Time for an Audit, Parks Victoria

Blanket bans on rock climbing in Gariwerd/Grampians National Park and Tooan/Arapiles State Park have been introduced by Parks Victoria under the advice of one consultant archaeologist. When a site has been assessed by this archaeologist, the Aboriginal Heritage Act comes into play and the barriers go up. This has brought about climbing exclusions on a scale never before seen in the climbing world. To date, all sites that have been closed remain closed. No reviews, no questions, non negotiable.

Climbing groups have taken issue with many of the archaeological findings and allegations. Refer to previous news stories on this site for details. In May 2020, ACAV made a formal complaint to the Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists. No substantive response has been received.

Archaeologist Complaint lodged by ACAV

The procurement process for archaeological advice is highly questionable. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that Parks Victoria claims that only this particular archaeologist can do the work; allegedly the “sole supplier in the market” and “the only qualified person to complete this task in the state”. In fact there are multiple highly qualified consultant archaeologists willing and able to carry out work of this nature. The “sole supplier” reasoning may have been inappropriately used by Parks Victoria to avoid following a competitive tendering process. It makes the paperwork easier and Parks Victoria is clearly happy with the outcomes. No peer reviews have been carried out.

An audit application has now been submitted to the Victorian Auditor General – Audit application.

Supporting paperwork includes procurement documents recently obtained from Parks Victoria under the Freedom of Information Act – FOI applications and responses.

Further revelations within these FOI documents will be of interest to climbers piecing together how bans on this scale have been able to occur in Western Victoria but nowhere else in the world.

While the procurement paper trails have been released with heavy redaction, Parks Victoria has flatly refused to release any information surrounding archaeological reports, findings and recommendations. The two FOI requests seeking reports have been rejected or have stalled. The Aboriginal Heritage Act gives some justification for this, since a degree of discretion is required over site locations. That’s why we need the Government auditor to step in to cut through the veil of secrecy. If everything is above board then Parks Victoria has nothing to worry about. If malpractice has occurred there will be serious consequences and remedial action will follow. The forthcoming Grampians Landscape Management Plan has been drafted under the assumption that the archaeological advice is sound.

We have redacted point 5 from the audit application form as this relates to a connected matter raised by ACAV and currently under Ministerial review. It takes a very hot issue for ACAV to consider keeping access news under wraps. Watch this space for updates.

This is a sensitive area. Many climbers are reluctant to challenge the behaviour of Parks Victoria for fear of giving offence to Aboriginal representatives. This quandary has so far led to a wipe-out of rock climbing in the state with all hopes being pinned on a climbers’ reconciliation group.

Let’s see what the auditors find.

ACAV work of this nature has lost support. We will be holding a Zoom AGM in October. Along with several committee members, I will be stepping down. Any member may nominate for a role. If you are interested, please get in touch: Contact page

Refer to the ACAV Constitution to review the purposes of the Association.

Report by Mike Tomkins

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