Speeches Environment Community facilities | February 18, 2020

Great Ocean Road and Environs Protection Bill 2019

Victorian Parliament - 18 February, 2020 - 

Ms KEALY (Lowan) (17:37): I rise today to speak on the Great Ocean Road and Environs Protection Bill 2019, which is of course around our spectacular valuable natural landscape features of western Victoria. I know that it has been spoken about in terms of being the greatest asset of the state and the jewel in the crown of Victoria’s natural assets, but being the member for Lowan, we have such fantastic, beautiful natural assets in our region including the Grampians National Park, the Big and Little deserts and the amazing and world-renowned West Wimmera wetlands, which of course were built through the receding coastline from thousands of years ago, and now there are vertical chains of lakes through that part of the state. It is a beautiful part of the state, and I know there has been a lot of focus recently around visiting bushfire areas, but our region also has been hit hard when it comes to tourist visitation.

Particularly through the Grampians region we have seen a decrease of 50 per cent or more of visits to our great part of the state, so I do encourage all Victorians and people right across Australia: it is safe to come and visit our region. We have not been touched by bushfire. We have got so many brilliant things to come and see and do in the Grampians and beyond. Whether it is going to my favourite walk going up Mount Stapylton with 360-degree views around the area—I do not go so often at the moment, but it is absolutely spectacular—amazing waterfalls, beautiful landscapes and features, and amazing hospitality providers as well, there are some great things to do when you come out to the Grampians or to western Victoria. So please visit the Great Ocean Road and take it that little bit further and make your way through to the Western District, through to the Wimmera Southern Mallee and through the Grampians region. You certainly will not be disappointed.

I think all of us have some sort of recollection or memory of what our relationship is with the Great Ocean Road, and I remember quite fondly a grade 6 camp where I went down and we stayed just out of Warrnambool with the then Edenhope Consolidated School. We actually walked across the London Bridge, which is now known as London Arch. It was only a couple of months later, in the January of 1990, that London Bridge fell down, and that was deeply concerning for my mother, who was vicariously worried that I could have been on that bridge at the time even though I was holidaying in Warrnambool on our annual holiday to the coast and certainly safe and sound. But I do vividly remember a couple of tourists who were stuck at the end of London Bridge at the time and had to be rescued.

Of course, we have seen over the years the Twelve Apostles dwindle in number, and perhaps they could be done for false advertising by the ACCC in that the number of apostles certainly is no longer 12. But it is a spectacular coastline. It is filled with beautiful national parks and areas of state parks that must be managed and looked after, and I am very, very proud that before the election in 2018 the Liberal-National opposition at the time made the commitment that if we were elected to form government we would create a new Great Ocean Road authority to manage designated Crown land along the Great Ocean Road. As we know, this was for very good reason. There has been much conflict and concern and a lot of duplication of responsibilities and roles which have led to conflict, and gaps as well, over the past years.

That is why we put forward a policy proposal around removing those duplications and multiple layers throughout the Great Ocean Road region to make sure it came under one authority and was managed through that. I note there are elements of this bill which push toward that; however, I do support the reasoned amendment put forward by the member for Mornington, which addresses a lot of the concerns—and they are significant concerns—around how we manage the Great Ocean Road going ahead. Particularly we need to make sure that whatever authority is put in place is appropriately funded, not that there is no funding available to resource such an authority over an expanse of park that we are not quite sure of the size of. I do not think it has been disclosed by the government at this point in time what the actual map will be of the reserved allocated areas underneath the authority. It is important that we do get that right. We want to make sure that we encompass sufficient land mass that we can appropriately manage that space, but we do not want to make it so it is an enormously expansive area that may cause some other problems down the track in terms of management of other areas that were being managed well and you have some sort of erosion of otherwise good management practices.

That leads to point two of the reasoned amendment, the extent of the region being identified and defined, then:

(3) the relationship between local planning schemes and the overarching powers granted to the minister by the bill is reconciled;

At the moment there is a level of duplication between those roles, and overlap, and it is not always clear what has been delegated and what has not within the legislation that has been put forward by the government today. The reasoned amendment continues:

(4) the proposed constitution of the Board of the Authority is amended after further consultation to provide that there is sufficient representation from residents of any of the following municipal districts:

(a) Surf Coast Shire Council;

(b) Colac Otway Shire Council;

(c) Corangamite Shire Council;

(d) Moyne Shire Council; or

(e) Portland City Council;

In addition to that, another comment that I have is around the importance of inclusion of community in the management of this area of the state. I will go into that a little further. I will just finish point five, which is:

the decision to exclude all board, or committee of management, members of responsible entities (as defined in the bill) from eligibility for appointment as a director of the authority is justified’.

The reason I wanted to specifically speak to the importance of engagement of community is because we have some very similar circumstances in my electorate, particularly around the management of the Grampians National Park but also Mount Arapiles. Both have been subjected to vast closures to rock climbing recently. With the Grampians National Park there has been a lot of debate within social media but also through formal media outlets and through the local communities. It does not have to be the rock climbing community; this is striking everybody. People are very deeply concerned that the minister has made decisions based on false information and misleading information provided to her by Parks Victoria, which has led to these significant closures in the Grampians National Park. This is causing enormous damage not just to tourism in our region, not just to the rock climbing companies, but it is also putting the future of some of our communities at risk in the long term.

We have also seen some issues around the Natimuk community and the management of Mount Arapiles. Recently there was a declaration of Dec Crag, which is a very famous climb in the Mount Arapiles region. It has been closed for cultural reasons. Parks Victoria coordinated a meeting locally, and it was extremely frustrating for locals that they were turned away from that meeting. We should never be turning away people from a community who want to be involved in the discussion. Unfortunately Parks have made it a number one priority to exclude most people from the discussion. It has been very frustrating for rock climbers to be separated from traditional owners and unable to meet and discuss any of the issues to try to work them through. It has been extremely frustrating for the Natimuk community, whose livelihoods are at risk. I feel for Bill Lovel, who runs the pub. He has helped to coordinate a new committee of Natimuk who are really focused on making sure that we can work through some of these restrictions that have been put in place by the Labor minister, informed by Parks Victoria, who are not engaging with the community.

If rock climbing is closed at Mount Arapiles, it will have enormous flow-on effects to the community of Natimuk. We have doctors who live there. We have many professionals. They have kids at the school. They contribute to the very rich artistic community that we see in Natimuk. They are also filling houses in that region. To have positive population growth and to make sure we are selling our houses at a reasonable price is something we should be supporting in our regional areas.

So out of all of this I know that there will be a change and a shift in the Great Ocean Road management committee to move perhaps some of those responsibilities away from Parks, but at the end of the day we need to make sure we get this right. We can never have too much responsibility sitting with the minister. We can never have too much responsibility, or all responsibility, sitting with traditional owners. We never ever can have all responsibility just sitting with the community or have all that responsibility with rock climbing groups and local tourism organisations. We must all work together. We must respect one another and respect the land that we operate on. If we do work together, we will have fantastic outcomes, not just to preserve and enjoy our national parks but also of course to make sure we preserve them for other people to enjoy well into the future.

Created with NationBuilder