Move to open up national parks

NATIONAL parks should host more tourism ventures such as accommodation, camping, mountain bike trails and fossicking, says a state parliamentary inquiry led by Coalition MPs.

An upper house committee examining tourism in local communities also called for streamlined planning approvals for development in the sensitive Kosciuszko National Park following a push by ski resort operators, including one majority-owned by James Packer.

The report says the government should ''investigate further opportunities for tourism development in national parks'' following suggestions the highly protected areas were ''underutilised'' and that more should be done to encourage visitors.

The report singled out national park land leased to ski resorts in the Snowy Mountains, saying the government should overhaul the planning process so infrastructure improvements are not ''hampered by unwarranted red tape''.

The Perisher Ski Resort will feature in the travel package offered to Asian high-rollers travelling to Mr Packer's proposed Crown casino-hotel at Barangaroo. Crown's major shareholder, Consolidated Press Holdings, has a majority stake in the resort.

Wealthy gamblers and their guests would be flown by helicopter from Sydney to Perisher, where they would be offered ''a taste of winter sports and Australia's alpine fauna and flora''.

Perisher Ski Resort chief executive Peter Brulisauer told the inquiry that Kosciuszko National Park, within which the resort is located, lacked tourist facilities.

He said the resort was managed under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. However, ''we are a tourism industry we are not nature conservation''.

''We blow up rocks and cut down trees, we put a pipe in the ground ... we take water and make snow, people come here by the thousands,'' he said, calling for a special zoning to recognise the resort's tourism status.

Broken Hill mayor Wincen Cuy said environmentally-sound tourism development in national parks could range from ''five-star down to camping''.

''Isn't [a national park] there for people to actually understand and have access to the environment rather than locking it up and having no access to it?'' he said.

Regional Development Australia's far south coast chairman Rob Pollock said national parks ''shouldn't be the preserve of the people with a rucksack and a two-man tent'' and environmentally-sensitive development would generate government revenue.

However, National Parks Association chief executive Kevin Evans said an ''over-love'' of national parks would diminish their primary purpose - to protect nature.

''With more people lobbying for increased activities [in national parks], they will become over time more like local government parks as opposed to areas set aside for biodiversity conservation,'' he said.

The government will respond to the report. Environment Minister Robyn Parker said it was ''committed to increasing access and opportunities for tourism in national parks''. She said there were 18.5 million visits to regional national parks in 2012, up 5 per cent from 2010.

She said new opportunities were being created for commercial tourism operators. In Kosciuszko National Park, horse rider camps and infrastructure for cyclists and walkers was being built and mountain bike trails were mooted.

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