The Victorian Environmental Assessment Council (VEAC) has produced its final report on the Statewide Assessment of Public Land.

VEAC was asked to look at all current land categories in Victoria, and recommend ways to consolidate and simplify them without altering current levels of protection. It was also asked to “assess the current reservation status of public land” and make an “inventory of the types of values on public land”.

It found that, despite the vast array of land classifications in Victoria, our system was not much more complicated than those in other countries. However there was poor alignment of reservation types with legislation, and considerable public confusion over some land categories.

VEAC has recommended the following category consolidation:

  • National parks, state parks and wilderness parks should all be classed as ‘national parks’ (wilderness parks will effectively become a wilderness zone in a national park). This ends one of the most common misunderstandings in land classification: national parks and state parks have always had the same high level of protection under the National Parks Act, yet people often confuse state parks with unprotected state forest.
  • ‘Conservation park’ will include a range of parks in schedule 3 of the National Parks Act, such as coastal parks.
  • ‘National heritage park’, currently only applicable to a park in the Castlemaine gold diggings area, will also include areas reserved to protect Aboriginal heritage (though Indigenous heritage and Traditional Owner rights are also increasingly established across many existing parks and reserves in Victoria).
  • ‘Regional parks’ will now include metropolitan and forest parks.
  • Lesser park categories include ‘nature reserve’, ‘coastal reserve’, ‘wildlife and game reserve’ among many others.
  • Marine park categories are largely unchanged.

The final system is still complicated, but it does end some long-standing confusion. VEAC has asked for the National Parks Act to be revised and expanded as a National Parks and Conservation Reserves Act within five years to accommodate the new categories. There are dangers in opening up the National Parks Act for revision, as there are always those looking to wind back conservation protection. The Act has served us very well since 1975; perhaps well drafted amendments could do the trick rather than a major overhaul.

In its assessment of the current reservation status of public land, VEAC identified a need for several important future assessments, including:

  • The south west region, Dundas Tablelands and Victorian volcanic plain area
  • The Strzelecki Ranges and Gippsland plains
  • Central Victorian uplands (this VEAC investigation is now in progress)
  • Victoria’s marine environment (when current habitat mapping is completed).

VEAC also made a number of recommendations for inventories of public land to be made or updated, including waterway frontages, coastal reserves, and road and rail reserves.

The full report can be found at www.veac.vic.gov.au