Ignoring the public
In early September the Victorian Government’s Forest Industry Taskforce released its ‘statement of intent’, which made it clear this group was actively working towards the creation of new National Parks in the Central Highlands.
Prior to the 2014 election, Labor made a commitment that this Taskforce would consist of ‘relevant stakeholders’; when the Taskforce was formed in late 2015 the most relevant stakeholders — the public who use the land — were not included. Interestingly the Taskforce also has no representation from foresters or anyone with a practical understanding of the realities of administering public land.
In response to concerns about the lack of consultation, recreational land users were assured both that they would have ‘direct access’ for close and regular consultation with the Taskforce and that the Taskforce would be solely focused on the timber industry and would not be considering the creation of any new National Parks. No such consultation has occurred with recreational users and the statement of intent clearly shows that ‘establishing new parks and reserves’ has been front and centre in the Taskforce’s discussions.
The terms of reference set out that the Taskforce would complete its work with the delivery of recommendations (now reframed as a ‘Statement of Intent’) by the end of June 2016; it is now clear that the Taskforce will continue indefinitely.
Central to the reluctant acceptance by recreational users of the already compromised Taskforce process was the understanding that the chair would be independent and impartial. The appointment of Professor Don Henry to that position raises serious concerns. For more than a decade (until very recently) Professor Henry was the CEO of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF). The ACF is a vocal supporter of the creation of a new national park in the Victorian Central Highlands and has a member on the Taskforce. The ACF actually shares an office building with other protagonists for new parks, including the leader of the Victorian Greens Party and even other members of the Forest Industry Taskforce such as the Victorian National Parks Association.