National Parks and Wildlife (life lease sites) Amendment Bill

31 Oct 2012 archivespeech

This speech is in relation to the National Parks and Wildlife (life lease sites) Amendment Bill. This bill mirrors the provisions of the Crown Land Management (Life Lease) Amendment Bill 2012 except that it does not seek a subleasing arrangement with local council because of the difficulties local councils would have in taking daily care, control and management within a national park. This bill amends the National Parks and Wildlife Act to allow life lease holders to obtain renewable and transferable tenure.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (17:03): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972. Read a first time.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (17:04): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

In May this year I introduced a bill known as the Crown Land Management (Life Lease) Amendment Bill 2012. Since then, through broader consultation with shack site lessees it has come to my attention that some of the shack sites, most notably Coorong, Pondalowie Bay and Little Dip, are in fact leased under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 and require separate legislation to enable them to avail themselves of the same benefits in that bill.

This bill before us mirrors the provisions of the Crown Land Management (Life Lease) Amendment Bill 2012 except that it does not seek a subleasing arrangement with local council because of the difficulties local councils would have in taking daily care, control and management within a national park. This bill amends the National Parks and Wildlife Act to allow life lease holders to obtain renewable and transferable tenure.

The result will be to provide an incentive for lessees to upgrade and improve their shacks for the benefit of those facilities but also for the environment. Subclause 35A(2) provides the mechanism required for a lessee to apply to what is known as the relevant authority, which in most cases is the minister or, in the situation of co-managed parks, the co-management board, for a new renewable and transferable lease, which the authority must issue providing that clause 35A(4) is satisfied.

The conditions in new clause 35A are almost identical to the proposed new section 44A of the Crown Land Management (Life Lease Sites) Amendment Bill; that is, leases would be for five years with a subsequent right of renewal, leases will be transferable with the consent of the relevant authority, and the lease will contain details regarding all infrastructure, effluent and environmental upgrade requirements. The two-year time limit for application for the new type of lease would also apply.

I have had significant contact with national park shack site lessees who find themselves in the same position as other life tenure shack site lessees across the state. As there is no subleasing arrangement, I did not speak to local councils. I had discussions about the issue of national park shack sites with parliamentary counsel for a number of months before having the bill drafted. After they examined copies of the individual leases, they are confident this bill would provide similar secure renewable tenure for life leases under the National Parks and Wildlife Act as for those under the other Crown Land Management Act.

Like other shack lessees, those located in national parks hold memories for generations of families who have made at least annual pilgrimages to them. They also pay council rates for which they get little if no service, rates, for instance, on Yorke Peninsula being comparable to those paid in the City of Norwood, Payneham and St Peters. One shack at Robe, which has since been removed, was the princely sum of $575 per quarter for no service at all. Like other shack lessees, these lessees help look after the local environment through cleaning up rubbish left by others and reducing weeds and, at times, they can have difficulty getting hold of the duty rangers. There has been some difficulty because of the internal difficulties in DEWNR.

I will refer to each of the parks individually now. The Innes National Park, which has sites at Pondalowie Bay, was first claimed in 1970. Its name arises from the Innes family who gifted the park to the government. Mr William Innes discovered gypsum in the area, which has been mined and exported since the early 1900s. The town of Inneston has retained a number of heritage buildings which are available for hire as accommodation. I am told that Boral still holds the tenements, and the lakes where the gypsum is mined were excluded from the original proclamation so that that activity could continue.

Innes National Park has many beaches which also make it a renowned destination for surfing. The area has a number of shipwrecks, the best known being the Ethel, which can be partially viewed from the beach, as it is exposed. Pondalowie Bay within the Innes National Park is still an active fishing village. I am told that the Innes family gifted the park with the proviso that the village would always be allowed to remain; so, I take that to mean that the shacks were intended to remain there. There are about six cray fisherman, who are licensed within the northern zone rock lobster fishery, and from 1 November through to April they ply their craft. Their crays are exported exclusively to China by Ferguson Australia.

Innes National Park comprises some 9,232 hectares of remnant vegetation and is one of the jewels in the crown of our coastal parks. It is very popular for the varied recreational opportunities, and in a regional tourism survey undertaken in 2003 it was rated as the most visited attraction on Yorke Peninsula with 140,000 visitors or 27 per cent of all overnight visitors.

Lessees pay up to $4,000 per annum in lease fees alone to DEWNR and they are the only leaseholders in South Australia who, along with their guests, are also required to pay entrance fees. An annual pass is $55 and an overnight fee is $16. The leases have been rated based on equivalent shacks at Marion Bay which are freehold, so I am not sure how that comparison can be made. One such leaseholder has sent me a letter accompanying his lease agreement in which he says:

I enclose a copy of our lease...

