Victoria’s national park system is extraordinarily diverse. On land it includes fragile alpine heathlands, box-ironbark forests rich in wildlife, threatened woodland ecosystems and rare remnant grasslands.
Along our coasts marine national parks and sanctuaries are brimming with ocean life, much of it found nowhere else on Earth.
Parks and wild places are our only remaining source of genetic diversity of native plants and animals, and provide billions of dollars in environmental services to the community and economy every year. They are also critical to threatened wildlife and offer an escape from busy lives.
Although these parks are the foundation of protecting our natural heritage, they are under constant threat and in need of our protection.
Many crucial management programs don’t exist at all, and others have had their funding seriously cut. Controlling weeds and feral animals, managing fire, maintaining walking tracks and picnic grounds are all key housekeeping tasks that need to be funded properly if we’re to avoid running Victoria’s park system into the ground.
Then there are the additional insidious threats brought about by climate change.
And while Parks Victoria has some remarkably skilled and dedicated staff, it doesn’t have the breadth of expertise it needs across the state for the significant challenges it faces.
Victoria’s beautiful national parks and other nature conservation reserves don’t get the management and resources they deserve. They need a serious boost in funding – starting now.
Fortunately, we have a government that has come to power promising it is ‘committed to the creation of a world class system of national parks for all Victorians to enjoy, and will invest in those parks’.
While the 2016 state budget handed down by the Andrews Government offered some relief, it fell well short of what our magnificent parks system needs to survive and flourish. The $20 million funding boost allocated over four years to revitalise parks infrastructure is a step in the right direction, but it is not the rescue called for. Parks Victoria still needs a significant increase in core operational funding.
Funding has greatly decreased over the past five years. In the year 2011-12, the government allocated $122 million to manage Victoria’s park system, but by 2014-15 that had fallen to below $77 million.
Importantly, that huge decrease in funding was ripped from an already low base. The parks service has been severely damaged by savage staff cuts over many years.
A couple of hundred years of land clearing and exploitation, accompanied by an ever-increasing cavalcade of invasive plants and animals, have put the condition of many of Victoria’s surviving natural areas in a slow downward spiral. And now we have the added stress of climate change and its many insidious impacts.
We have asked the Victorian Government, as a start, to return funding for park management to its 2011-12 level in the next budget, and then to continue to build the agency’s resource and skill base in the years ahead.
It’s more than a fair ask, given that an independent survey we commissioned showed that 96% of Victorians recognise the importance of national parks for conserving nature and protecting wildlife, and 81% support increased funding for parks.
Research by Victoria’s environment department has put the annual economic benefit of the park estate to Victorians at around $1.5 billion!
Parks more than pay their way. It’s time we gave them the respect and care that is due to them.