Question Time - Ewens Ponds access

Wednesday April 08, 2020

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (14:37): My question is to the Minister for Environment and Water. Is the minister's position of promoting national parks over the Easter long weekend in conflict with the state government's position of staying at home this Easter, staying at home these school holidays? With your leave and that of the house, sir, I can explain.

Leave granted.

Mr BELL: I have received email correspondence from a Dirk Verschure, who lives near Ewens Ponds near Mount Gambier. He is concerned that these ponds are open over this weekend and he believes that snorkellers from Warrnambool and Clare are planning to come down to snorkel over the Easter break.

The Hon. D.J. SPEIRS (Black—Minister for Environment and Water) (14:37): I thank the member for Mount Gambier for a very relevant question and a topic that is very worthwhile to explore in the house today and provide some information. The state government, with the particular advice from Associate Professor Nicola Spurrier, has made a very clear decision to leave national parks, conservation parks, recreation parks and the various components of our reserve system open for people to be able to access during this particularly challenging time. That is because we believe that people getting out into the great outdoors, being able to connect with nature and immerse themselves in fresh air, is particularly important for people's wellbeing at this difficult time.

So, where possible, people can undertake this activity in a sensible way by practising social distancing and undertaking the outdoor activities within the guidelines and advice being put forward by the experts in this state, which have been clearly communicated into the public domain by the Chief Public Health Officer, by the state government and the various networks. We feel confident that South Australians will do the right thing, that they will connect with nature in a responsible way, that they will practise social distancing and that, by enabling our parks to remain open, we will be able to enhance the overall wellbeing of South Australians rather than diminish it.

The Premier mentioned in his answer earlier that he has great confidence in South Australians doing the right thing, whether that be following advice not to travel too far from home and enter the country or go in larger numbers to national parks. One of the things we have made very clear when we have been communicating that our national parks remain open is to please go to a national park that is close to home.

The member for Mount Gambier mentioned that he had some concerning information that a constituent believes people are going to travel further afield to visit the Piccaninnie Ponds. That is against state government advice, not just around national parks but beyond that—around non-essential travelling extensively across the state. Our message about national park visitation is very clear: visit a local park.

What does 'local' mean? We have been saying publicly that 'local' is a comfortable walk from home, around a 10-minute drive or a comfortable half-hour bike ride. We are blessed with so many parks in South Australia, 21 per cent of our state is within our reserve system and our city is bounded by areas of open space, so the vast majority of South Australians we believe will be able to access that open space in a responsible way in a relatively short drive or a comfortable walk.

In my own electorate, that would be Hallett Cove Conservation Park, Marino Conservation Park, O'Halloran Hill Recreation Park. I had a chat with the member for Schubert earlier. He is planning on the weekend to take his daughters for a walk in Kaiserstuhl Conservation Park, which is just a short drive from his home. There are lots and lots of opportunities for people to do this. We have, however, taken precautions.

There will be signage in place reminding people of social distancing, particularly in our high visitation parks. I understand that four echidnas apart is the recommended distance, and of course we have also closed campgrounds in conservation and national parks to prevent congregation.