Grasslands of Victoria’s Volcanic Plains are our rarest habitat type in our state. Once covering almost a third of Victoria, now less than 2-5% remains. 

A decade ago, in a rush to clear the way to ‘streamline’ approvals for property development and Melbourne’s growth, the state and federal governments stitched up a deal (called the Melbourne Strategic Assessment) to clear about 6,000 hectares of grasslands within the ‘urban growth boundary’.

In exchange for this clearing, developers were to pay a levy, which was then to be used to purchase large grassland reserves outside the urban growth boundary – an ‘offset’. These reserves were supposed to be largely delivered by 2020 – but these promises have been broken. To date:

  • only 10% of designated land has been acquired for the Western Grassland Reserve.
  • no land has been acquired for the Grassy Eucalypt Woodland Reserve.

There is also significant evidence that the quality of the grasslands being protected in the reserves is not of the same quality as the grasslands being cleared. Poor oversight and poor monitoring are among a raft of other issues.

Please send a message to the Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio calling for an urgent examination of how to prioritise acquisition, protection and management of our critically endangered grasslands.

You can also send a message to the Federal Minister of the Environment Sussan Ley requesting the Australian Government enforce the commitment to protect Victoria’s grasslands under our national environment laws.


Dear Minister D’Ambrosio,

I am deeply alarmed and angered at the fate of our most endangered ecosystems – our grasslands.

Grasslands of Victoria’s Volcanic Plains are now one of our most endangered habitat types in Victoria. Once covering almost a third of the state, now less than 2–5% remains.

A decade ago, the Victorian government signed off on the Melbourne Strategic Assessment.

Ten years later, the Victorian Government has failed to deliver its commitment to protect these critically endangered grasslands and associated habitat types. A Victorian Auditor-General Report has shown that key promises to create large new grassland reserves, originally to be completed by 2020, have been broken. To date:

  • only 10% of designated land has been acquired for the Western Grassland Reserve.
  • no land has been acquired for the Grassy Eucalypt Woodland Reserve.

There is also significant evidence that the quality of the grasslands being protected in the reserves is not of the same quality as the grasslands being cleared for development. Poor oversight and poor monitoring are among a raft of other issues.

These concerns have unfortunately been vindicated with the recent Victorian Auditor General’s Report Protecting critically endangered grasslands, which focused on the implementation of the Melbourne Strategic Assessment program. I support the VAGO recommendations.

Now the Victorian Government faces paying potentially millions in extra compensation to landowners instead of on fixing the grasslands.

I acknowledge the passing of the Melbourne Strategic Assessment (Environment Mitigation Levy) Act 2019, in early February 2020. But revenue alone will not resolve the significant flaws and failings of this program. As yet there is no real change in the pace of delivery of protection, or extent and effectiveness of management, of grasslands or grassy woodlands. Melbourne’s population and housing demand are also likely to slow, further reducing revenue.

There have been long-running concerns by community members and ecologists around the ‘like for like’  quality of vegetation identified for offsetting from within the Urban Growth Boundary with that in the reserves. As reported by the Auditor General, DELWP has only been able to undertake ‘over the fence’ survey work of parts of the proposed Western Grassland Reserve.

These concerns have been ignored or dismissed, in the race to ‘cut green tape’ and push ahead to make Melbourne boom. The foundation of the entire Melbourne Strategic Assessment was a rushed process. Even 10 years on, there has never been any serious consideration of alternative or mixes of models for protecting grasslands, such as in smaller high-value conservation areas rather than just the larger reserves. 

Only 10% of the grasslands within the Urban Growth Boundary have been cleared – there is still time to save some of the high-quality areas.

I call on you to, as a first step, create a more detailed and stronger implementation plan, with clear timelines and commitments, including the upfront acquisition of high-value conservation areas both within and outside the Urban Growth Boundary now – before the ecological condition is completely diminished and threatened plant and animal species lost beyond restoration, either due to inappropriate development, or neglect.

I want to see a commitment, from you, that the ecological outcomes for Victoria’s grasslands are consistent with, or better than, the original promises made in the Melbourne Strategic Assessment.

Our grassland ecosystems and the many endangered species that call them home are in need of real leadership to secure their protection in the face of the ongoing extinction crisis. There is still an opportunity to deliver positive ecological outcomes before the options – and the grasslands themselves – disappear.

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