PARK WATCH December 2020 |
While COVID-19 and bushfires have undoubtedly been major distractions for government, the Andrews Government was already tracking poorly on protected area policy, writes Executive Director Matt Ruchel.
A detailed analysis that we carried out in November 2017 found Premier Daniel Andrews record on national park and conservation area creation to be the lowest in decades. Three years on, it hasn’t changed that much.
While there is legislation in the upper house to create small areas of new parks in East Gippsland and coastal parks along the Bass Coast, there have been no large formal additions to our park estate for almost a decade.
Other states are doing far better. A newly-elected McGowan ALP Government in Western Australia in 2019 announced that it would create five million hectares of new national parks across their state. Just last month they committed $25.6 million for the creation and management of new parks. $41.3 million will also be invested in new and upgraded roads, trails and facilities for some national parks, under the WA Recovery Plan for COVID-19. (More here)
In Queensland, the very recently re-elected Pałaszczuk ALP Government went to the polls with a ten-year plan for supporting the growth, better management and sustainability of the state’s public protected areas, including expanding national parks and private protected areas. Research by The University of Queensland showed that in 2018, expenditure generated by visitors to Queensland’s national parks was estimated between $419 million and $2.64 billion, which in turn supported between 1,933 and 11,877 direct jobs and up to 17,241 total jobs for Queensland. (More here)
NSW is also getting in on the act. While of different political flavour, NSW Liberal Environment Minister Matt Kean formally gazetted 202,000 hectares of national parks on 30 October 2020, the largest single boost to the estate since 2005. He now plans to double that target with a further 200,000-hectare expansion within two years. (More here)
So while other states are leading the charge on new protected areas for their states, what about us? The Victorian Andrews Government has announced an advertising campaign to holiday at home. We know after the first COVID-19 lockdown that many Victorian parks were flooded with people, especially around Melbourne. This not only undermines the experience of getting out into nature, but also creates real environmental and visitor management problems from the overcrowding.
In contrast with Sydney, there is a significant shortage of national parks and reserves within a short drive (90–120 minutes) of metropolitan Melbourne. The protected area network surrounding Sydney consists of eight national parks and reserves. Collectively, they cover one million hectares of land. This far exceeds the formal national and state park network surrounding Melbourne, which is less than 185,000 hectares (a large chunk of which is in closed water catchments in the Yarra Ranges National Park).
Creating new parks in the central west – in the Wombat Forest, less than 90 minutes from Melbourne; the Mount Cole and Pyrenees Ranges forests, which are a relatively easy drive west of Ballarat; and Wellsford Forest right near Bendigo – would all help spread visitor congestion, while also securing the future of these important and special natural places and hundreds of threatened species which live in them.
It all makes a lot of sense in COVID-normal world, and could be a key plank of our social recovery. For Parks Sake – get on with it!
Read next article ‘For Parks Sake!‘
After experiencing a global pandemic that required most Victorians to restrict our movement for the greater good, nature-lovers need no reminder of the restorative powers of the bush.
But our elected representatives do. Let Premier Daniel Andrews and Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio know that after the year that was, it is time to finally accept the recommendations and make these parks a reality.
There was already an abundance of reasons to create the new central west national parks. Now there’s no excuse not to.
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