PARK WATCH Article December 2021 |
What’s driving the Great Ocean Road makeover? Campaigner Phil Ingamells is a bit lost for words.
In October this year, the Victorian Parliament passed a particularly puzzling piece of legislation. Puzzling because despite its obvious failings, and despite the perilous precedent it sets, we could make little dint in its passing.
The Great Ocean Road and Environs Protection Bill 2021 was the second round of legislation needed to establish a new Great Ocean Road Coast and Parks Authority. This new agency will set out to manage and govern the future of Victoria’s great playground for tourists and locals – the stretch of already well-protected coastline between Torquay and Port Campbell.
There are some fair-enough justifications for a co-ordinating authority for the road:
- Traffic is seriously congested in peak times.
- The many small reserves and campgrounds along the road could do with a bit of consistent and adequate management that wasn’t easily achieved under a large range of separate management committees.
- And the toilets on private land over the road from the Twelve Apostles were famously inadequate (though that could easily have been fixed without resorting to legislation!)
But do we need this new tourism-focused authority to take over management of the national parks, marine parks and other large conservation reserves that have been protecting Victoria’s western coastline so well?
There are very good reasons why the new authority should have taken a different shape.
- Giving this new agency authority over Parks Victoria’s management of its parks – essentially a ‘purchaser/provider’ system of contracting out park management, takes us back to the Kennett era. It’s a strange model for a Labor Government that ended that arrangement for Parks Victoria as recently as 2018.
- Though the important conservation protections in the National Parks Act 1975 will still apply, it will be up to this new tourism-focused authority to interpret those imperatives. That sets a very dangerous precedent for park management across Victoria.
- The new authority will not be funded by the government. It will be funded by hoovering up fees and charges from the carparks and campgrounds along the road, and may even charge a toll on the road itself. Inevitably it will be looking for new ways to raise revenue, and that must drive consideration of developments in national parks.
- Despite this ‘ground-breaking’ notion of a government management agency that doesn’t need any government funding, there has been no business case prepared. It is extraordinary, and surely irresponsible, that our representatives in parliament should vote in a new government department when no-one knows how it will be funded – when there has been no scrutiny at all of the shaky funding proposal.
There could have been a very workable Great Ocean Road Authority. One that managed the small parcels of public land, and the road itself, and had a working agreement with Parks Victoria to plan appropriate tourism access along the road.
And Parks Victoria should be given secure and adequate funding to manage Great Otway National Park, Port Campbell National Park, Point Addis Marine National Park, Twelve Apostles Marine National Park, The Arches Marine Sanctuary and Bay of Islands Coastal Park.
These important nature conservation areas should always be managed by a skilled, experienced and dedicated park management agency.
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