The money-making potential of Australia's national parks, including Uluru and Kakadu, could soon be tapped by a federal government department facing a budget crisis. Photo: Supplied
The money-making potential of Australia's national parks, including Uluru and Kakadu, could soon be tapped by a federal government department facing a desperate budget crisis.
Research flagship the Australian Antarctic Division will also look at ''alternative funding sources'' as the Environment Department battles to cut its annual budget by $100 million.
About 480 public servants will lose their jobs at Environment, on top of 190 bureaucrats who have already gone, and hundreds of programs and activities will either be modified or axed in a sweeping restructure as the department tries to cope with dwindling funds and efficiency dividend cuts.
Parks Australia and the Hobart-based Australian Antarctic Division must find new ways of raising money, according to an internal departmental review obtained by Fairfax Media. The two operations have been given the ''green light'' by the reviewers, categorised as ''activities proposed to continue following modification''.
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But the review calls for ''alternative funding sources'' for Parks Australia and the Hobart-based Australian Antarctic Division. ''Alternative funding models could also be pursued for a number of the Department's activities, particularly in Parks Australia and the Australian Antarctic Division,'' the internal review states. National parks could raise money by raising visitors' fees, allowing more commercial tourist infrastructure - like hotels - to be built or even selling naming rights.
The AAD could step up its research efforts on behalf of private corporations or look for commercial sponsorship opportunities.
The Environment Department's media unit did not respond on Monday to questions about what fund-raising options were on the table.
But help from the federal government seems unlikely after Prime Minister Tony Abbott told a gathering of forestry industry executives last month that ''we have quite enough national parks''.
Parks Australia administers the six Commonwealth National Parks, including Kakadu, Uluru, Christmas Island, and Canberra's National Botanic Gardens, as well as 58 marine reserves. More detail on the plans for the two agencies is expected when departmental secretary Gordon de Brouwer addresses workers at the Antarctic Division on Tuesday morning. One of his top executives, Kimberley Dripps, will be in Darwin at the same time talking to Environment's top-end employees. The cuts are also expected to bite into the Environment's top brass, with senior executive ranks to be reduced by 25 per cent - which is believed to equate to about 20 jobs. The department's budget must be reduced by $100 million in the next four years, from $460 million in 2013-14 to $361 million in 2017-18.
There could be worse to come with departmental bosses warning the government's Commission of Audit could inflict even more pain.
The Canberra Times revealed last month that the department's budget would be deeply slashed over the next four years, with most of the cuts coming in staff numbers, a move that could reduce departmental numbers to fewer than 1700 - from 2300 last year. The reality of the cuts was brought home on Monday afternoon when bosses told employees that a new voluntary redundancy round would begin next week, open to all departmental staffers.