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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 7 Hansard (22 September) . . Page.. 1993 ..

MR CORBELL (continuing):

Mr Speaker, it was striking to the committee that there was no incontrovertible evidence about the effect of horses in Canberra Nature Park. For that reason we were astounded that the conservator was prepared to take the risk of allowing equestrian access into an area where there could well have been damage resulting from that use by horses. So we have asked in one of our recommendations that the Government go out there and get some serious advice on exactly what the impact of horses is; for, as long as it is ambiguous, the precautionary principle must apply, and that is why the committee has made the recommendation that it has - that equestrian access not be allowed in the areas I have previously mentioned.

Mr Speaker, the other two recommendations I want to highlight this morning relate to the role of the conservator himself - in this case, himself - or the position itself. The position of the conservator is a statutory one, and the conservator has certain responsibilities that he or she must undertake independently in the assessment of conservation values and the protection of areas like Canberra Nature Park.

It became quite clear to the committee during its hearings that the conservator was choosing to balance conservation imperatives against other imperatives to do with the use of Canberra Nature Park, whether by equestrians, mountain bike riders, people walking their dogs - whoever it might be. We were quite concerned when it became clear that budget imperatives - that is, restraints placed upon the finances of Environment ACT to manage Canberra Nature Park - were interfering with the judgment of the conservator in his making an assessment about the conservation measures that must be adopted and put in place for the management of Canberra Nature Park.

We believe that is why the conservator has ended up with the recommendation he has made, which is that equestrian access should be allowed into Aranda and the Pinnacle. That has been made not because he has put conservation measures as his first priority but because he has attempted to balance those, we believe unevenly, with the financial imperatives he faces as the executive director of Environment ACT - a public servant responsible to his Minister - and also the other measures that he believes he should be adopting in relation to balanced use of Canberra Nature Park in allowing a greater range of people to use the area.

Mr Speaker, there is no doubt that this is impinging on the ability of the conservator to undertake his role independently and properly. That is why the committee has made the unanimous recommendation that the position of Conservator of Flora and Fauna be separated from the position of executive director of Environment ACT. Only by doing that can the Government ensure that the independence of the conservator is protected and that the conservator is making judgments about the management of reserves like Canberra Nature Park on conservation values uppermost and foremost rather than budget imperatives or other political imperatives that may come to bear. The fact that the positions are currently combined means that the conservator is subject directly or indirectly to other pressures that he should not be as an independent statutory office-holder.

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