Lockout Debate – Please Contact Legislative Council Members

Parks Victoria: Friend or Foe? Noble protectors of our public parks or lazy land managers, locking people out rather than working on solutions? As climbers, should we cosy up to PV in the hope of a few crumbs of comfort in the future or do we kick up an almighty fuss about the vilification of climbers and the biggest climbing lockout in history? This debate has been going on for a while and the climbing community has been somewhat divided.

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Minister Lily D’Ambrosio has been misinformed

On 6th June, Minister D’Ambrosio responded to the parliamentary question lodged in May by David Limbrick MP and the response certainly has many of our members, the climbing community and everyone at ACAV headquarters exceptionally concerned.

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Either the Minister has been misinformed by her staff and Parks Victoria, or she is deliberately obfuscating.

Mr Limbrick’s original request was via a parliamentary question which aimed to get to the bottom of the reasons for the bans which were initiated by Parks Victoria in February 2019. Mr Limbrick asked the question, directly to the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change during Parliament. ACAV worked with Mr Limbrick to structure a question which aimed to finally bring some clarity to the bans, as reasons for the bans appeared to be incorrect. Parks Victoria had quoted that climbers specifically were causing damage to cultural art and the environment and this was the basis for implementing the largest bans to climbing in the world. There is no question that any interaction with nature will have some impact. However, ACAV are adamantly contesting the impact that is underpinning these bans. Our friends over at Save Grampians Climbing undertook a #FactChecking mission which dispelled the “evidence based” reasons for the exclusion of rock climbing across large parts of Gariwerd. The evidence simply does not exist.

Off the back of this week’s meeting with the minister’s office (see report here), ACAV conclude that Minister D’Ambrosio has been misinformed.

David Limbrick – Two Further Questions to The Minister, 7th June 2019

David Limbrick MP has submitted two further parliamentary questions yesterday June 7 and now we are awaiting answers from the Minister’s Office. The questions were put forward by ACAV and then perfectly framed in the political context by Mr Limbrick.

The questions asked by Mr Limbrick can be found here.

The second question (are the bans legal, Minister?) targets very specific items of the Ministers responsibilities in respect to correct execution of the National Parks Act. The Gariwerd Special Protection Areas either impose a ban on climbing or they do not. ACAV has prepared a research paper on this subject. The Minister would be well advised to seek legal counsel before answering this question.

ACAV has asked for a meeting with Minister D’Ambrosio directly to discuss our concerns about how this issue is being managed. ACAV advised the Ministers Office at the meeting on Wednesday that we are working on a GARIWERD CLIMBING MANAGEMENT PLAN which draws in best practice climbing site management from established rock climbing locations around the world. This plan will ensure that climbing activities promote and enhance care for the environment and cultural heritage now, and into the future for generations to come. The opportunities for Reconciliation are plain to see with rock climbers as stewards and allies in the protection of cultural heritage and environmental values.

ACAV has engaged with Aboriginal Victoria and a senior staff member from that organization is now assisting ACAV to understand and navigate the cultural landscape with Traditional Owners.

The government respondent to Mr Limbrick’s powerful questions yesterday was fortuitously the Hon. Gavin Jennings, Special Minister of State, Minister for Priority Precincts and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. We look forward to assisting Minister Jennings along with Minister D’Ambrosio and we have requested a meeting to discuss these issues.

5th June Meeting with Government Representatives

Notes from the 5th June ACAV/VCC Meeting with Government Representatives

Following the June 4 meeting with Licensed Tour Operators (LTOs), representatives from ACAV (Interim Committee Members, Mike Tomkins and Mark Wood) and VCC (President, Paula Toal) met with government representatives after a request by ACAV to meet with the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio. The initial request from ACAV was specifically to speak with the Minister. However, the Minister, represented by Dionne Eagleson, chose to include additional participants and stakeholders including: Simon Talbot (Parks Victoria COO); Lisa Patroni (Parks Victoria ED Marketing, Communications and Partnerships); Carol Nichols (Parks Victoria Director Public Affairs and Communications); Tim Kanoa (Aboriginal Victoria) and Harry Webber (Aboriginal Victoria).

Representatives from Regional Development Victoria and Tourism Victoria were invited, but were unable to attend due to other government business.

This is not the meeting the ACAV wanted. We have requested an urgent meeting with Lily D’Ambrosio, Martin Pakula (Minister for Tourism and Major Events) and Gavin Jennings (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs).

Prior to the meeting, ACAV and VCC discussed strategy and met beforehand to present a united front. There have been acknowledged differences in approach, along with a strengthening understanding of our focus on the issues and working for the community that we represent. The ACAV do not claim to represent all climbers but are fighting for access for all. The important thing that was stressed by the ACAV and the VCC is that climbers are a significant part of the solution to a complex problem and our specialist knowledge is vital to the success of park management in the future.


A number of issues relating directly to the current Gariwerd ‘bans’ were discussed at the meeting:

Summerday Valley (SDV)

SDV is listed within one of the Grampians Special Protection Areas (SPAs) on the current maps provided by Parks Victoria (PV). Simon Talbot gave a presentation at the LTO meeting on June 4. SDV poses the most difficult conundrum for PV as it is identified in the 2003 Management Plan as one of only a few sites in the park suitable for instructional use. The ACAV noted that SDV is also one of the only places suitable for use by disabled climbers or where carers can safely take disabled individuals while they climb. There has been no comprehensive Cultural Heritage Survey conducted in this heavily used area and the cost of such an assessment is valued around $1m!!   How this relates to the ‘assessments’ mentioned at the LTO meeting is unknown.

