Ex-wilderness dollar dreaming

ubirr.jpgA couple of current political controversies in the NT might be of some interest to a wider audience. The first is John Howard’s announcement yesterday that park entry fees into Kakadu will be scrapped completely from 1 January 2005. At the moment they’re $16.25 per head, as Jen and I discovered during our recent expedition into the manicured wilderness theme park.

Leaving aside the blatantly pork-barrelling nature of the move given that Solomon (Darwin and surrounds) is the nation’s most marginal federal seat, I have mixed feelings about the announcement. Anything that keeps costs down for tourists is certainly a good thing in a narrow sense for the Territory economy. It encourages them to come and stay longer, and tourism has certainly become the mainstay of the NT economy, as the contrast between last year’s abysmal tourist season and this year’s booming one starkly demonstrates. And it’s also good for locals who might want to visit Kakadu frequently for recreational purposes, but have been deterred until now by the entry fees. For my part, the only areas I’d be interested in visiting more frequently are Gunlom (UPD) Falls and the nearby Koolpin Gorge, both in the southern part of the Park. Pretty well all the other major attractions are already far too crowded and tightly controlled for my taste.

But the crowding issue is also part of the downside of scrapping park fees. To the extent that the move attracts more tourists to Kakadu, it also potentially degrades the quality of the wilderness experience still further. You already have to use quite a lot of imagination to feel how magic and sacred places like Ubirr, Nourlangie Rock and Jim Jim Falls would be if they weren’t packed with wall-to-wall tourists. However, maybe I’m just hypersensitive to that sort of thing, because I’ve been to these spots when they really were remote, uncrowded wilderness. It seems that most tourists aren’t deterred or disappointed by being part of a thronging mass of gawkers; it’s what they’re used to experiencing wherever they go.

A more important potential problem is the effect on available revenue. Howard has publicly assured Aboriginal traditional owners that the revenue stream available to them will be maintained (although whether they should trust him is another matter). But nothing has been said about maintenance of funding to Parks Australia, the park’s manager (jointly with traditional owners). If tourist numbers into Kakadu are set to increase, they’ll need more money for facilities and services, not less. And if revenue generated from park fees is to cease, that can only come from an increase in direct Commonwealth funding to Parks Australia.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Stan
Stan
2021 years ago

Sometimes I think we Australians need to have our “peace and quiet index”

Stan
Stan
2021 years ago

“And if revenue generated from park fees is to cease, that can only come from an increase in direct Commonwealth funding to Parks Australia.”

Why only from Commonwealth funding? If Territorians stand to gain through the flow on into their economy, shouldn’t they pay for any infrastructure upgrades?

Local and “State” government in the Territory collect taxes don’t they? Seems like everything is the Commonwealth responsibility these days.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

It’s a Commonwealth park. Moreover, many Territorians would be happy for it to come under NT control, but the traditional owners aren’t amongst them. They agreed to a leaseback arrangment to the Commonwealth at the time of Kakadu’s creation and, although I’ve never looked at the lease documents themselves, I suspect that it couldn’t be handed over to the NT without their consent. And they’re not going to give it without some pretty significant constitutionally-entrenched protections. At least under Commonwealth control, any major changes requiring legislation would have to get through the Senate which the government of the day rarely controls. The NT polity, on the other hand, is unicameral, which means that an unsympathetic government (which the CLP mostly was) could easily make major unilateral changes in the absence of constitutionally-entrenched protections of traditional owner rights. This is an issue that will inevitably need to be negotiated when/if the Territory Statehood debate ever gets going again.

Stan
Stan
2021 years ago

Fair cop Ken. I left myself open for that and in a technical sense, you’re absolutely right.

I guess the point I was trying to make was that it’s a bit rich to spin this as the Commonwealth selling out on the NT (in terms of resources for Kakadu), when the Northern Territory stands to benefit and is quite capable of providing resources on their own.