You will see there is no restriction on the Department's ability to increase our annual rents, and we know this can be made unsustainable for us at any time. The lease and Council rates now cost us $2,800 per annum for which we get no services except the use of local roads and communal rubbish collection at Stenhouse Bay (15 km away). We provide all our own water and power.

I also enclose a photo of the shack so you can see the site area (total about 100 sq m), that the Department and Yorke Council now value at $133,000! They have previously argued that this value is 'adequately' discounted for lease restriction when compared to nearby (!) Corny Point and Marion Bay freehold sites.

I understand that in his future contributions, the Hon. John Darley will have some comments to make about the valuation of the site leases, which he understands in great detail and on which he has some strong opinions.

I attended the inaugural meeting of the newly formed association over the October long weekend, and I would like to acknowledge its president, Mr Brenton Chivell, who is here to hear this address today. As well as lessees from the fishing village, there were lessees from nearby Shell Beach and Dolphin Beach. One lady has been coming to the shacks since 1952, which is well before the park was proclaimed.

Shackies told me that they provide emergency services and have prevented drownings in the area. On a semiregular basis they rescue other visitors' four wheel drives which become bogged on the beach and have removed a large amount of broken glass which was embedded in the dunes by camping groups. All rubbish is taken out of the park by the lessees themselves as they have no collection service, in spite of their council rates.

Shacks provide their own water through rainwater and electricity through solar. They have long-drop eco-friendly composting toilets and one of them who has been going as a child said that there were great lessons in conservation. He put it to me this way:

We grew up with a single 12v car battery for our lighting and to power a tiny 12v b&w tv and gas for fridges and a secondary light for our dining area. We soon learned the importance of turning lights off to save energy, and short showers for conserving water. Items that still play a part there today, but also instilled important conservation habits on us as generations.

The tv was only ever used to watch the Adelaide news if the wind was blowing the right way, and the rest of the night was playing cards and board games, or u simply went to bed and read a book with a torch. Many of today's generation never get to learn the importance of saving energy, nor the alternatives to watching tv all night.

I think these comments are really important for the parliament to hear because there is something that will be lost if we lose these shacks and I think it is very important for the parliament to understand the sorts of experiences that people have.

In order to gain a better understanding of how the leases currently operate and to assist parliamentary counsel with the drafting, I was provided with a number of leases and other documents and amongst that material is a document which appears to have come from the environment of days of yore which is entitled 'Shack site policy for national parks and reserves'. The opening paragraphs read as follows:

The State Government has adopted a new policy on shacks located in parks reserves proclaimed under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. The following policy will be operative from 1st March 1984.

Under the heading 'Tenure', the document states:

1.Each shack owner will be issued with a lease and may retain their shacks until 31st December 1994 (except for those cases described in 2. Below.) The previous policy of lifetime tenure (with right to transfer) or 15 year lease will no longer apply.

Point 2 refers to serious breaches of conditions of those which would require substantial upgrading to reach a minimum standard.

I have read these details into the record because I think they demonstrate several things. First, there used to be a policy of transferability and leases were for 15 years. Secondly, there was a dramatic change in government policy in 1984 and I think we deserve to know why. Thirdly, prior to this shacks clearly were not viewed as dimly as they have been more recently. This same document also refers to the fact that some shacks had been purchased and that some are places of permanent residence. I note that there are still examples of permanent residents living at Pondalowie Bay and in the Coorong National Park. Fourthly, we do know that the shacks located in national parks were not able to be freeholded, as many were under the last Liberal administration, so they are part of a residual group that has remained in limbo.

The Innes National Park is one of the parks that the environment department intends to use for raising revenue as first flagged in its 2010-11 budget. As a result it commissioned a consultant to undertake an extensive review of all the facilities in the park entitled 'Innes National Park visitor experience plan', to which lessees were part of the consultation. Facilities under consideration include camping sites, road infrastructure, the DEWNR-run visitor centre, leases for the Innes Trading Post/Rhino's Tavern/Stenhouse Bay store, jetties, picnic areas, existing accommodation, beach access trails and heritage buildings of the Inneston township.

The purpose of the plan is 'to develop and manage visitor facilities and the visitor experience too,' with the following aims:
•·maintain the high level of visitation experienced during the summer months, Easter and October long weekends;
•·to enhance the quality of visitor experiences; and
•·to increase visitor numbers during the cooler months of the year.

