Annual Report 2010-11 - Director's review

Mala (rufous hare wallaby) - Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

© Director of National Parks, 2011 | ISSN 1443-1238

The year in review

We cover a fascinating and incredibly important array of activities and investments making a significant difference to nature conservation in Australia. Almost all our work is done in collaboration with other agencies and organisations and this year was no exception.

The year began with the government calling a federal election for 21 August 2010. The new Minister, the Hon Tony Burke MP, was appointed on 14 September and the functions of sustainability, population and communities were added to the portfolio.

We celebrated a number of significant milestones during the year. In October the Australian National Botanic Gardens celebrated its 40th birthday with a month of events. The botanic gardens have matured as a leader in science, conservation and community education and are a much loved retreat for locals and visitors.

The 25th anniversary of the handback of Uluru and Kata Tjuta to their Anangu traditional owners was celebrated on 26 October 2010 with the first ever park cultural festival. The festival, Tjukurpa munu manta kunpungku kanyintjaku - Keeping culture and country strong together - gave Anangu and park staff the chance to reflect on their achievements over the last 25 years.

Norfolk Island National Park turned 25 in January and we worked with the island's philatelic group to release a commemorative series of stamps featuring four endangered island plants now on the road to recovery - another conservation success story.

In its second year Bush Blitz - a three-year, multi-million dollar partnership between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton, Earthwatch Australia and TERN AusPlots-Rangelands - undertook five surveys in National Reserve System properties across South Australia, Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. This included the first Bush Blitz conducted on an Indigenous Protected Area in the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape at Lake Condah. Bush Blitz has unearthed a staggering 650 species new to science since the program began.

We have now fully implemented last year's restructure of Parks Australia. This allows a greater science focus to our work, with a dedicated team in the Parks and Biodiversity Science Branch developing and coordinating cross-divisional policies, strategies and projects for Commonwealth parks and reserves. One major area of work is developing an integrated web-based information system that includes a database of our research and monitoring activities.

Regular teleconferences and face-to-face meetings of reserve-based natural resource managers are helping make better use of scientific expertise and the approaches available to us. The boards of management for both Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta have advisory committees with a strong scientific focus to help support management of these magnificent World Heritage places.

In a new scientific partnership we have joined forces with Sydney's Taronga Zoo to boost the survival chances of endemic native reptiles on Christmas Island. Building on a captive-breeding program established by Christmas Island National Park, Taronga is establishing off-park populations of the blue-tailed skink and Lister's gecko. These reptiles will then be reintroduced to their native habitat on the island once current threats have been understood and overcome.

Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping met with traditional owners including Jeffrey Lee when he visited Kakadu National Park

Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping met with traditional owners including Jeffrey Lee when he visited Kakadu National Park

The unexpected challenges of dramatic weather events affected activities during the year. Cyclone Carlos vented its fury on Darwin in February with winds of up to 100 kilometres an hour lashing the city and heavy rains that closed schools, tourist attractions and the airport. The Darwin office was closed for two days and over a metre of water closed the Arnhem Highway to Kakadu.

This damage and loss does not compare with that caused by the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand in February. We have strong relationship with New Zealand's Department of Conservation and I conveyed, to Alistair Morrison, the Chief Executive, our initial and ongoing thoughts and hopes for the safety of his staff and their families and to New Zealand for their recovery. Our relationship with the Department of Conservation has been formed in regional, national and international forums. It has provided amazing opportunities such as the cultural exchange held in September when a delegation from New Zealand including Sir Tumu te Heuheu, paramount chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa and Sir Archie Te Atawhai Taiaroa, senior Maori leader (who sadly passed away shortly after his visit) met traditional owners in Kakadu and Arnhem Land.

A continuing priority for us is developing new infrastructure to support the management and appreciation of our reserves. This year we completed a project to drought-proof the Australian National Botanic Gardens, with the taps to a non-potable water supply from Lake Burley Griffin being turned on in March. The gardens will no longer have to rely on Canberra's domestic drinking water to irrigate its collection of over 76,000 Australian plants.

