be Houdini to object to a development and then remain an objective regulator of development and pollution,” said Mr Muir.

“It was the previously strong and vigorous objections of the former National Parks and Wildlife Service that resulted in the refusal of a sand mine proposal on the Newnes site in 1996.  The DEC that incorporates National Parks is now more or less a rubber stamp that issues a thing called the ‘General Terms of Approval’ for developments, rather than making independent submissions on development proposals.  The DEC then amuses itself by tinkering with environmental offsets and compensation rules that have in the case of the Newnes Junction quarry sold the World Heritage Area down the drain,” Mr Muir said.

“On 20 March, Planning Minister Frank Sartor approved the 20 million tonne sand quarry right next to the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.  The consent conditions that sound so wonderful will be generally overlooked once a mining lease is issued for the sand quarry.  The Department of Primary Industry (DPI), that regulates mines has bigger issues to worry about than a sand mine on the edge of the World Heritage Area.  The quarry should never have been approved and will be a running sore that will further damage public confidence in the NSW Government”, said Mr Muir.