PARK WATCH Article March 2022 |

In the lead-up to this year’s federal election we polled the community on how they feel about national parks and nature protection. Nature Conservation Officer Elizabeth Morison shares the results.

At the Victorian National Parks Association, we pride ourselves on representing our community to tackle the big issues facing Victoria’s iconic land and sea environments. And we’re not the only ones. In almost every state and territory in Australia, there’s a National Parks Association working hard to let our leaders know how much we care about nature and national parks. We collaborate as a coalition of conservation groups called the National Parks Australia Council to deliver impactful work to advocate for nature and wildlife on a national level.

In the lead-up to the upcoming federal election, we thought it was prime time to find out how Australians feel about nature and national parks. Together with the National Parks Australia Council, we commissioned nationwide polling of over a thousand people. The results showed what we’ve known for ages: Aussies love national parks, and want to see nature and wildlife protected, not sacrificed for commercial interests and blundering developments.

The vast majority of Australians (88 per cent) agree that protecting Australia’s flora and fauna is a core responsibility of state and federal governments. Most of us (89 per cent) also agree that national parks are one of the best ways to protect Australia’s nature, especially from resource extraction, including logging, mining and fishing (91 per cent), so it’s no coincidence 80 per cent of us want more national parks and conservation areas. 

Funding for park management is also of high national concern. More than four in five of us support an increase in government funding for national park management (85 per cent) and staff and rangers (83 per cent). 

Despite this, less than 0.5 per cent of Victorian state government expenditure is provided for national park management, and there is virtually no direct federal government support for national parks.

Zooming in, Victorians responded almost identically about inappropriate development in parks. And it’s no wonder – it feels like every other day, a flashy new proposal is announced that will see large-scale, high-impact development flatten another precious Victorian ecosystem, even if it’s in protected national parks.

Take the proposed Warburton Mountain Bike Destination, for example. The plan is to build 177 kilometres of bike trails, some through the Yarra Ranges National Park. The trails will intersect important wildlife habitat, which the park was established to protect.

Furthermore, while local and state governments say it will raise Warburton’s profile by bringing in visitors, most Australians and Victorians alike would actually be less likely to visit a national park if it had luxury, large-scale private development (78 per cent Australians, 76 per cent Victorians), or high-impact commercial tours (62 per cent Australians, 66 per cent Victorians). In fact, only 7 per cent of Australians consider large-scale infrastructure including mountain bike tracks to be an important benefit of national parks.

It is abundantly clear that there is a disconnect between public and political priorities. We do not want to see development in national parks (78 per cent Australians, 74 per cent Victorians), but that’s where our politicians keep putting their money and efforts. What we do want to see is small-scale development like toilets, interpretation areas and visitor centres that help people enjoy national parks (83 per cent Australians, 81 per cent Victorians) and development in towns and areas adjacent to national parks and protected areas (66 per cent Australians, 61 per cent Victorians) that will draw attention to Victoria’s iconic nature and wildlife, at the same time as growing regional economies.

You might think that would be enough to convince our leaders to step up and represent their communities. However, we know that sometimes we need to spell it out, so we asked how these concerns might change the way Victorians vote. More than half of us said we would be more likely to vote for our local member of parliament if they actively prioritised and advocated for national parks (50 per cent Australians, 51 per cent Victorians). Only 4 per cent of Australians said that would make us less likely to vote. And again, more than half of us said we would be more likely to vote for a political party at the next federal or state election if they had a policy for better funding for management of national parks and conservation areas (57 per cent Australians, 58 per cent Victorians).

What stood out to us was that we are united on these issues. We care deeply and selflessly about national parks and protected areas, for nature’s intrinsic value and for future generations.

These numbers make it obvious: it’s good politics, no matter your political stripes, to have a clearly articulated vision for conservation of nature and wildlife, and national parks. Now we’ve spelled it out, we hope our leaders step up to properly prioritise and advocate for national parks with some clear policy commitments.


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