MEDIA RELEASE 21 June 2021 |

The Andrews Government is “all talk, no protection” when it comes to delivering on two-year old expert recommendations to protect 60,000ha of forest and woodlands in Victoria’s central west.

Exactly two years ago today, the Andrews Government was presented with an independent, widely consulted on, report recommending the protection of 60,000 hectares of public land in new national parks and reserves in Victoria’s central west (around Daylesford, Avoca, Beaufort and Bendigo).

The Andrews Government has shown little interest in progressing the report, stalling on its legislatively required deadline to make a decision with nothing but a long list of excuses.

As the climate and ecological emergency increases in threat, other states and countries are setting and achieving goals for protecting natural areas.

This is leaving many conservationists and nature-lovers with the impression that the Andrews Government is “all talk, no protection” when it comes to their duty of care to look after Victoria’s unique wildlife and natural heritage.

So much for ‘getting things done’” said Matt Ruchel, Executive Director of the Victorian National Parks Association. “As the many states around Australia, including NSW and WA, create new national parks to protect threatened wildlife, habitat and landscapes, the Andrews Government is sitting on its hands. New parks in the central west tick all the boxes and should be created as soon as possible”.

The list of excuses from the Andrews Government continues to grow – and after two years it’s still unclear why they can’t make the decision to protect the Central West’s incredible natural areas.

“The independent and expert recommendations for new national parks in the central west ticks almost every box you can think of”.

If a decision and timeline for implementation is not laid out soon, this great opportunity will be lost in this term of government.

“This list of reasons could be used as a checklist by the Andrews Government if they’re short of ideas on why creating the largest set of new Victorian national parks in a decade here would be a great act of leadership”.

The list of reasons and support for new national parks in the central west of Victoria:

  • People want and support national parks – An opinion poll of 1,009 Melburnians over the age of 18, in Oct 2020 found: Four in five (81%) Melburnians support the proposals to expand national parks in Victoria around Daylesford, Woodend, Bendigo and Ballarat and COVID lockdowns hand made them more interested in visiting natural areas.
  • Combat the extinction Crisis and protect Wildlife – New parks would support over 370 threatened species and high conservation habitats including the recently spotted populations of Powerful Owls, the only known place in the world of the critically endangered Mt Cole Grevillea, and a stronghold population of Greater Gliders.
  • End unpopular taxpayer–subsidised native logging – Logging of native forest is a massive burden on the Victorian tax payers, with state-owned logging agency VicForests posting a $20 million loss over the last four financial years.
  • . Logging in the west of the state is specifically subsidised with government grants. It’s time to open these biodiverse forests and woodlands to the public, instead of logging them at a loss – both to threatened wildlife and the Victorian taxpayer.*
  • Protects rivers and water supply – New national parks will protect significant headwaters of important rivers, including the Moorabool, Werribee, Lerderderg, Maribyrnong, and Wimmera rivers, that supply drinking water to many parts of regional Victoria.
  • Helps combat climate change – The forests and woodlands  of central west Victoria are carbon rich with protected parks estimated at between worth $450 million and $600 million when applying the current market price for carbon.
  • Empower First Nations management of Country – Many of the new national parks would be co–managed through joint management between Traditional Owners and government.
  • Green space for a growing Greater Melbourne – Within 90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne and the growing western and northern suburbs, new parks are spaces for the community to be protected and shared for the future. Free and easy access to green natural space has shown itself to be an issue over the COVID lockdowns.
  • Expert and independent recommended – The independent statutory authority, the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council’s (VEAC) final Central West Investigation report was released 21 June 2019 – two years ago today. It recommended the permanent protection of around 60,000 hectares of native forests, including the Wombat Forest (near Daylesford), Wellsford Forest (near Bendigo), Pyrenees Ranges Forest (near Avoca), and Mount Cole Forest (west of Ballarat, near Beaufort). After it was tabled in Victorian Parliament on 15 August 2019, the government had six months to respond. This response date was before the COVID–19 outbreak in Australia. The entire process has been running for more than four years, with 3000 community submissions, a series of major reports and over 450 pages of documentation.
  • The economics stack up – An independent economic assessment by the Sayers Advisory Group of new central west parks released in February 2021, shows investing in new national parks for Victoria’s central west will return between four times to double the economic return on investment.
  • Widespread regional, state and national support – A mighty collaboration of over 45 groups used a series of full page ads in six papers across key regional centres (Ararat, Bendigo, Ballarat, Castlemaine, Moorabool, Daylesford, Macedon) to call on the Andrews Government to hurry up and get on with creating and implementing new parks.
  • Victoria would catch up to other states – The G7 are pushing for more protected areas globally, and Victoria is lagging other Australian states. NSW recently bought 60,000 hectares of private land for new national parks. The Western Australia ALP Government in 2019 announced that it would create five million hectares of new national parks across their state.
  • Meets Victorian & international commitments – New parks in the central west will protect some important habitat types currently under-represented in Victoria’s protected reserve system, help deliver key elements of Victoria’s Biodiversity 2037 strategy and meet international targets. This would once again make Victoria a national leader in nature conservation.

It’s time that the Andrews Government delivered new national parks, for all Victorians and Victorian native wildlife.

“We don’t know what is happening here – has a feral deer eaten the government response? How many more tick boxes does the Andrews Government need?”.

Enshrining these forests as national parks would not only provide clean air and water, protect vital habitat for over 370 rare and threatened animal and plant species, it would also support joint management with Traditional Owners, and increase and enhance nature-based tourism and regional visitation.

The Andrews government has yet to create decent formal protection of natural areas such as national parks, during its time in government. Enough talk, now it’s time for protection.

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Image © Sandy Scheltema