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TravelGuides – ‘Statewide greenwashing’: NSW’s proposed national park reforms attacked by environment groups | New South Wales

TravelGuides – ‘Statewide greenwashing’: NSW’s proposed national park reforms attacked by environment groups | New South Wales

Environment groups, the NSW opposition and an independent MP have lashed the Perrottet government for proposed changes to laws governing the state’s national parks.

The bill, introduced by the environment minister Matt Kean late on Wednesday, would give the minister greater powers to approve activities within parks – such as new visitor infrastructure – that are otherwise inconsistent with park management plans.

It would also establish a nonprofit entity to accept donations for conservation and management of parks.

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Further reforms would allow management actions within national parks to generate biodiversity credits that could be sold under the state’s offsets scheme to compensate for habitat destruction caused by development elsewhere.

“It’s potentially turning our protected area network into an opportunity for massive, statewide greenwashing,” National Parks Association executive officer Gary Dunnett said.

The association described the bill as the most expansive changes proposed to the state’s national parks system in at least 15 years.

“This is absolutely groundbreaking and one of the shocking things about this is that changes of such consequence have been presented in a bill without any prior consultation with key conservation or other stakeholders,” Dunnett said.

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“This is something we have just not seen in the parks act before. This goes way beyond anything any other environment minister has had at their beck and call.”

The proposed reforms were introduced as part of a larger bill that would make necessary changes to legislation to expand the Gardens of Stone national park.

The association welcomed the expansion of the park and other smaller changes that would improve ecological monitoring and protection of environmentally sensitive areas across the parks system.

But Dunnett said several other proposed reforms had caused major concern. They include:

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  • Reducing the public consultation period for plans of management for parks and reserves from 90 days to 28.

  • Giving the minister power to approve conservation actions and visitor infrastructure that are not consistent with the plan of management in certain circumstances.

  • Allowing the minister to create and sell carbon credits and biodiversity offset credits in parks and reserves.

Labor and the independent MLC Justin Field said while they were supportive of the expansion of the Gardens of Stone, they would oppose the bill in its current form, noting the changes were introduced without consultation.

They were especially concerned by a provision that would allow work in national parks to generate biodiversity offset credits.

The government says credits could only be generated for activities that are considered to be over and above the standard management work already undertaken in national parks and reserves to deliver the additional environmental benefit required under offset policies.

That could include restoring land that had been degraded by past uses such as forestry or more intensive work in areas of national parks where standard management was not enough to restore biodiversity.

It also says any offsets on parks would be legally enforceable and scrutinised through mandatory annual reporting to ensure actions proposed as offsets were actually delivered.

But Field said any environmental management within protected areas was the core business of the national parks service and should not be claimed as offsets for habitat destruction.

“I just can’t conceive how you can claim additionality here,” he said.

“I don’t think they’ve taken into account, or they don’t care, that this will either deliver no net benefit or it will deliver a net loss across the landscape.”

Another proposal to set up a not-for-profit entity for donations to parks should only be put towards acquiring new land, not day-to-day operations that were the responsibility of government, he said.

Matt Kean told Guardian Australia the government wants to “improve the visitor experience for everyone, including those people living with a disability.

“This bill is about carefully modernising how we manage our national parks making them more accessible and vastly improving conservation outcomes to ensure zero extinctions and increased biodiversity for future generations,” he said

“We are committed to working with all stakeholders to make our national parks a great drawcard for everyone who cares about the environment, conservation and biodiversity.”

The NSW environment minister and treasurer Matt Kean. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Field and Labor said they were also concerned the plan to generate biodiversity credits had been proposed at a time when the offsets scheme was subject to several reviews, including by integrity bodies, an upper house inquiry, and multiple internal inquiries.

Kean told a budget estimates hearing last month the government intended to reform the scheme after a Guardian Australia investigation revealed “appalling practices”.

“Given the serious problems with the biodiversity offsetting scheme and that it is subject to review and investigation, we are wary about allowing this to be included in such a far-reaching bill,” Labor’s environment spokesperson Penny Sharpe said.

“We support the creation of the Gardens of Stone state conservation area but it should not be used as a Trojan horse to fundamentally change the way that national park plans of management are created and modified.”

Chris Gambian, the chief executive of the Nature Conservation Council, said nature conservation was an essential service that taxpayers expected governments to provide.

“Pushing that off budget is unacceptable and unsustainable,” he said.

TravelGuides – ‘Statewide greenwashing’: NSW’s proposed national park reforms attacked by environment groups | New South Wales

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