The ACAV also noted that LTOs are currently suffering financial losses as a result of the ‘bans’ and this will extend into the new financial year as bookings are often made many months in advance. The uncertainty is bad for these businesses, local employees and will flow through the local economy. The LTOs may have legal recourse regarding financial losses.

The Bans

There is a narrative that the climbing is prohibited in the SPAs because it apparently says so in the 2003 Management Plan. The ACAV has reviewed the legislation, case law and other documents and are concerned that the prohibition on climbing, with the exception of the 8 focus sites, has not been executed lawfully. This was posed to PV by the ACAV, with no immediate answer from PV. Currently the ACAV are not encouraging climbers to return to climbing in the SPAs. Climbers, as a respectful user group, are currently respecting these ‘bans’.

The reason for the specific bans at the 8 focus sites was ‘potential for Harm’ under the acts listed in the following section. Note, potential, not actual. Actual Harm has been caused by other users of the Park in other locations, yet PV have not excluded these user groups!

Cultural Heritage  and Traditional Owners

Climbers have been demonised with the general public, and very importantly among Traditional Owners (TOs) after some very poor media in February and March. The ACAV raised this as a significant stumbling block in ongoing discussions with the TOs. These are the bridges we are trying to rebuild. The complexities of discussions with the TOs were raised with Aboriginal Victoria and guidance from them will help to bridge this unfortunate gap.

The overriding legislative instruments are very powerful (the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 and the Aboriginal Heritage Regulations 2018). They provide an awkward paradox for land managers as they cannot accurately tell you where you cannot do something as they would then be revealing sites on a secret register (the same goes for specific rare flora and fauna sites).

Climbing Management Plan and Instruments for Victorian Crown Land

The ACAV brought to the table the success that has been achieved in other countries around the world by climbing access groups in developing specific climber initiated management plans. We impressed on the meeting that these types of management plans working within the legislative framework provides certainty for land managers and climbers as a single reference source from which management plans and future legislative instruments can be developed.  The government attendees were surprised to hear that climbing has been successfully managed, by climbers, around the world.

Communications

The VCC raised the issue of the communication plan that was revealed by an FOI request, indicating that climbers were to be treated on an INFORM-only basis. PV assured us that this was a mistake and that the status of climbing advocacy representatives would be raised to a fully collaborative position with climbers able to steer and influence appropriately in the area of climbing. We look forward to some written confirmation of this. The ACAV emphasised on the attending government representatives, that with faith in governments at such a low ebb, publicly stating one thing and having internal documents reveal the opposite results in a loss of faith and rightly caused outrage in the climbing community.

Media surrounding the bans has had a negative impact on all parties, and has also revealed various distortions of the truth. Climbers reputation as a user group has been severely damaged by this, particularly with the TOs. Parks Victoria have mostly withdrawn from that space and are very carefully managing the media from their perspective and suggested the ACAV join the media strategy. The ACAV declined the request to participate in a joint media strategy with Parks Victoria.


Where to from here

There are still a lot of unanswered questions about current and future climbing access. Getting straight answers is difficult and bureaucrats are unlawfully stonewalling current FOI requests.

The ACAV is drafting a formal written submission to the Minister (Lily D’Ambrosio) to request (under section 14 of the Parks Victoria Act) that the minister directs Parks Victoria to:

  • Remove the current set asides prohibiting climbing in the Grampians NP.
  • Provide all documents requested under the current FOIs within the legally required timeframes.
  • Provide all documentation relating to the current climbing ‘bans’ including determinations, the background documents supporting the determinations and the statement of reasons.
  • Assist ACAV and VCC in working to repair the reputation of rock climbers, noting that the rock climbing community is an essential ally in bringing about solutions in Gariwerd to the benefit of all.

The ACAV will be engaging to the best of our ability with TO groups and will engage with Aboriginal Victoria to further this important dialogue.

The ACAV will continue to work on a statewide climbing management document based on successful models from Europe and North America.

The ACAV will continue its research to understand the legal mechanism which will underpin security of climbing access for future generations of climbers .

The ACAV will work with the VCC in a cooperative and wholehearted manner to combine and strengthen resources in the area of rock climbing advocacy.

ACAV interim committee


Also on Wed, Daniel Earl & Mike Tomkins were featured on ABC Victoria Drive Time with Warwick Long – YouTube Link (audio only):

4th June LTO Meeting and Summerday Valley

Following recent media pressure, Parks Victoria has declared a media shutdown and appears to be working to resolve some of the fallout from the February 2019 Special Protection Area advice.  Parks Victoria has invited all Licensed Tour Operators (LTOs) to a meeting in Halls Gap at 11am on Tuesday 4th June, and includes representatives from ACAV, the VCC and other stakeholder groups.

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The Minister, Meetings and AGM Update

ACAV is certainly ensuring the issue of rock climbing access remains on the Spring Street agenda as we see activities gain momentum this week. In recent weeks ACAV has actively engaged the media and directly approached the Hon Lily D’Ambrosio (Minister for the Environment) and subsequently there have been several positive climbing access stories in mainstream media. Concurrently, MP David Limbrick assisted us by asking a question to Minister D’Ambrosio in Parliament which positioned the argument at the forefront of the decision makers minds. As a result, ACAV have secured a meeting with Ministers D’Ambrosio’s Office (and other reps, incl the VCC) next Wednesday 05 June, and this is a key step forward.

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