Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (15:16): My question is to the Minister for the Environment. What is the government doing to protect native birds and habitats from off-road vehicles travelling along beaches and over dunes, such as in the area of Carpenter Rocks and Canunda National Park in my electorate?
The Hon. D.J. SPEIRS (Black—Minister for Environment and Water) (15:17): I thank the member for Mount Gambier for that question. It's a good question and it is a question that highlights something which has been a problem for probably many years but which has become an increasing problem in the last year or so with an increased visitation to regional South Australia, which in many ways from a tourism and economic development point of view is a good thing but, of course, there can be tension between conservation and environmental resilience and outcomes and people using the natural environment for enjoyment.
One of those areas where that tension emerges, there is no doubt, is where four-wheel driving occurs on beaches, in parks and in sand dunes. The coastal environment does tend to be particularly fragile and vulnerable to this sort of interference.
A couple of years ago, because of the concern that I noted in this area, particularly from advocacy from friends groups, like Friends of Little Dip and other friends groups down in the South-East, I referred this matter to the Natural Resources Committee, a standing committee of the state parliament, and they undertook an inquiry that came up with a range of recommendations. I have been working with my department, with our landscape boards and with the Department for Infrastructure and Transport on possible responses to those.
We continue to work through those, but things we are looking at include the potential for having a permit scheme, ensuring that permits are connected with appropriate online education and perhaps watching videos that provide advice and support to four-wheel drivers and beach users as to how to undertake this activity in a more structured and safer way that gets that balance between enjoying the great outdoors and protecting the fragile environment.
Other things we are looking at are a greater level of structure along our coastline, better access points, better signage and better local education. A significant increase in the number of rangers has certainly made a difference in this. When we came to office, there were only 93 rangers in South Australia. We are up to nearly 140 now. Every regional community, particularly the coastal areas, has more rangers now, providing that support, that insight, that direction and expiation, if necessary. I know that the number of rangers down in Little Dip and service in Cunanda and through the South-East has increased markedly, and that capacity is better than it was before.
But we can do better on this front. I continue to work with landscape boards, with local councils, that often have care and control of these beach environments, and with organisations such as friends groups and Birds SA to do better on this front. There are those great benefits from increased regional visitation, but we do have to get the balance right.