PARK WATCH Article March 2024 |

The Government is taking far too long to create promised new national parks, says Matt Ruchel, Executive Director

The Allan Government argues it takes time to legislate parks. But if we consider the parks created in the last 25 years, the current government is dramatically lagging.

It has been an extraordinary 32 months since the State Government accepted the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council (VEAC)  recommendations for the central west national parks. This is between two to three times longer than it took for the Box-Ironbark, Red Gum and Great Otway national parks to progress from government responses to final reports to creation.

To create national parks and conservation areas in Victoria, first you need to write legislation. This takes time, there’s a lot of noise and process, including multiple advisory committees and reports.

But even by accounting for all manner of bureaucracy and paper shuffling, the Andrews/Allan Government is appallingly slow in legislating new national parks.

Another three years?

VEAC commenced its investigation in March 2017, which was delayed due to the 2018 state election. The final report was released on 21 June 2019, but it wasn’t until two years later (24 June 2021) the Andrews Government responded – in breach of the statutory timelines.

Now we hear it could take another three years to legislate the parks! On 20 November 2023, the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee heard that:

…on-ground surveying and mapping to support the preparation of park plans commenced in the second quarter of 2023 and is anticipated to continue for the next three years.

Some timelines in the government response to the central west parks were linked to the 2023 end of native forest logging, but that was brought forward to 2024, removing any legitimate excuse or blockage from logging.

This is a terrible record of accomplishment, worse if you consider the added delay in responding to the VEAC report, and even more disastrous if it does end up taking another three years. This would be the slowest national parks creation in Victorian history.

The longer it takes to legislate, the greater the chance to undermine the project. And, as we have seen with the Wombat Forest, delays provide further opportunities for damage and poor management.

Ignoring our commitments

In the global context, more than 115 countries, including Australia, have joined the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People to champion and ensure the successful implementation of the global target to protect or conserve at least 30 percent of the world’s land and ocean areas by 2030.

In December 2022, all parties to the Convention on Biodiversity agreed to the inclusion of the 30×30 target in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. On 9 June 2023, all Australian environment ministers agreed to:

  • Take shared action to address the biodiversity crisis with ambitious national targets, in line with the Global Biodiversity Framework, by mid 2024.
  • By 2024, develop a roadmap to protect and conserve 30 per cent of Australia’s land.
  • Strengthen Australia’s marine protection.

About 18 per cent of Victoria is currently safeguarded in national parks or conservation reserves. The Labor Government has been pursuing new parks at a snail’s pace.

To properly care for our remaining forests and woodlands, our parks must be created as soon as possible. As we’ve seen repeatedly since the initial 2021 commitment by the Labor Government, wildlife and habitats are not protected until the parks promised are legislated.