In relation to the shacks area known as Fishman's Village, the report states that it 'represents a living history within Innes National Park as a working settlement'. The report identifies problems with the area in relation to managing cars, as there is little space for turnaround, particularly towards the area of the access to boat launch facilities and the beach, and shack lessees themselves report that traffic calming interventions have been required, particularly for the safety of children in the area.

The report recommends that some improvement works take place to this effect and state that there are opportunities to form partnerships with the shack lessees. They are certainly supportive of this, and during their meeting with the local park ranger they expressed that they would be happy to assist with Friends of Parks activities, in addition to the general contract they have with the rangers to report incidents and other matters within the area.

On that October long weekend, at the meeting with the ranger, it emerged that campers who come to the park casually have taken the view that Innes National Park is a lovely place to visit, but you cannot camp there, which contradicts many of the government aims in terms of visitors. Clearly decisions have been made about removing facilities and changing camp grounds, which has led to a decline in visitor numbers and certainly will not support the government's aim of increasing revenue through the park.

I turn now to the Coorong National Park, which was first proclaimed in 1966 under the Walsh government. It is in the order of 47,000 hectares, covering the coast south of the Murray Mouth for approximately 130 kilometres. Members would be very familiar with this place—a Ramsar-listed wetland of international significance, part of the Murray-Darling system that has been under intense pressure from drought and overallocation. I do not intend to talk about that particular aspect of it as it gets plenty of air play in other forums.

One of the many stories I have had relayed to me about the Coorong National Park is how a significant part of crown land was added to it, and that some portion was leased as a farm to a gentleman by the name of Williams, who was a very good land manager. This Mr Williams sold that property to an individual named Potter, who not only did not have the same land management skills but also was not good at paying his bills, to the point that the authorities got tired of it and booted him off.

This property was then offered to three adjoining landholders, but they refused to pay the same lease fees because the land was so degraded that they said it would take a lot of time to restore it so they sought some lease fee relief. This was in the time of former premier Dunstan, and he has been referred to in previous speeches in both this place and the House of Assembly as being very against shacks. Apparently, he said no to a rate holiday and promptly added that additional land to the park.

Of note from the 1991 Coorong National Park Management Plan, there is no reference to the shacks, which I found bemusing. I am not sure how to interpret this, whether it is relevant or not. However, I do note that people had been able to purchase those leases and were then able to develop them in the late sixties. So, whether they have been viewed not quite so dimly by the department or not, I am not sure. That particular management plan refers to some points within the park which are marked as 'development zone' and the plan notes the potential for 'increased recreation and tourist use'. I will just read some of those comments from the management plan. It states:

The potential for increased visitation lies in the rapid growth of tourism and in particular the increasing focus on natural areas and the demand for visitors to 'experience' rather than simply 'see' such areas. Natural beauty, wildlife and remote area experiences are the very essence of the Coorong which consequently is expected to become increasingly popular for visitors to the area. As visitor numbers increase it is important that proper management arrangements be in place to minimise the impact of visitors to the park and to ensure a proper standard of facility is available to enable the visitor to enjoy and understand the park. Visitor facilities can be in the form of accommodation, day use facilities, or education and interpretation faculties or a combination of these elements.

I note those comments because I think it is important in the context of the high value tourist clientele, who are indeed looking for those sorts of things. I think they would highly value having those sorts of high-end facilities in some of our beautiful remote areas. The management plan identifies development zones at Long Point, Parnka Point and Cantara, which is near 32 Mile Crossing. These, to me, indicate that the management plan, which was written in 1991, was not violently opposed to accommodation in the area.

I note that there has been some relatively new accommodation available for hire at the Coorong Wilderness Lodge, which is a service operated since 2000 by the Ngarrindjeri people at Hacks Point, halfway down the Coorong. There are also many popular camping spots throughout the park, although I note that some of the sites on the less accessible Younghusband Peninsula are no longer in use because the department has been unable to manage those sites.

Another tale relayed to me was that the minister at the time of the publication of the management plan, Susan Lenehan, visited some of these shacks and made it well known that she wanted them out post haste, and may well have made similar comments to other shack lessees, which led to the formation of the formidable South Australian Shack Owners Association, which went on to have many lessees freeholded in the 1990s under the former Liberal government.

The final comments from the management plan that I wish to comment on are under the title of, 'Administration'. The plan notes that traditional owners form part of the staffing, but that overall numbers of staff are not enough to protect natural values and provide for visitor needs. It then comments on the relevance of volunteers and leasing arrangements to boost the effort. This is directly relevant because the shacks are on leases and could be viewed as park income.

