Wacky Infrastructure Victoria parks plans straight out of Utopia
When Mark Twain coined the phrase 'Truth is stranger than fiction...' I doubt he had parks infrastructure planning in mind, or maybe he did?
But in what could have come straight from an episode of the hilarioius ABC TV series Utopia, a political satire based on a hypothetical government authority called 'Nation Building Australia', Victoria's own building authority has come up with some wacky ideas for preserving the environment.
One proposal from Infrastructure Victoria - outsourcing or selling off bits of national parks - is just a thought bubble and should be immediately dismissed as such. An 'asset recycling scheme' for national parks it reads:
|National park private management (NPP2) - Use financial incentives for private park managers to deliver environmentally beneficial outcomes for national parks and protected areas.|
While the description is vague and lacks any justification, it did make it to the shorter list in a document called 'All things considered'.
How it got so far, who knows, but the ideas being explored should set off immediate alarm bells, both for the patronising tone and lack of justification.
"We know that people will respond strongly to the option for privatisation of national parks management. However, it is important to have a conversation about the nuances of this option...
"The outsourcing of parks management has been developed as an option that responds to the infrastructure need to preserve natural environments and minimise biodiversity loss. While national parks are about public access, they are also sites to conserve the parts of our environment we believe need protection...
"Private management could explore opportunities to generate revenue, which could then be reinvested in the protection of natural assets."
There is little detail or explanation on why this will work. It is similar to the flawed policy concepts tried under the Napthine Government: two thirds of the national parks estate made available for 99 year private leases and flawed proposals for luxury hotel developments at Point Nepean. These have since been reversed by the Andrews Government.
We also know from our own experience, and from much of the literature around the world, that such privatisation rarely, if ever, works. To sell one piece of the national parks estate, which was established to protect nature in its entirety and in perpetuity, so that we can improve another yet undefined area, defies logic.
On the plus side, there are a number of proposals from Infrastructure Victoria, such as riparian fencing and the establishment of biolinks, that are positive. But there is more work to do. Many environmental policy ideas have not been explored and the agency is in desperate need of some sound ecological policy advice.
Infrastructure Victoria was established by the Andrews Government as an "...independent body which will take the politics out of infrastructure planning".
This sounds good in theory, but what happens when it makes proposals clearly inconsistent with government policy.
The agency's website states: "The combination of board membership, advisory functions, governance provisions, powers and, importantly, the inability for Ministers to direct Infrastructure Victoria, means the organisation will have an independence never before seen in Victorian infrastructure planning."
At face value independent advice is a sensible approach, especially considering the politics around projects like the east west link, burned into the public consciousness. However, the proposals put forward for private management of national parks are far from politically neutral and rather ideologically loaded.