PARK WATCH December 2018 |

VNPA Executive Director Matt Ruchel reviews environmental policy in the state election. 

Congratulations to the re-elected Andrews Government, with their massively improved majority in the lower house. While Labor made significant announcements on climate and renewable energy in the lead up to the state election, nature conservation commitments were few and narrowly focused.

The Greens released the most well-rounded package of policies, including on increasing parks funding; protecting nature; creating the Great Forest National Park; invasive species control; and river, marine and coastal protection, including creating new marine national parks.

Unfortunately, Labor chose to attack, quite successfully, the Greens party rather than competing on policy.

The Coalition released nothing resembling a comprehensive environmental policy, even though the opposition leader promised publicly to release a “comprehensive environmental statement before the election” (which would be the first in over a decade). There were a few small announcements, but nothing major materialised. Instead the Coalition rejected creating the Great Forest National Park, and, according to the media, made commitments to wind back protection for the Leadbeater’s possum.

There was a major effort by conservation groups, including VNPA, to highlight the impacts of native forest logging with an intensive letterboxing effort in sandbelt and key inner-city marginal seats.

Just days before voters headed to the polls, an ABC investigation found that thousands of hectares of state forest appear to have been illegally logged or earmarked for logging – amounting to what some say is the mass “theft” by the state government-owned, for-profit logging company VicForests.

Latest statewide polling (see here), commissioned by VNPA, shows that support for establishing new national parks is higher than ever. The majority of Victorians support parks and nature protection, with more than 70 per cent of people supporting both the comprehensive parks network, new national parks across the state, improved funding for parks, and threatened species management.

Over 80 per cent of people supported new marine national parks, yet Victoria hasn’t had a new marine park since 2002. Over 45 per cent of Victorians agreed that they were more likely to vote for a political party which has a comprehensive nature conservation and national park policy.

At the time of writing, the upper house results were still unclear, but there is unlikely to be a clear majority for Labor, with possibly only one Greens MP, and a raft of micro parties holding sway.

Andrews Government commitments on nature

There was no comprehensive nature policy released by Labor, though there were some targeted announcements on camping infrastructure and regional metropolitan parks.

Many of the issues picked up in its 2014 policy – including riparian programs, threatened species reform, better biodiversity management – were neglected this time around. The big issues of forest protection and the creation of the Great Forest National Park were also ignored.

Perhaps a strengthened Labor government will reverse the trend from its first term, improve its record on parks creation, and fill some of the gaps in the reserve system. New parks in central west Victoria would be a good place to start (read more here).

VNPA welcomed the Labor announcement to establish 6,500 hectares of new suburban parks, including the proposed 2,778-hectare park in the Upper Merri Creek, near Craigieburn, and the 1,000-hectare Jackson Creek Park near Sunbury, as well as additions to the urban park network along Kororoit Creek and Werribee River. While the announcement was light on detail and specific locations, many of the areas have significant ecological features, including critically endangered grasslands and woodlands, which should, where feasible, be included in the parks network.

VNPA also welcomed Labor’s commitment to a significant boost in investment to rebuild campgrounds in our parks system, funding for conservation volunteers, a new coastal park, and reduction of camping fees.

Some of the key features of package include:

  • Invest $105.6 million on campgrounds (30 existing campgrounds will be upgraded and 30 will be built from scratch) plus new walking tracks, canoeing facilities etc;
  • Removing camping fees at 500 basic sites over 70 campgrounds in 19 parks across regional Victoria;
  • $4.3 million for building and upgrading paths in parks across the state;
  • Halving all remaining camping fees in state and national parks;
  • A new coastal park on the Bass Coast, linking existing parks and reserves dotted along the popular 40 kilometres of coastline from San Remo to Inverloch, including a $10 million land purchase and $9.6 million to build new campgrounds;
  • $4.5 million will go towards expanding conservation and volunteering programs.
  • $10.5 million to improve 4×4 drive tracks and rejuvenate Victoria’s seven iconic 4×4 drive adventures.

While the investment package for facilities is welcome, still of concern is the lack of funding that park managers desperately need for core frontline capacity to deal with the many pressures placed on parks, particularly pest plants and animals.

There are still significant gaps in our reserve system, and we need commitments for new parks to protect our forests, woodlands, grasslands and marine areas in many parts of the state.

Alarmingly, both Labor and the Coalition supported the takeover of parks along the Great Ocean Road by a new tourism focused body, which is in our view a significant and alarming step backward. Read more here.

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