Unfortunately, I understand that funds from all leases go to assist the department's bottom line rather than assisting park efforts. Furthermore, the shack lessees do put in an effort to assist the park, and I am not sure whether this is recognised. Some of these efforts include: removal of boxthorn, bindies and three corner jacks, planting of native shrubs to prevent erosion, retaining public access to the beaches and maintaining access to tracks, which would normally be the role of the department.

Furthermore, lessees have approached DEWNR or National Parks to assist with weed management but the department decided that this was too risky, so I am told that no weed management takes place at all in the Coorong National Park. In fact, on Easter Saturday this year I was invited by the Coorong Shacks Association to attend its AGM at Milang, and I visited a range of shacks. There were about 80 people at the AGM including local councillors from the Coorong District Council. Following the meeting, I had a guided tour of three separate areas. For the benefit of the council, the shacks are spread over a considerable distance along the Coorong and it would be difficult to visit them all in one day, particularly if you stop to talk to people, as we did.

We started at a place called 7 Mile which is south of Meningie. There are a number of shacks located close to a new subdevelopment and I make that comment because those places have proper bitumen roads, lighting and so forth, and several shacks had been removed from the site in the past year. We then went on to Williams Beach which includes the site of the original Strathalbyn Fishing Club. All of these shacks have power which was connected at lessees' expense. We then travelled along one of the dirt roads to drop into unpowered shacks, many of which are rudimentary. They have heating and cooking facilities which betray the age of the shacks, some going back as early as the 1940s or 1950s. Some contain asbestos.

Many have photos of previous generations on the beach, catching fish and enjoying good times with family. They all use rainwater, and showers are often taken under a bucket. Pictures are available from here and the Innes National Park on my Facebook page, Shacks in SA. On that particular afternoon in April I met many families gathered together, couples and parties of people. One of the lessees I spoke to had built the shack himself in 1969, when you could purchase a title from the Lands Department and be granted a 99-year lease at a rate of £50 per annum. His family use the shack regularly and are there for more than 50 per cent of weekends.

Another person has been going since 1976. He appreciates the natural scrub and was down there the weekend before last and spent several hours pulling out boxthorns. Some people have invested significantly in their shacks, if they are in a position where the youngest lessee is in good health and the family is likely to get value out of the upgrade.

Little Dip Conservation Park was proclaimed in 1975. It covers an area of 2,046 hectares and contains important Aboriginal and natural heritage associated with coastal dunal systems and small inland lakes. There are a number of tracks, some only accessible by four-wheel-drives. Locals I spoke to have been going there for a very long time, and the shacks were possibly there up to 100 years ago developing, as it was, from a popular camping and fishing spot. There were originally nine shacks and now there is only one.

The Little Dip Conservation Park Management Plan of 1992, which was, again, signed by minister Susan Lenehan (who is renowned for her derision of shacks), described them as 'alien tenures' and went on to say 'which have no significant historical or architectural merit'. I am not sure that anybody has ever tried to suggest that they do; most of them are made of galvanised iron. The plan then goes on to say:

Shack sites in parks and reserves are considered environmentally unacceptable; such shacks will eventually be removed.

The government has had its way with all but one of those shacks and I think needs to explain to the shack lessees why it continues to hold that view. Interestingly, in Little Dip Conservation Park the rangers have remarked to the lessees that their presence in the area keeps trouble away, with which the locals agree. Again, as in all other areas, they clean up after other campers and keep the beach clean.

The second to last of the Little Dip shacks was removed two weeks ago and the main reason for this was the increasing expense both from the DEWNR increases and the local council—I think people would be astounded about the local council rates—and those expenses became too hard to justify. That family feels very sad about the loss of their shack and, again, have many fond memories of it as a special place of rest, recreation and gathering. This has now been lost.

The government allowed shacks to be established in times past and they have often been there for a very long time and no environmental harm has ever been established by their presence. In fact, the opposite is true. They pre-date a number of the national parks, and I think that they are a unique part of South Australia's heritage. They provide healthy activities for people—

The Hon. R.L. Brokenshire: For families.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Yes, for families, as the Hon. Mr Brokenshire interjects.

The Hon. T.J. Stephens interjecting:

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: My honourable colleague Terry Stephens is coming up with slogans, 'Shacks, where families relax.'

The PRESIDENT: He can do that on his own time.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: At that point, I might rest my comments and commend the bill to the house.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. G.A. Kandelaars.