Forget mateship, our unique selling point is nature

Forget mateship, our unique selling point is nature


Tathra's David Papps has been made a Member of the Order of Australia for his dedication to science, in particular environmental conservation. Picture: Supplied

Tathra's David Papps has been made a Member of the Order of Australia for his dedication to science, in particular environmental conservation. Picture: Supplied

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The Murray-Darling Basin, the destruction of national parks and why the environment is David Papps' passion.

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David Papps' final battle before retirement was the hard task of balancing the water needs of the environment with the needs of farmers on the world's second driest continent.

Now retired and living in the small coastal town of Tathra on the NSW South Coast, Mr Papps was made a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM) for his dedication to science, in particular environmental conservation.

"If anything is truly Australian it's not mateship, which is common all over the world, it's the nature," 64-year-old Mr Papps said.

As a child his father would take him and his brother exploring in the bush, by his teenage years he had grown a passion for conservation, and after completing university he dedicated his life to a career in the public service.

"I've always been interested in wetlands and the preservation of wetlands because Australia has not always been very good at protecting these landscapes," Mr Papps said.

I have grave concerns for the future of national parks. - David Papps AM

As Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder between 2012 and 2016, he oversaw the expansion of the program in the Murray-Darling Basin, which he described as akin to an "inland barrier reef" in terms of environmental importance.

"The role was a very direct way to help. I finished [my career] on the ideal job knowing there are plenty of talented and enthusiastic people to follow," he said.

A passionate man, even since his retirement 13 months ago Mr Papps has continued to be vocal about what he sees as the NSW government's failure to properly implement their responsibilities under the basin management plan.

The long-term decline in the environmental health of the rivers, wetlands and flood plains was his focus, and creating a "peaceful coexistence between food, fibre and the environment" was his aim while in the role.

David Papps is continuing his conservation work as a member Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists. Picture: Supplied

David Papps is continuing his conservation work as a member Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists. Picture: Supplied

"The Murray-Darling Basin plan is an imperfect approach to fixing the environmental problems," Mr Papps said.

"It's not the best answer, but it is the best we've got. It's implementation by NSW will go a long way.

"It's not the complete answer. It's a work in progress."

He said both NSW and Victoria must commit to the plan and certain industry players have ambitions to have the plan repealed entirely.

"I was able to oversee our transition from small time to the single biggest irrigator in the Murray-Darling Basin," Mr Papps said.

"The system is uniquely Australian in that it's about floods and droughts," he said. "We have a system that dries out then floods. It's truly Australian."

Mr Papps continues his conservation work as a member Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, and continues to lobby for the plan to be implemented fully.

My career has never been just a job. People wonder why I'm bothering, but I really care. - David Papps

The former deputy director general of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, said the service has been "diminished by successive governments" and lost "decades of experience in mindless government efficiency drives".

He criticised the state government's lack of interest in proper management of the parks system and the possibility the conservation areas may be logged by future governments.

"They've trashed the legacy created by a Liberal government in 1967," he said.

"There's plenty of places to log without having to destroy national parks.

"There is now fewer people doing more, and it has really suffered. It is a worry, because if the community isn't in tune with everything it could all be lost.

"It was one of the world's best systems and now it's been bled dry.

"I have grave concerns for the future of national parks."

He began a life of science with a first class Honours degree in zoology and botany, and has held high ranking positions with the Department of Environment, Climate Change, Energy and Water ACT, Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment and the New South Wales Department of Planning.

"My career has never been just a job," Mr Papps said. "People wonder why I'm bothering, but I really care.

"I will keep going as long as I am making a difference."

He said it is the sheer beauty of the region's national parks which made it an easy decision on where he would retire.

"I used to visit the national parks in this part of the world, and fell in love with them," he said.

"I knew Tathra from those days. There's fabulous native forests right near the beach."

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