A private members bill lodged to reverse the national park status of 41,000-hectares of land in Murray Valley is causing an uproar among fears it may set a precedent for further national park reversals.
Lodged by National Party MP Austin Evans, the private member’s bill demands the degazetting of Murray Valley National Park in order to revert it to a state forest, so as to benefit timber harvesters.
The Murray Valley National Park includes wetlands of international significance and is a habitat to more than 60 terrestrial animal species and 40 plant species listed as threatened under state or Commonwealth legislation. Species at risk include the superb parrot, barking owl, fishing bat and brush-tailed phascogale, a small carnivorous marsupial.
Matthew Colloff, an ex-principal CSIRO research scientist who has written extensively on the region's ecology, said the protected area includes "some of the best river red gum forests in the central Murray region".
Though a response has not yet been forthcoming from the NSW Government, the bill has raised valid concerns among environmentalists regarding its serious threat to the region’s conservation and natural heritage.
Austin Evans, the member for Murray, stated that his community felt short-changed following the park's creation due to the promised boost in tourism that never happened.
The Labor Party, the Greens Party and environmentalists are warning of an “open season” on conservation efforts in the region if the government gives in to MP’s demands.
A national park has not been reversed in NSW before, and such a move would likely rile environmentalists, who had fought for three decades to win support for the region's conservation.
According to Penny Sharpe, Labor’s environment spokeswoman, though the bill may not be resolved before the state election in March, it is a glimpse into the agenda of the National Party and the Berejiklian government, which, if re-elected, may abolish other national parks as well.
It has been noted by The Greens that the Liberals have already increased the amount of native forest that can be clear-felled and is reducing protection to threatened animal and plant species from logging.
"My expectation is [the government] will be supportive of it," Mr Evans told Fairfax Media.
"I think they are having discussions at the moment," he said, adding he hoped for a second recording of his bill by the year's end.