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.
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.
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