Significant road works were also undertaken during 2010-11, including resealing at Uluru-Kata Tjuta to meet public safety standards and continued access to major visitor areas. Flooding as a result of the heavy wet season meant extensive repairs were necessary to both sealed and unsealed roads in Kakadu.

We also successfully launched an electronic ticketing system for independent travellers to Kakadu who can now buy their park passes online.

 Franz Dejon

When Peter Cochrane was in Nagoya, Japan leading the Australian Government delegation to the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity he accepted the Future Policy 2010 Silver Award on behalf of the Australian Government recognising the policy work on the protection and health of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Franz Dejon

A personal highlight for me was leading the Australian Government delegation to the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan. The delegation helped finalise 20 ambitious but achievable global biodiversity targets for the next 10 years. These included protecting 17 per cent of land and 10 per cent of oceans by parks and other conservation methods, aiming to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2020.

After more than eight years of negotiations the meeting also adopted the Nagoya Protocol - a new international legal regime governing access and benefit sharing from the use of biological resources, including protection for the owners of traditional knowledge used to identify or develop a new product. Parks Australia has represented the department in this process and manages the Australian Government's globally recognised regulatory regime covering Commonwealth lands and waters.

Another highlight during the year was the visit to Kakadu by the Chinese Vice President, Xi Jinping, with senior party officials and a large Chinese media team. Traditional owner members of the Kakadu National Park Board of Management welcomed the vice president and we fitted as much as possible into his tour of the park. This provided great publicity for the park in a key emerging market.

Massive global attention focused on Uluru as Oprah Winfrey's Ultimate Australian Adventure reached our screens during the summer. Oprah told her millions of fans worldwide about her awe-inspiring experience watching the sunset at Uluru and her respect for Anangu culture.

Booderee National Park continued to be a tourism award winner, beating destinations from around the world to win a Virgin Global Responsible Tourism award in London. The award is for the 'best conservation of cultural heritage' and recognises the unique partnership between Parks Australia and the Wreck Bay community. Talinguru Nyakunytjaku at Uluru received an engineering excellence award for cultural and environmental sensitivity in a World Heritage area. This high-capacity, low-impact viewing area was developed in close collaboration with traditional owners and the local Anangu community to deliver our largest culturally and environmentally sensitive infrastructure project.

Parks Australia continues to engage with the rapidly changing world of social media. We are now on Facebook, have a successful blog at parksaustralia.govspace.gov.au and actively connect with the public through video-sharing site Vimeo and photography site Flickr. We are constantly looking for ways to inspire people from across the planet about our parks and social media is a highly effective way to do this.

The ongoing assessment of Australia's marine bioregions in the south-west, north-west and east continued through the Marine Division of the department. In early May the Australian Government released for public consultation a draft South-west Marine Bioregional Plan and a proposal for a South-west Network of Commonwealth Marine Reserves. The proposed network of marine reserves covers more than 538,000 square kilometres, incorporating breeding and feeding grounds for species such as the Australian sea-lion, southern right whales and blue whales. It also includes the Perth Canyon, a deep-sea canyon similar in size to the Grand Canyon.

Financial matters

We recorded a significant surplus, arising primarily from the recognition of assets for the first time as part of the triennial asset revaluation process. The overall increase in our asset base from the revaluation will add to outyear pressures from the associated increase in forecast depreciation expenditure.

Our financial control framework remains sound and is well regarded by internal and external auditors, continuing our history of good financial performance. This year was the third consecutive year with no adverse audit findings. I would like to acknowledge the contribution from all of our staff involved in financial management and control for this excellent result.

Entry fee revenue in all three jointly managed parks was below budgeted projections, largely as a result of declining visitation to Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Parks. We are working closely with Tourism Australia and Tourism NT to promote and increase visitation to both parks.

