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 or state/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 Indigenous protected areas and protected areas managed by conservation or other groups have commenced recently. The Commonwealth Government declares and manages parks and reserves on land owned or leased by the Commonwealth, in Commonwealth waters and on Aboriginal land leased to the Commonwealth.
Although there are nearly 50 different designations in Australia for protection, all protected areas are classified into one or more of the IUCN (World Conservation Union) six protected area management categories, with 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.
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 that people between the ages of 25 and 44 years were the most likely 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 from 25-34 years, and from 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 from 1992 to 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, lack of time (36%) was given as the main reason which prevented them from doing so (graph 12.3). Inability to visit because of age or health was the next most common reason for not visiting these areas (17%).