The new squatters on public land are being given a leg-up as they were in the 19th century to seize and occupy public land. By deliberately underfunding National Parks, commercial-friendly governments are putting commercial interests ahead of the public interest. 

Our early wealthy and powerful squatters forced indigenous people off the land they had occupied for tens of thousands of years. The new squatters are taking over more and more of our public land — national parks, botanic gardens and public reserves.

Conservatives believe in small government, and cutting back government by commercialising and privatising public assets is a core part of their ideology.

A clear case at the moment is the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service. It is being deliberately underfunded and forced to seek private funding and promote commercial access to public parks.

Yet this is happening when, with growing population density, we have a greatly increased need for public parks, gardens and open space. Furthermore, we were able to fund our public parks for decades in the past when we were much poorer than we are today. We need to protect our parks more than ever and we have more money to do so. Yet state governments are screwing national parks with funds to force commercialisation and privatisation.

In an article in the SMH on December 11, 2016, Deborah Snow said:

“The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service is seeking to ramp up revenue opportunities from some of Sydney’s most stunning natural beauty spots as it wrestles with a backlog of poor heritage maintenance, a loss of experienced staff and a prolonged squeeze on its operating budget. In a recent call for ‘expressions of interest’s from commercial event organisers, the service says it wants to ‘encourage industry professionals to consider the great potential of national parks as venues for exciting and dynamic events’. It depicts NPWS park venues as open to ‘almost any type of event … including music, arts and culture, food and wine as well as sporting, tourism … business and corporate events. The government denies the pitch is about revenue raising, but former insiders, unions and environmental campaigners fear the growing emphasis on commercialisation is putting heritage and conservation priorities at risk.”

In New South Wales recently, the Minister for the Environment Gabrielle Upton boasted that nine new parks had been created since 2011. Perhaps she was unaware that the previous Carr government had created 500 new parks, expanded many more and increased funding for protected are management

But worse is clear as John Benson set out in my blog this week. He said:

“At a time when the NSW Government is riding high financially [with property tax revenue], it is making serious cuts to NPWS staff, eliminating knowledge and experience in the process. The number of rangers has been reduced by more than 90 over 7 years. Only 2 of 14 Regional Managers have been appointed after a restructure and a similar threat faces critical staff at the area management level. Staff is so reduced in some regions that basic amenities cannot be maintained and a lack of field staff presence disappoints public visitor expectations.”

That is happening in South Head National Park, Sydney, near where I live.

Two years ago a Darling Harbour developer applied to introduce major commercial development into the Park. The local community rallied to reject completely the crass and ugly proposal. But two years later, a new proposal is being considered and  the Minister and local member Gabrielle Upton won’t make a decision to reject the proposal,

This follows a common pattern. Faced with strong local opposition, the ruse is to slow down the decision in order to give the developer more time and, in the process, exhaust the local community. At the same time let the park deteriorate so the government can justify a decision to commercialise the park in order to save it. And that is clearly what is happening in the South Head National Park. The park is deteriorating rapidly.

The new squatters on public land are being given a leg-up as they were in the 19th century to seize and occupy public land, our “common wealth”.

*This article was originally published at John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations