PARK WATCH December 2019 |

A proposed park takeover along the great ocean road rolls on … inexplicably, writes Phil Ingamells.

The Great Otway National Park was created by the ALP Bracks government in 2004, but it’s now in danger of being cut in two by the Andrews Government.

Concerns over inadequately planned tourism traffic along the Great Ocean Road, and a subsequent loss of potential local economic benefits, have led to calls for a new ‘Great Ocean Road Authority’ to fix the situation. Currently there are multiple managers along the famous stretch of road: local councils and various committees of management handle some 70 odd parcels of public land, including camp grounds, parking areas, and some embarrassingly inadequate toilet blocks.

But somewhere along the way, the idea to simplify and coordinate the multiple management of the road’s problematic facilities took a great territorial leap. It sucked up management of the national parks along this coastline as well, even though no problems have been identified with the parks (other than the usual issue of inadequate government funding).

There are many claims being made about why we need a new Great Ocean Road Authority, but there is very little clarity in regard to its ambition to control national parks. At best it can be described as an unnecessary duplication of responsibilities for the parks along the road – at worst it’s a land grab by tourism interests.

Those 70 odd parcels of public land, problematically managed by a multitude of players, total just 4,000 hectares of public land along the Great Ocean Road. The far bigger area of national parks is managed by a single government body, Parks Victoria. Rather than being a problem, the parks are what actually brings people to the area. But for reasons undeclared, there is a fixation on grabbing control of large parts of them.

To date we have been told that the proposed authority will, at least, take control of all Parks Victoria managed land seawards of the Great Ocean Road, from Point Impossible near Anglesea to the Bay of Islands Coastal Park just past Port Campbell (as well as areas of the ocean itself: Point Addis and Twelve Apostles Marine National Parks and The Arches Marine Sanctuary). This equates to about 14,000 hectares of Parks Victoria managed land, the largest chunk being 11,000 hectares of Great Otway National Park, plus the 12,000 hectares of marine parks. It will grab almost all of Port Campbell National Park. Roughly 26,000 hectares of national park land and sea is set to be handed over to the new authority.

There has been no fair dinkum public discussion of the degree of oversight that the proposed authority would have over management of the six terrestrial and marine parks involved, and the ongoing funding proposal for the authority is precarious at best.

These are some of the issues:

There has been virtually no public discussion of the funding model for the authority, however it aims to be self-funded through camping fees, a possible toll on the road, and potential revenue from leases and licences on public land.

Remarkably, there has been no cost-benefit analysis performed for this proposal, a situation that has proven politically scandalous in the history of large government projects such as freeways, but inexplicably not an issue in this case.

There is no demonstrated benefit in duplicating management responsibilities for the parks already under Victoria’s National Parks Act 1975, especially in regard to the specific obligations for managing native species and ecosystems, and the increasing threats they face. That task is difficult, and is unlikely to be improved by management oversight from a precariously funded new government authority, whose prime objective is tourism management. This could create the context for a ‘lawyer’s picnic’ if conflicts arise.

We note that the Environment Minister’s ‘Obligations’ for Parks Victoria, under the new Parks Victoria Act 2018, means PV must work effectively with “Traditional Owners, other land managers and the broader community, providing high quality opportunities for visitors to enjoy the parks and reserves and contributing to the state’s visitor economy”. We believe that obligation gives ample assurance that Parks Victoria would work well with a Great Ocean Road Authority, and that there is no need for that authority to have management oversight of Parks Victoria. A partnership, rather than a take-over, is far more sensible.

The authority’s responsibilities are many and onerous, and will require a budget of many tens of millions of dollars. And it is clear that the management priority for the authority is tourism. There is real concern that in exercising its considerable tasks it will come to depend on revenue from tourism developments in those areas of our national parks under its control.

Update: DELWP is now running a third round of public consultation on the Engage Victoria website, with submissions due by 25 December: go to www.engage.vic.gov.au/great-ocean-road

This time it’s largely around the function and membership of local community advisory committees. However, DELWP has never invited genuine public discussion of the authority’s national park management grab. Apparently that’s seen as a fait accompli.

 


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