An engineering geologist with over twenty years specialising in landslide risk assessment says he has a strong belief that our national parks and the natural wonders they hold should be available to all Australians.
Mark Hendrickx says he finds it sad that access to the natural world in Australia has been turned into a political football by bureaucrats and Aboriginal groups more interested in exercising power than respecting traditional views, and the cultural beliefs of others who enjoy bushwalking and climbing mountains.
In an open letter to the Minister for Energy and Environment Matt Kean MP, Hendrickx says that documents obtained through FOI/GIPA reveal NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) have misled the minister and the public about safety issues at Mt Warning.
‘A NPWS visitor safety assessment report classified risks of landslide, rock fall and slope stability as “medium”. A report by geotechnical professionals found the risk of slope stability to be low. In its information to the public however NPWS have classified this risk as “extreme” and “catastrophic”.
‘NPWS have repeated the mistake for other hazards. Based on the FOI documents it is clear that NPWS have confused exposure for risk.
‘Based on the visitor safety assessment report and other risk assessments the risk of the summit track is similar to other Grade 4-5 walks in the state. There is no reason it should be closed.’
Mr Hendrickx, who is based at Berowra near Sydney, says that for years the NSW NPWS have been actively seeking to reduce visitors to the Mt Warning National Park. ‘The bureaucratic term for this is “demarketing”. NSW NPWS have exaggerated safety claims and environmental issues and misinformed the public about Aboriginal claims on the mountain.
‘It preferences the negative views of the Bundjalung Nation over the inspirational message of Ngaraakwal Elder Marlene Boyd RIP who said in 2007: “How can the public experience the spiritual significance of this land if they do not climb the summit and witness creation!”
‘NPWS also ignores other Aboriginal opinions that would see the summit remain open for visitors,’ he said.
‘NSW NPWS no longer promotes the summit experience and it has also passively discouraged visitation by lack of action on access, parking, security and commercial operations. While the public have little chance of overturning the looming irrational ban on access, it may be possible for local businesses to at least get recompense for losses that will arise as a result of the ban.
‘There may be a case against NSW NPWS for the impact its policies have had on business income and the value of local businesses. While I’m not a lawyer, it seems NSW NPWS have an obligation to fairly compensate the people it has impacted with its actions on just terms.’
NPWS not consulted Aboriginal stakeholders
Mr Hendrickx also says in his letter to the minister that he should note that NPWS have not properly consulted with Aboriginal stakeholders and have excluded groups that encourage the climb from discussions. ‘This is a breach of National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 No 80 section 30K (2a): the conservation of natural values, buildings, places, objects, features and landscapes of cultural value to Aboriginal people in accordance with the cultural values of the Aboriginal people to whose heritage the buildings, places, objects, features or landscapes belong.
‘Based on information released, the Minister must strip NPWS of management authority of the Mt Warning/Wollumbin National Park. NPWS are not acting in good faith in accordance with the Act and have breached the public’s trust.
‘It is clear they have misled the minister and public about safety and Aboriginal cultural attitudes and they have deliberately “demarketed” the park for decades.
‘They should hang their heads in shame at what they have done to this outstanding natural attraction that is owned by all Australians. The government needs to appoint a park board made up of local stakeholders to return some common sense, truth and balance to park management.’
Mr Hendrickx has outlined what he suggests is a plan to see the Mt Warning National Park permanently closed by November 2022.
Documents obtained through FOI/GIPA
He said documents obtained through FOI/GIPA from NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) reveal:
• A ‘Final Wollumbin Closure Event’ is planned for 25 November 2022.
• A ‘deconstruction plan’ points to removal of summit lookouts to be completed by 30 June 2022.
• NPWS have NO intention of re-opening the park to the public.
• The closure affects the entire park – the public will be banned from the Summit trail and the much shorter Lyrebird Walk.
Mr Henrickx said public information released about the claimed safety risks has a critical error. ‘Or is it a deliberate attempt to mislead?’ he wonders. ‘NPWS has confused risk for exposure! The claimed “extreme” and “catastrophic” risks are in error and these hazards are assigned a “medium” risk in NPWS’ own safety assessment. For the hazards listed the risk is the same as other Grade 4-5 walks in the state. NPWS have mislead the Minister and public.’ he said.
He added that ‘a slope stability assessment completed by geotechnical professionals found risks to visitors from landslide and rockfall in the park were lower than traveling by train in Australia. (Their assessment conforms with my own that shows risk to individuals from rock falls and landslides is on the order of one in a billion – this is a very low risk).’
In conclusion, Mark Hendrickx said consultations with Aboriginal groups have not included all groups or considered and paid respect to the diverse range of views, some of which encourage climbing Mt Warning.
See https://righttoclimb.blogspot.com/2021/02/foi-bombshell-permanent-ban-on-mt.html for links to the documents..