PARK WATCH December 2018 |

A recently announced proposal for a new Great Ocean Road authority will weaken national park protection says our Executive Director Matt Ruchel and Park Protection Campaigner Phil Ingamells.

As first raised in our September 2018 Park Watch article ‘Great Ocean Road threatened?’, VNPA continues to be alarmed at proposals to change the purpose of national parks along the Great Ocean Road.

Recent announcements of plans to hand over some of our most iconic national parks to a new tourism-focused management authority is an alarming backwards step in nature conservation.

The proposal could see significant changes in the management of national parks such as Port Campbell National Park and Twelve Apostles Marine National Park. Under new legislation, planning and decision-making responsibility in the parks would be given to a new ‘Great Ocean Road Coast and Parks Authority.’

According to the Great Ocean Road Action Plan, released on 12 October and adopted by the Andrews Government, the intention is to create: “A new, dedicated, marine and coastal parks authority with the primary purpose of managing and protecting the land and seascapes of the Great Ocean Road, to manage visitation and to coordinate delivery of associated government investment projects.”

The plan states that: “This will not alter the underlying management tenure and conservation objectives of any national parks areas for which the new authority assumes responsibility”.

This might seem innocuous, but it doesn’t make much sense – it is either a completely unnecessary duplication of responsibility, or the intention is to manage the areas under revised objectives, such as to facilitate tourist infrastructure.

The plan also states: “The new authority will work closely with Parks Victoria who retain responsibility for broad-acre parks management – including for most of the Great Otway National Park – and who will provide parks management services to the new authority for its field operations to ensure environmental conservation objectives are met”.

This plan proposes to change the management prescriptions for Parks Victoria’s parks, then sub-contract Parks Victoria back to manage them. It’s a bit like selling your home from under you, then leasing it back to you to make a set of renovations.

This is a national parks land grab. It seeks to fundamentally change time-honoured protections under the National Parks Act 1975, and effectively fragments Victoria’s national park estate.

Parks and reserves likely to be impacted include at least 15,000 hectares of national parks, coastal parks, marine national parks and sanctuaries along the Great Ocean Road, including:

  • Port Campbell National Park (1,830 hectares)
  • Point Addis Marine National Park (4,600 hectares)
  • Twelve Apostles Marine National Park (7,500 hectares)
  • Arches Marine Sanctuary (45 hectares)
  • Bay of Islands Coastal Park (950 hectares)
  • Unspecified parts of Great Otway National Park, but including the Otway Lighthouse and camping areas.

In all, there is around 110,000 hectares of public land within five kilometres of the coast (land and sea) between Geelong and Warrnambool. The bulk of this, about 87 per cent, is managed by Parks Victoria, of which just under 80 per cent is protected under the National Parks Act (75,000 hectares of terrestrial parks and 12,000 hectares of marine national parks and sanctuaries. The rest consists of range of smaller coastal reserves, bushland and nature conservation reserves protected under the Crown Land (Conservation) Act 1978.

The other public land managers include the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), who control 9,771 hectares, much of it Otway Forest Park, but also a range of coastal reserves such as Bells Beach Coastal Reserve and various river frontages.

A large number of smaller areas (over 70) ranging from coastal reserves to tennis clubs are managed by Committees of Management, either community-based, local council or sometimes other government departments, covering about 4,000 hectares widely dispersed over the area.

The plan purports to aim to improve coordination for the great range of crown land managers in the region and improve land use planning. But if there is no intention to change the high level of protection offered to national parks, then there is no need to transfer management control of parks to a new Act.

Of the almost $1 billion in economic benefit already generated in the region, much can be attributed to the natural beauty and integrity of the landscape and the ecology of the region, of which the vast majority is managed by Parks Victoria. It currently receives only basic funding from the state to maintain, manage and enhance these natural drawcards. That should change, but creating a new and unnecessary layer of management control is not the answer, particularly not one with competing objectives.

The National Parks Act has served us well for generations and protected tourism icons such as the Twelve Apostles and Great Otway National Park. Introducing new overriding legislation will inevitably strip protections and weaken the integrity of our parks estate.

It’s a window-dressed land grab by tourism bodies, and it sets a terrible precedent for environmental management across the state.

VNPA is also deeply disturbed by the community consultation carried out by the Victorian Government’s Great Ocean Road Taskforce. A key document titled the ‘Governance of the Great Ocean Road Region Issues Paper’, which discussed the proposed governance arrangements, reports to have consulted with VNPA and other community and conservation groups. On closer investigation, we were not consulted on these substantive issues – rather a brief conversation was held with a state government consultant about a single visitor centre. We have since requested that VNPA’s name be removed from the document, which the environment department has agreed too.

We are calling on the state government to rule out any changes to the core purpose of national parks, including any changes to the control, legislation, tenure and/or management of national parks or other conservation reserves along the Great Ocean Road, or anywhere else in the state. Any proposed aims can be achieved without these changes.

We must protect our irreplaceable natural heritage for generations to come.

More

Previous coverage: ‘Great Ocean Road threatened‘ in Park Watch September 2018

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