Leading Queensland tourism and conservation organisations have joined forces to call on the state government to significantly increase funding to expand protected areas in the state.
The state government has previously committed to doubling the area of protected land in Queensland from 8.2% to 17% – an increase of 15m hectares.
But members of the new Tourism and Conservation Alliance said it was time to start investing if the government is to fulfil the promises of its Protected Areas Strategy.
“We should be aiming to double [protected land] by 2032,” Dave Copeman, the director of the Queensland Conservation Council, said.
“If the Palaszczuk Government is going to reach the 17% target, we need to see this reflected in the 2022 state budget with funding to grow our national parks and nature refuges.”
The new alliance is made up of the Queensland Tourism Industry Council, Ecotourism Australia, Queensland First Nations Tourism Council, Queensland Conservation Council, Pew Charitable Trusts and the National Parks Association Queensland.
It is calling on funding in this year’s budget to establish new national parks and private protected areas; ensure effective management of existing and new protected areas; and to support exceptional nature-based tourism activities.
Daniel Gschwind, the CEO of the Queensland Tourism Industry Council, said a doubling of Queensland’s current protected areas would provide ample benefits ahead of the 2032 Olympics.
“Such an investment yields many returns for the community. Protecting and presenting new national parks will provide new opportunities for tourism, recreation and regional development across the state,” he said.
Nature contributes significantly to the $23bn Queensland’s tourism industry rakes in each year, the alliance said. This includes $6.4bn attributed to the Great Barrier Reef and $3.7bn associated with national park visitation.
“From the Great Barrier Reef to our outback national parks, both international and domestic tourism relies on healthy rainforests, coastlines and bushlands,” Elissa Keenan, the CEO of Ecotourism Australia, said.
“We know that natural beauty and wildlife are key factors when it comes to choosing a destination for our key international markets and domestic travellers. Increasingly we are seeing people seek out nature-based, sustainably managed tourism destinations.”
The alliance is also calling for the government to adhere to its commitments of providing new opportunities for Indigenous-led conservation and cultural tourism.
Cameron Costello, the interim chair of the Queensland First Nations Tourism Council, said expansion of protected areas could deliver land, jobs and economic opportunity to First Nations people.
“The growth in Queensland’s national parks needs to be matched with the growth in joint management opportunities and traditional knowledge to enhance park management,” Costello said.
“Many First Nations groups provide essential management services for Queensland’s national parks and offer culturally appropriate, unique tourism opportunities found nowhere else.”