PARK WATCH September 2018 |

The tourism industry eyes off the Great Ocean Road, as the Coalition announces a new authority to manage crown land, reports Matt Ruchel.

The Great Ocean Road is more than a road; it delivers spectacular access to some iconic land and sea scapes, including the Twelve Apostles, but also the Great Otway National Park with its lush forests and beautiful beaches. It features some of our most important national parks and protected areas.

In 2016-2017, direct tourism along the Great Ocean Road was worth $495 million (up 18.7 per cent compared to 2015-16), and indirect tourism was worth an extra $498 million to the Great Ocean Road economy.

The tourism industry argues that the ‘jewel in the crown’ of our natural assets, the Great Ocean Road, is now operating at the edge of capacity. (www.tourismisvictoriasbusiness. com.au)

The tourism lobby is calling for the state government to invest $150 million in stage two of the Shipwreck Coast Master Plan. They are also calling for $3 million for further planning of four iconic Victorian walks, including the Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing and a Croajingolong Coastal Wilderness Walk.

Great care needs to be taken to ensure that the integrity of the natural areas is protected and enhanced.

Port Campbell National Park, the home of the Twelve Apostles, is for most of its extent a very narrow coastal strip of land between 150 metres and 700 metres wide. That means its coastal heathlands (home to rare and threatened species like the rufous bristlebird and metallic sun orchid) are especially vulnerable to pest plant and animal invasions, as well as sudden coastal erosion. Those impacts are predicted to increase under climate change, not to mention visitors and tourism infrastructure. The park is largely backed by cleared private land.

According to the tourism industry, the investment will reposition the Shipwreck Coast as a world-class tourism destination. To jobs-and0growth-obsessed political parties in the lead up to a likely close state election, the Great Ocean Road ‘golden goose’ could draw a lot of attention – indeed it already is.

In early August, the Coalition fired the first shot, announcing that it would create a new Great Ocean Road Authority “to manage designated Crown Land along the Great Ocean Road”.

Their media release of 3 August 2018 states: “This new authority will replace existing organisations including local government, Parks Victoria, Department of Land, Water and Planning and the Great Ocean Road Coast Committee (GORCC) that currently manage Crown Land along the coast.”

“The Great Ocean Road is an iconic Victorian landmark and is home to some of the state’s most significant environmental assets including the 12 Apostles, Bells Beach, and the Otways.” (www.vic.liberal.org.au/ News/2018-08-03/liberal-nationalsto-create-new-authority-to-protectthe-great-ocean-road)

While VNPA supports sensitive moves to increase tourism opportunities along the Great Ocean Road, we assert strongly that it must not happen in a way that compromises the integrity of the important national parks and other areas of high conservation value in the process.

There is around 110,000 hectares of public land within five kilometres of the coast (both 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 is a range of smaller coastal, bushland and nature conservation reserves protected under the Crown Land (Reserves) Act.

The other public land managers include the Department of Environment Land, Water and Planning, 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.

There are a large number of smaller areas (over 70) ranging from coastal reserves to tennis clubs managed by Committees of Management, either communitybased, local council, or even other government departments, totalling about 4,000 hectares dispersed over the planning area.

VNPA would be deeply concerned, and opposed to, any change of tenure or management responsibility for ‘designated crown land’ in high conservation areas. This would include reserves under the National Parks Act, Crown Land (Reserves) Act, and other coastal reserves. After all, it is the natural beauty and integrity of the landscape and its ecology which makes the Great Ocean Road such as special place popular with visitors and tourists. Parks are the best way to protect and manage this.

We have met with and written to the Coalition seeking clarification, including a clear statement that the proposal:

  • rules out changing management and control by Parks Victoria of any national parks and other high conservation value crown land under their care.
  • rules out allowing large scale private development or long-term development leases in national parks and high conservation value crown land.

We have also written to the Andrews Government to seek understanding of their position. The Coalition policy was welcomed by some local tourism groups, but little has been said publicly by the Labor Government.

Land protected under the National Parks Act is not just done on a whim, but usually after an extensive consultation process, and requires legislation to pass through both houses of parliament. It also helps fulfil various national and international commitments. The delisting of a national park is rarely if ever done, except for minor boundary changes. A change to national park tenure and management would be akin to delisting, which would cause widespread community concern and take some years to resolve. There is ample opportunity for encouraging a suitable range of major and minor tourism developments on private land. While we acknowledge there may be a role for better coordination and planning along the Great Ocean Road, it is important that it is managed by Parks Victoria, an appropriately qualified and constituted management agency dedicated to the difficult job of maintaining and improving the health and integrity of our remaining natural areas.

Of the almost $1 billion in economic benefit generated in the region, much can be attributed to its natural values – the vast majority currently managed by Parks Victoria. The maintenance and enhancement of a healthy natural landscape – the goose that lays the golden tourism egg – is inadequately funded. Surely, some of the revenue generated from these natural drawcards should be invested back into park management. Instead of duplicating Parks Victoria, presumably at considerable expense, it would be better to fund the existing park management body properly. A healthy, well looked-after goose will continue to lay golden eggs for many decades to come, as well as ensuring our great natural heritage is protected.

 


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