Wollongong protesters rally to save National Parks and Wildlife Service jobs

THREATENED SPECIES: Protesters rally in Wollongong against government cuts to the National Parks and Wildlife Service.Picture: Adam McLean
THREATENED SPECIES: Protesters rally in Wollongong against government cuts to the National Parks and Wildlife Service.Picture: Adam McLean

It’s the 50th anniversary of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) but staff and supporters at a Wollongong rally on Thursday were in no mood to party.

The Public Service Association (PSA) fears the NSW Government’s restructuring of NPWS will cut jobs and jeopardise public safety.

‘’The government is this year alone cutting another $121 million from the budget of NPWS,’’ PSA Illawarra regional co-ordinator Tony Heathwood said.

‘’They are also reducing the number of areas that currently manage our national parks from 66 down to 37. This will result in the loss of 13 highly experienced area managers in parks and wildlife.

‘’These highly experienced officers are meant to preserve our flora and fauna and ultimately help protect the public but they now find themselves on the threatened species list.’’

Helen Wilson sees first hand the poor state of many walking tracks in our national parks.

That’s why the National Parks Association’s Illawarra branch secretary joined rally protesters and chanted ‘’save our species, save our staff’’ and ‘’protect our people, protect our parks’’.

‘’We are out leading walks all the time and we see the lack of attention to maintenance and the state of the tracks, particularly in this region, it really is not good,’’ Ms Wilson said.

Instead, people from Wollongong fly to Tasmania or New Zealand to go hiking because there's not enough funding in NSW to replace some timber stairs, let alone to have a grand vision for nature tourism in the Illawarra.

Mithra Cox

‘’We know that the staff here are underfunded. They can’t do the job that is required. We just think it is obvious that it needs more resources.’’

Wollongong Greens Ward 1 councillor Mithra Cox agreed.

‘’There are so many other amazing bushwalks in the Illawarra escarpment, but there are no maps, no signposts and the tracks are not properly maintained,’’ Cr Cox said.

‘’The budget cuts are not only affecting residents. The bushland is also suffering, with a huge increase in feral animals like deer, erosion from informal and poorly maintained tracks and weeds rapidly spreading through fragile ecosystems.’’

A spokesperson for the Office of Environment & Heritage said the NPWS restructure was not about saving money.

‘’It will deliver a net increase to staffing levels to ensure NPWS can continue to meet ongoing and future demands,’’ the spokesperson said.

‘’NPWS is restructuring its workforce to ensure there are sufficient resources on the ground to meet visitor needs, land management responsibilities and conservation goals as demand for services continues to grow.’’

But Cr Cox said here in the Illawarra the Ken Ausburn Track has fallen into disrepair, while the Mount Keira Ring Track has been shut indefinitely since a rockfall in 2015.

She added there was a time residents could connect up the walking trails between the Royal National Park, the Illawarra Escarpment and Morton National Park for a world class multi-day hike through some of the most spectacular rainforest in the country.

‘’Instead, people from Wollongong fly to Tasmania or New Zealand to go hiking because there's not enough funding in NSW to replace some timber stairs, let alone to have a grand vision for nature tourism in the Illawarra,’’ Ms Cox said.

‘’The Liberal Government has slashed funding so severely from National Parks that they cannot even maintain the modest walking tracks that used to be open to the public.’’

The PSA held similar rallies in Katoomba, Queanbeyan, Grafton and Griffith on Thursday.