Environment Minister Reece Whitby points to State Budget for Leeuwin-Naturaliste fix

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Environment Minister Reece Whitby with Warren-Blackwood MLA Jane Kelsbie in Margaret River.
Camera IconEnvironment Minister Reece Whitby with Warren-Blackwood MLA Jane Kelsbie in Margaret River. Credit: Warren Hately/Augusta-Margaret R/Augusta-Margaret River Times

Environment Minister Reece Whitby says the State Government is listening to concerns around the health of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park and next month’s Budget could offer a lifeline.

Speaking in Margaret River on Wednesday, Mr Whitby defended the Government in response to claims by an alliance of local groups that hardly any action was under way on their six-point plan for the beloved national park, despite it being lodged with the Minister two years ago.

Mr Whitby said May’s Budget would contain an unspecified measure aimed at WA’s national parks and, without confirming specifics, said Leeuwin-Naturaliste would feature in that pool.

However, Mr Whitby indicated support could be more focused on kickstarting the upmarket accommodation trend urged by WA Tourism Council chief Evan Hall.

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“We’ve also got a major initiative in the Budget, which has not been announced yet, in terms of outdoor infrastructure, including for national parks,” he said.

“It’s a major effort. The Tourism Minister (Rita Saffioti) and myself, we’re really committed to invigorating tourism in a national park.”

When pressed, Mr Whitby said the accommodation plan didn’t necessarily include the region’s key national park, which he agreed was being “loved to death”.

Mr Whitby told the Times new funding for ecological thinning and 65 Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions jobs announced this week, as well as recent news about more DBCA firefighters, meant there would be more personnel available for conservation efforts.

Last week, the Times reported groups including the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River, Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association and Nature Conservation Margaret River Region, among others, voiced “serious disappointment” Labor had failed to engage on their plan delivered to the Minister after the December 2021 Calgardup bushfire.

The plan includes a hit-list of urgent actions because MRBTA chair Stuart Hicks says inadequate resourcing means an opportunity to control weeds and feral animals had gone begging.

Mr Hicks and the other alliance members said weeds and feral animals were running rampant through the park, no serious conservation efforts were under way by the DBCA and too many access points were going unmanaged, leading to more four-wheel drive hoons on beaches adjoining the park.

Shire president Julia Meldrum said alliance members were ready to bang on the doors at Parliament to see action.

“It is one thing to talk up our natural beauty and another thing to back up the talk with funding and action from a State Government that is awash with funds,” she said.

Mr Whitby said the Government wanted to give tourists “more things to do” in national parks and funding for Aboriginal rangers was preparing for the park’s future transition to joint management, which was a feature of the six-point plan.

The Times understands none of the 65 new jobs would be rangers, with the alliance calling for the number of rangers in Leeuwin-Naturaliste to increase from four to eight to meet demand.

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