Parks and Reserves Authority

In October 2013 the state government introduced legislation to establish a Parks and Reserves Authority to manage the public reserve estate – which is currently 38% of Tasmania’s land area and expected to be increased to more than 45% of the land and 5.75 % of the state-controlled marine environment. By the time you read this article we are confident that the legislation will have passed the lower house of the Parliament; the Legislative Council should complete its deliberations before the end of the year.

At this moment it is difficult to predict whether the Legislation Council will have significant concerns but we will be offering briefings to key MLCs and encouraging them to support the legislation.

The creation of a Parks and Reserves Authority is an initiative that the TCT has advocated for more than 10 years and we commend the state government on this legislation.

This legislation has the potential to improve the on-ground management and protection of our reserves while providing the opportunity for more strategic planning regarding the use ofthe reserve system for commercial and recreational purposes. While the legislation proposes no weakening of controls over development, we could see growth in appropriate development and use within the reserve system – rather than the ad hoc approach that has delivered the Three Capes Track.

The TCT wanted the Parks and Reserves Authority to be entirely separated from DPIPWE and governed by a Board of Management. The government’s proposed model leaves the Authority within DPIPWE but we think it is a satisfactory compromise as the DPIPWE secretary has no role in reserve management but still has influence only over recruitment and human resources. While the Board of Management is not a governance board, it has significant functions and is to be composed of experts in reserve management (not representing vested interests).

The major change is the replacement of the National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Committee (which had a mere advisory role) with a very powerful independent expert-based Board of Management. The board’s responsibilities include preparing an annual strategic plan for the Parks and Reserves Authority, providing policy advice to the minister and, importantly, preparing draft management plans and reviewing their implementation.

Over the last 10 years very few management plans have been developed or revised. Most reserves do not have a plan and most existing plans are long overdue for revision. Some people see management planning as unnecessary, bureaucratic or simply another means of inhibiting development in reserves. The TCT sees it as essential to have all reserves covered by plans which ensure that the key management actions are identified and prioritised based on the best available scientific information and reviewed through a transparent public process.

The new board, plus a more active role for the minister, will provide leadership and strategic vision which we believe has been lacking for many years in the Parks and Wildlife Service. Due mainly to lack of political support from current and past governments, the Parks and Wildlife Service has become focused on day-to-day operational priorities and has had little capacity for looking at its long-term direction.

The TCT has long advocated a near doubling of the budget for the Parks and Wildlife Service to cover a major backlog of management and enforcement work. On top of this, the reserves proposed under the Tasmanian Forests Agreement Act will have major management challenges requiring funding additional to that provided in the TFA.

Recognising the difficult budget environment and the need to prioritise establishment of the new authority, we recommend in our submission on the State Budget for 2014–15 that the requested budget increase be postponed until the new Parks and Reserves Authority is established. We suggest that, once the Authority is established, the Board of Management ought to assess the essential resourcing requirements of the reserves system, as a part of its first strategy plan,

We have advised the state government to prepare the State Budget on the basis that the legislation to create the Parks and Reserves Authority passes through Parliament. It is likely that the outcome of Parliament’s deliberations will be known by the end of this year, so there will be ample time to remove any budget allocations if the legislation is unsuccessful.

Funding will be required, to:

-          ensure a rapid and effective transition to the new structure

-          establish and administer the new Board of Management

-          hire a new Chief Executive through a worldwide talent search

-          provide for the expected additional work of the Board and Authority in preparing a strategy plan and drafting management plans.

Peter McGlone