I don’t really think you need to wait until statehood for the Northern Territory government to provide funding for a few roads and a dunny block. I’m sure the management committee for Kakadu would quite happily accept a donation.

David Tiley
2021 years ago

I wonder if tourists are actually stopped by the fee. How much petrol would it buy?

The behaviour of tourists at beauty spots is a fascinating phenomenon, best viewed from a tent on the hill across the valley. Yosemite in California left me gobsmacked. A huge carpark on the valley floor. A supermarket..

Tourists flow like a kind of river, and stick together. Mostly they dont want to take any trouble, they dont know the area, and they want to play with their friends. Climb over the ridge, walk over the valley, pack a daypack or a bicycle and they are gone. The landscape is empty.

The real problems occur when you cant leave the mob – too cold, too wet, too many crocs, big fences etc, and then we are stuck with being together. Or when the bloody attraction is a point source like the penguins at Phillip Island or the Uffizi in Florence. Both events that make me realise that we all have the latent capacity to turn into a homicidal maniac.

jen
jen
2021 years ago

David. I will patiently explain to you that the tourists are part and parcel of the Kakadu Fourwheel Driving Theme Park Experience. Without them the old Kakaz would be just another awe inspiring part of this country. However, you need a guide from the country to go most places in Arnhemland or you might die. Herein lies the magic of the KFDTE. The park is so well taken care of that you would be doing well to get bogged let alone die, because the traditional owners have made the place safe for us strangers to the country to wander around in relative safety. Sometimes maybe we get too spoiled as I am still a little put out by the savage corrugations on one of the creek crossings – someone should really patch that up or maybe a conveyor belt or…. getting too silly. Anyway it only costs $16 to enter this safe countryside – I don’t quite understand what Howard thinks he is improving.

Yobbo
2021 years ago

Government managing resources poorly? Say it isn’t so Joe!

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Who suggested Kakadu is being managed poorly? I think it’s being managed very well. My personal taste is for wilderness areas that are less populated, but we undoubtedly need areas like Kakadu that provides a “wilderness” experience for the masses at a reasonable price. If you want wilderness without people, you either need to have “connections” with pastoralists or Aboriginal traditional owners, or you have to pay a much higher price to go to somewhere like El Questro in the Kimberley or one of the safari destinations in Arnhemland.

The issue here isn’t about government management of the resource. After all, in fact Kakadu is being managed by agreement jointly between its (private) Aboriginal owners and a government agency. The private owners are more than happy with management, in fact their decisions are invariably given primacy by Parks Australia.

The issue is about whether government should subsidise park users/tourists by abolishing park fees, and who should pay for provision and maintenance of services and facilities in that situation. Certainly it’s an issue that wouldn’t arise if Kakadu was a pure private ownership situation, but I don’t have a problem with key wilderness areas being seen as public resources that are most appropriately government-controlled in the public interest. The problem with Kakadu is one common to any public resource: – balancing competing interests, in this case those of tourism, environment, Aboriginal traditional owners, recreational users, and (limited amounts of) mining. I think they’re being balanced pretty well, and almost certainly much better than would be the case in private ownership. But what effect will abolition of fees have on that balance?

Stan
Stan
2021 years ago

Thinking about it overnight I realised that there could be a few good reasons why the fee is no longer necessary, yet the first instinct is to suggest that the Commonwealth government is selling out and indulging in a little aboriginal bashing. I think that’s just plain wrong, and I’m just a little suspicious Ken, that you’re being a little bit partisan in your criticism.

Here’s some reasons why the fee might no longer be necessary:

Dano
Dano
2021 years ago

We had the same thing here in America, Ken.

In California, the old Governor scrapped state park fees, and the resulting damage from the hordes still has not been fixed. The same with some National Parks in California – I quit hiking a backcountry area in Yosemite because of the trampling…

D

trackback
2021 years ago

Federal Election: its close

In contrast to the optimism shown here my judgement remains the same. The election is close. The ALP is just