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More Corruption exposed in the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS)

(Smuggled books vindicated again)

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) corruption continues unabated.

See NSW Parliament - Hansard Transcript below:

Hansard transcript is dated 26 June 2001.

Mr STONER (Oxley) [6.44 p.m.]: As honourable members would be aware, the electorate of Oxley has a substantial area of National Parks Estate. Issues regarding the management of national parks are, therefore, of great concern to my constituents and I. On 11 April I spoke in this Chamber about National Parks and Wildlife Service [NPWS] whistleblowers and about the investigation: including an investigation by the ICAC;of serious allegations. Since that time, a number of documents have come into my possession which indicate maladministration in the management of the NPWS, a lack of accountability, a culture of covering up and, even worse, a culture of attacking the credibility of and victimizing those who have the courage to speak out.

Amongst the matters raised in the documents I have received are the issuing in 1998 of 3,157 NPWS annual passes with a value of $226,170 when only $199,091.70 in receipts was credited, a major unexplained loss of more than $27,000; inadequate systems to prevent the forgery, via colour copiers, of annual passes such as K80250170, despite knowledge of the practice; the integrity of accounting procedures, such as annual pass No. K0133747, date stamped 5 October 2000, being recorded as having been sold on 29 October 2000; unfettered spending on offices and perks, including $81,000 on refurbishment of offices at Parramatta, $1,500 on a wallpaper consultant to advise on renovation of a post office, and $339 on restaurant meals at Coffs Harbour on 27 November 2000; the lack of action on basic park problems such as blackberry infestations in Garigal National Park and deterioration of historic tracks like Ensigers Track in the Blue Mountains; the sale to staff members at bargain basement prices of unwanted office furniture; and the sale at auction of computers containing sensitive information, including tender documents and submissions intended for the Minister.

Other issues contained in the documents I have received relate to the use of a corporate credit card by a senior officer to pay for expenses of his wife, who accompanied him on a business trip to Adelaide late last year; the use of a corporate credit card charged to NPWS Central Region at Parramatta in October 2000 to purchase alcohol and pizzas; procedures so lax that the Parramatta office paid registration renewal fees in 1999 on a vehicle which did not exist and on a number of vehicles which had previously been sold; vehicle inspection fees paid twice on the same day for the same vehicle from different inspectors, despite it being passed on both occasions; and extreme tardiness in paying accounts, to creditors including Telstra, one overdue account for more than $35,000; Qantas; ANZ Visa, resulting in substantial late payment fees and interest; Sydney Water; resulting in threats to disconnect; TNT; Link Communications; Gosford; Blacktown and Holroyd city councils; Cleanaway; Department of Public Works and Services, one overdue bill for more than $118,000; Integral Energy; State Mail Service; Waterways Authority; Media Monitors—the list is endless. That many angry creditors cannot be wrong.

The seriousness of the financial ineptitude is evidenced by the fact that one government agency owed money by the NPWS was forced to go to the State Debt Recovery Office, which is under the control of the same Minister who has responsibility for the NPWS, on three separate occasions to seek payment of $491. That brings me to the role of Minister for the Environment. Surely a competent Minister would be aware of such serious problems in a statutory authority for which he is responsible. Perhaps he is not, because of the way he has been overloaded with portfolios since the Premier was not prepared to take on the factions of caucus when choosing a new Minister to replace the former Attorney General. These issues are of grave concern to the Oxley electorate, which has vast areas of National Park Estate. Of equal concern is the cover-up culture in some parts of the NPWS, about which I have previously spoken, concerning past whistleblowers John Kyte and Clive Bennett. The issues I have just described have been swept under the carpet by the management of the NPWS. I have an email from Industrial Relations Manager, Kate Molloy, to senior NPWS manager Bob Conroy, which she suggested he pass on to other staff:

All be assured that although there have been a lot of accusations made, the investigation has been thorough and found that there was no substance to those accusations. There will be no residual damage to your careers.

11 APRIL 2001

Mr STONER (Oxley) [11.27 p.m.]: There have been recent reports about the National Parks and Wildlife Service whistleblower, Mr John Kite, in relation to the inquiry into the events at Thredbo. The report includes alleged victimisation of the whistleblower by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, as well as an alleged mole in the Independent Commission Against Corruption. There have been other cases of whistleblowing from within the National Parks and Wildlife Service regarding some of its activities, one of which involves Mr Clive Bennett, a former national parks ranger and one of my constituents living near Kempsey. In the late 1980s he alleged bird smuggling and corruption in the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Those allegations, which were substantiated by other parties, are detailed in a book by Raymond Hoser entitled Smuggled: The Underground Trade in Australia's Wildlife.

I am also aware of a case involving Featherdale Wildlife Park where there was alleged illegal trafficking of koalas involving the National Parks and Wildlife Service in the early 1990s. The whistleblower in that case was Mr John Stark. This issue was raised in the other place in 1996 by the Hon. J. F. Ryan, amongst other members. There are striking similarities in all these cases. First, there are allegations of corrupt conduct by members of the National Parks and Wildlife Service in each of these cases; and, second, there are suggestions of either a cover-up or a lack of willingness to fully investigate the allegations. I refer to a letter from the Independent Commission Against Corruption to the former member for Oxley, Mr Bruce Jeffrey, dated 8 September 1992, which states:Commission officers formed the view that the matters raised by Mr Bennett should not be made the subject of a formal investigation by the Commission.

According to Mr Bennett there were substantial grounds for a full investigation in that case. There have been suggestions in the Bennett and Kyte cases that National Parks and Wildlife Service insiders in the Independent Commission Against Corruption resulted in that body failing to properly investigate. Certainly in the Bennett case he complained to police and police were represented on the ICAC. He also alleges that the police investigator's wife actually worked as a legal adviser for the ICAC. In the Kyte case the suggestion was made that the National Parks and Wildlife Service had a corrupt contact within the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

In each of these cases the whistleblowers are alleged to have been discredited and/or threatened. In each case there has been no outcome of these investigations. Nothing seems to have changed. I refer to the Featherdale case which, according to the then Minister, Pam Allan, was past the statute of limitations. It was alleged that the National Parks and Wildlife Service stalled investigating the matter until it reached that point. In the bird smuggling case involving Mr Bennett the then Minister, Bob Carr, said that the allegations by Mr Bennett were not substantiated. However, Mr Bennett indicated that the National Parks and Wildlife Service directed him to stop giving evidence to the police. I quote from the Daily Telegraph, which raised these issues back on 30 November 1996:

The memo also reveals concern there might be only prosecutions of minor breaches of the Wildlife Act allowing more serious offences to go uninvestigated.

Yesterday the ICAC said it might re-examine the allegations even though similar claims went uninvestigated three years ago ...

Among allegations outlined ... were:

APPARENT protection of some fauna dealers (birds) and exhibitors. PROSECUTIONS of soft cases only, hard cases apparently not being followed up. Long delays. In another case, detailed in an internal memo from one NPWS officer to another earlier this year, it is claimed a Sydney wildlife park illegally took koalas from the wild to add to its diminishing collection but investigations had been delayed beyond the statute of limitations.We are seeing the same issues again and again;extremely disturbing allegations about the National Parks and Wildlife Service and ICAC. It is time for a full, independent inquiry.

SMUGGLED-2 beats another attempt to have it banned!

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