Revenue from Government was lower than the previous financial year as a result of the full year impact of the replacement of the park use fee subsidy for Kakadu by the re-introduced park use fee. Funding for the completed mine rehabilitation project in Kakadu terminated in 2009-10 and this is also reflected in the lower revenue figure in 2010-11.

Our people

The success of our organisation depends significantly on the commitment and experience of our staff and our ability to effectively deal with change. We have had a relatively stable management team over the year with one senior staff member Peter Taylor, who retired in November after many years in the department and the last five in Parks. His passion, experience and capacity to bring people together and his humour and enthusiasm for parks are widely missed. Gerard Early, a Deputy Secretary and biodiversity stalwart also retired. His leadership and support for conservation of biodiversity in the portfolio, and government more broadly, was exceptional.

In March we welcomed Mark Taylor as the new head of the Parks and Protected Areas Programs Branch. Mark has a long history in arts policy including Indigenous arts, most recently in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Mark brings valuable new skills and perspectives to our work. We also welcomed Scott Suridge back to Booderee after a two-year break to work in the Northern Territory's Nauiyu (Daly River) Community, and thank Martin Fortescue for capably managing the park in Scott's absence. I was pleased with the appointment of Mike Misso as the new manager of Christmas Island and Pulu Keeling National Parks.

Australia Day awards went to Ben Phillips for leading the delivery of Australia's policy and regulatory regime for access and benefit sharing of biological resources, in particular the critical and sustained support over five years for the negotiation and recent finalisation of the Nagoya Protocol. Awards also went to Coral Rowston for designing and leading a major revitalisation of Norfolk Island National Park, the Botanic Gardens and Phillip Island and to Hilary Schofield for leading Parks Australia's contribution to the National Landscapes initiative promoting Australia's world-class nature-based visitor experiences.

Parks Australia and particularly Booderee lost a special colleague in September. Uncle Barry Moore was best known for his great bush tucker tours and school holiday programs, generously sharing his wide knowledge with school children and park visitors.

In November Booderee hosted a Parks Australia Forum where our senior managers met to discuss how to do our business better. These gatherings reinforce the relationships and structures that make our organisation strong and ensure we have a shared sense of priorities and focus for the future.

Looking ahead

We finished the year with a significant milestone - the addition of Koongarra to the Kakadu World Heritage Area. In the year ahead we will be working with the Northern Land Council to deliver the government's commitment to see this spectacular area protected as part of Kakadu National Park.

We will continue to drive our science agenda forward during the next year and to use the best available information to improve park management and build on the successful partnerships that were established, both within the portfolio and externally.

A focus over the next year will be developing a regional recovery plan for Christmas Island. This will coordinate and consolidate our efforts to conserve the island's many threatened plants and animals in the next 10 years. We will be able to maintain our efforts to control the yellow crazy ant infestation on Christmas Island thanks to a $4 million injection from the Australian Government's 2011-12 Budget. This funding will also enable vital research in developing a suitable long-term biological control agent to continue.

The effects of a high Australian dollar and uncertainty in our major international visitor markets translated into a significant decline in visitor numbers to Kakadu and Uluru over the year. This directly affected our revenues. We are working hard with our tourism colleagues federally and in the Northern Territory to promote and attract visitors from existing and new markets and to ensure we can continue to deliver rewarding visitor experiences and effectively protect the magnificent properties we manage.

Certification

This annual report was prepared in accordance with the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997, Finance Minister's Orders under that Act and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The Director's review and the rest of this annual report, except the financial statements for the Australian National Parks Fund and the Auditor-General's report on those financial statements, constitutes the Director of National Parks' report of operations.

The holder of the office of the Director of National Parks is responsible under section 9 of the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 for the preparation and content of the report of operations in accordance with Finance Minister's Orders.

Signed,

Peter Cochrane
Director of National Parks
4 October 2011