HARD-WON protection for fragile river red gums in southern NSW could be lost, after the government and the Shooters and Fishers Party launched an inquiry into national parks, environment groups have warned.
The Nature Conservation Council said the inquiry, which would be chaired by Shooters and Fishers MP Robert Brown, puts the ''fox in charge of the henhouse'' and called on the government to rule out any concessions on hunting, logging or mining in national parks.
''This is not an innocent exercise,'' the council's chief executive, Pepe Clarke, said. ''The Shooters and Fishers have a clear agenda when it comes to our national parks.''
Three upper house Coalition MPs and Mr Brown signed a self-referral on Thursday for a wide-ranging new inquiry into public lands, which is expected to be formally approved today. The drafted terms of reference make mention of examining the swathes of national park in the Riverina created by the former Labor government in 2010 to protect river red gums, a decision taken on the basis of recommendations from a report by the National Resources Commission.
The Wilderness Society received an assurance from the Environment Minister, Robyn Parker, in February that the government ''will not reverse river red gum legislation'' but said yesterday it was dismayed by the inquiry.
''We urge [Ms Parker] to stand by this promise or stand down as the state's advocate for the environment,'' the organisation's NSW campaigns manager, Belinda Fairbrother, said.
The Herald understands the request for the inquiry to examine the river red gums protections came from the Nationals and follows a call from Nationals MP John Williams in May for such an inquiry. Mr Williams told Parliament 1300 jobs have been lost as a result of the declarations.
A spokesman for Ms Parker has said the inquiry is independent and the government will consider all recommendations when a report is tabled.
The opposition spokesman on the environment, Luke Foley, said calling the inquiry independent was ''laughable''.
''It's petitioned by three government members, it beggars belief that [Premier Barry O'Farrell's] office wasn't consulted before this inquiry was set up,'' he said.