Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 7 Hansard (22 September) . . Page.. 1992 ..
MR CORBELL (continuing):
As my colleague Mr Hird has indicated, there are a number of significant recommendations in this report and the most contentious are in relation to the access for horses in Canberra Nature Park. The Government and Environment ACT presented our committee with a recommendation as part of the draft management plan that access for equestrian use be granted in the Aranda bushland, in the Pinnacle and in Mount Painter. Those recommendations were very strongly contested by the park care groups associated with the management of those areas and they were also, I must say, strongly contested by people within Environment ACT and, most notably, the senior plant ecologist employed by Environment ACT.
What was remarkable about the recommendation from Environment ACT was that horse access should be allowed into Aranda and the Pinnacle without any assessment having been made of exactly what the impact of that access would be. No assessment had been made of that. In fact, it was not even drawn to our attention by officials of Environment ACT, and notably the conservator, that no assessment had been made even though access for equestrian use was granted in other parts of Canberra Nature Park.
It is therefore no surprise that my colleagues and I felt that we had no alternative - no alternative at all - but to suggest that the actions of the conservator in this regard were bordering on negligence. Now, that is a very, very strong recommendation, but we certainly do not make it lightly, because the Conservator of Flora and Fauna has a statutory responsibility to ensure that the conservation of Canberra Nature Park is utmost in decisions that he makes. Yet when he made his recommendation that equestrian access be allowed into Aranda bushland, he went against the advice and the statement provided by his own senior plant ecologist of the Wildlife Research Unit of Environment ACT that he "would not consider equestrian usage as appropriate to Aranda bushland on the grounds that horses spread undesirable species in manure and feed that may be brought with them". That is a pretty clear statement. For the conservator to override that advice and to recommend that equestrian access be allowed into Aranda bushland can only be classified as bordering on negligence.
As a result of this issue, the committee has made some very, I believe, sensible recommendations. The first is that the precautionary principle must be uppermost in the conservator's mind and in the mind of Environment ACT in managing Canberra Nature Park. The legislation under which the management of Canberra Nature Park is undertaken states that the conservation measures must be imperative and are the first priority in the management of the reserve.
For that reason we have recommended that horse riding not take place in the Aranda bushland, that equestrian access not be allowed in the Pinnacle either, except along the current access route of the Bicentennial National Trail, and that equestrian access be granted on only the lower slopes of Mount Painter. Quite clearly, each of these areas is distinct and has different elements of conservation value attached to it. For that reason we felt it was appropriate that on Mount Painter, which is already heavily degraded, that access be allowed. But in areas like Aranda and the Pinnacle, where on Environment ACT's own advice there are issues to do with conservation that must be addressed and which could be threatened by equestrian access, we have recommended that that not proceed.