The Mirror News

Private development suggested for Victoria’s national parks

THE Hands Off Our Parks (HOOP) and Hands Off the Prom campaigns of the late 1990s could be resurrected if the State Government takes up a recommendation by the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission in its draft report, ‘Unlocking Victorian Tourism,’ to open up national parks for private tourism facilities.

The Victorian National Parks Association has reacted with horror to the suggestion.

A spokesperson for the VNPA, Matt Ruchel, said it was a simplistic solution and would be a dangerous new direction for park management.

“National Parks are becoming a victim of their own success. They are popular and much loved, but now private companies want a piece of the action in a public asset designed to protect nature for the future,” he said.

“There is a danger of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. People visit national parks for an experience they can’t get elsewhere – they want the opportunity to experience the natural world. There is ample opportunity for tourism infrastructure adjacent to parks, where financially viable developments can take place without the more onerous conditions necessarily imposed on infrastructure inside parks.”

He said the VCEC recommendations contradict Victoria’s current and widely respected Nature Based Tourism Strategy, which states that ‘private investment into any new large scale facility, particularly accommodation other than adaptive re-use of existing infrastructure, should be sited outside the park’.

“There is a lot of tourism potential on private land adjacent to our national parks which allows for certainty of investment, particularly in and around regional towns,” said Mr Ruchel.

“The VCEC draft report fails to appreciate the public land tenure system and its landscape context. Over 60 per cent of Victorian land is privately owned and 80-90 per cent of that has already been cleared. National parks and conservation reserves make up only approx about 18 per cent of the land in Victoria, and are a refuge for plants and animals in a state with relatively little intact native habitat left.

“The State Government must rule out new major infrastructure in national parks and re-commit to the principles outlined in Victoria’s existing Nature Based Tourism Strategy.”

BARRIERS TO TOURISM DEVELOPMENT

The full draft report, ‘Unlocking Victorian Tourism,’ emerging from the Commission’s inquiry into the Victorian tourism industry can be viewed on the VCEC website, but broadly speaking the report identifies a range of barriers to the development of tourism within Victoria’s land-use planning, public land and other areas of regulation.

It is timely, says the VCEC, to have this “review of potential regulatory and other barriers to the development of Victoria’s tourism industry” given the challenges and opportunities facing the industry.

Among the report’s key messages are:

International competition is becoming more intense and a number of international markets, particularly China, are growing.

To capitalise on these changes the industry will need private entrepreneurs that are adaptable and willing to take the risks involved in developing new tourism products and services.

Capturing these opportunities will be most challenging in regional Victoria because available evidence indicates the traditional market of the regions – domestic tourists – is declining and only a small number of tourists from the growing markets travel outside of Melbourne.

The ability of regional businesses to respond is being constrained by the way public and private lands are managed and regulated. These constraints are based on a presumption that tourism development necessarily undermines environmental, heritage and other outcomes:

The report recommends the Government introduce a more flexible approach to tourism-related investment in regional and green wedge areas, singling out the Mornington Peninsula, the Great Ocean Road and the Yarra Valley as having particular potential.

It claims that features of the regulation and management of public land, especially national parks, impede private investment in tourism, and says that national parks are a popular destination for interstate and international visitors but a lack of quality accommodation on or near these parks diminishes their value to the community.

The Commission recommends the Government remove the prohibition on private development of tourist facilities in national parks where they provide a net benefit and complement environmental, heritage and other values.

SUBMISSIONS

People wishing to comment on the draft report are asked to send their submissions by April 12, 2011, by mail to Victoria’s Tourism Industry Inquiry, Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission, GPO Box 4379, Melbourne VIC 3001, fax to (03) 9092 5845 or by email to tourism@vcec.vic.gov.au

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