National parks and other protected areas are areas of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection of biodiversity and other natural and cultural resources. They are established under Commonwealth, state or territory laws or other legal means. All governments participate in the development of a comprehensive, adequate and representative national reserve system as part of Australia's obligation under the United Nations Biodiversity Convention established in 1993. Most national parks and other protected areas in Australia are declared and managed by state and territory governments, although the establishment of protected areas managed by conservation or other groups commenced within the last decade. Declaration and management of Indigenous protected areas, Indigenous-owned land that is managed to protect its natural and associated cultural values, commenced in 1998. The Australian Government declares and manages parks and reserves on land owned or leased by the Commonwealth, in Commonwealth waters and on Indigenous land leased to the Commonwealth.
Although there are nearly 50 different protection designations in Australia, all protected areas are classified into one or more of the World Conservation Union protected area management categories, the most common being 'national park' and 'nature reserve'. The types of areas managed include: strictly protected areas managed mainly for science with very limited public access; areas where recreation is encouraged, but where resource development adverse to conservation of the environment is not; and multiple use areas where ecologically sustainable resource utilisation, recreation and nature conservation can coexist.
Lists and descriptions of the parks and reserves managed by Australian, state and territory governments can be accessed using links on the Parks and Reserves page of the Department of Environment and Heritage web site at <http://www.deh.gov.au/parks>.
Visits to World Heritage areas, national and state parks
The ABS Environmental Attitudes and Practices Survey is a household survey collecting data on several environmental topics, including visits to World Heritage areas, and national and state parks. The most recent survey found people between the ages of 25 and 44 years were the most likely group to have made a visit to these areas and parks in the 12 months prior to March 2001. During that period 61% of people aged 25-34 years or 35-44 years visited one of these areas, compared with an attendance rate of 54% for all adults. However, as shown in graph 12.2, outings to these areas and parks have tended to decline between 1992 and 2001 within each age group.
For those who had not visited a World Heritage area, national or state park in the 12 months prior to March 2001, 36% gave lack of time as the main reason. Inability to visit because of age or health was the next most common reason for not visiting these areas (17%).